For the second straight year under Gary Andersen, Oregon State isn’t expected to do much in the Pac-12. The media picked the Beavers to finish dead last, again, and unless they shock the world this season, the media will probably be right.
Andersen came to Corvallis from Wisconsin, hoping to bring the “tough-guy” attitude that works very well in the Big Ten. Smash-mouth football — overpowering your opponent — works so well in that conference. It worked well at Utah State, another Andersen stop, as the Aggies played like a kid who was tired of being bullied and finally started to fight back.
The Beavers need to do exactly that, and winning at Minnesota in the season’s opener would go a long way in changing everyone’s perception of them. It might also give them a boost of confidence for the rest of the season … and proof that Andersen’s grand plan will eventually work.
Oregon State wanted a tough-guy mentality, which was one of the reasons it let Mike Riley go to Nebraska so easily. The Beavers were considered soft under Riley and wanted to hire someone who was the exact opposite.
“We talked about it. We want to be tough,” Andersen said last week. “You can talk all you want about being tough. I think we’ve trained them tough. They’ve reacted to the position of being tougher and I think we’re in the time of camp where we’re not as worried about that.”
Under Andersen, Oregon State has completed improvements to its facilities that should help create a new and tough-minded group of Beavers. To be fair, the improvements were in the works under Riley, but Andersen will make sure his team uses them to their full effect. He managed to clean out the players who didn’t see his vision of the future and brought in those who want to play the new style.
It wasn’t a comfortable transition. The Beavers were playing a brand new kind of football on both sides of the line, and the results just didn’t emerge. Seth Collins just didn’t fit the bill at quarterback, but Utah State transfer Darell Garretson should be a vast improvement.
In 11 starts in two seasons, the former Aggie threw for 2,586 yards and 18 touchdowns. He’s played in Andersen’s system before and should be more proficient at the position, which should mean more points.
“You’ll never hear me say I’m comfortable to where the offense is at,” said Garretson halfway through fall camp. “I want to push these guys to be the best they can and I think we can be a lot better to where we are right now. These guys look to the quarterback to be the leader and i’ll do what I have to do to get these guys better.”
Garretson will have four very good targets to throw to: receivers Victor Boldin, Jordan Villamin and Hunter Jarmon, as well as tight end Caleb Smith. Oregon State has beefed up its offensive line; the projected starters average 309 pounds. Left tackle Sean Harlow is the “lightweight” at 298.
An improved offense won’t be enough. If the defense doesn’t fill in some holes, the Beavers won’t be much better. OSU was 11th in total defense in the Pac-12 last season giving up 37 points and 481 yards per game. Only in-state rival Oregon was worse in both categories.
After one season, the Beavers are still relatively early in their rebuild. In Week 1, Oregon State is a 13-point underdog to a Minnesota team that went 6-7 last year, won just two conference games, and isn’t expected to do much better in 2016. Minnesota also underwent a coaching change last season: Tracy Claeys is entering his first full season as a non-interim coach. The Gophers had to make a change after Jerry Kill’s retirement due to health issues.
Minnesota isn’t a football hotbed like Michigan or Ohio State, but it’s still a Big Ten team that has experienced a measure of success. A win over the Gophers — on the road — will help the Beavers once Pac-12 play begins. They have another tough non-league game in Week 4, when they host Boise State after playing cupcake Idaho State. A win against the Gophers won’t make everyone turn their heads and say, “What just happened?”, but if the Beavers are 2-1 instead of 1-2 heading into league action, it will be noticed. Many observers, especially on the West Coast, could begin to think the Beavers might not be the pushovers they once were.