Second term head coach Mike Riley has the ball rolling in Corvallis.
After taking over one of the worst programs in D-I history (28 straight losing seasons), Riley's 56-42 (33-34) record has helped "Raise Reser" and create what's lovingly known as Beaver Nation.
While the sub .500 record in conference seems less than impressive, consider the depths from which they came from and it's a tremendous achievement in its own right. Riley's campaign began in 1997 to the tune of an 0-8 conference record.
Since his return to Beaver Nation in the 2003-2004 season, Riley has gone 48-28 (31-20), and over the last three seasons he's won at least six conference games, finished in 3rd place twice and 2nd last year-tied with Oregon at 7-2 in conference play.
Of course thanks are in order for Dennis Erickson's, albeit brief, but successful three year run which was highlighted by OSU's Fiesta Bowl winning team in 2000, finishing ranked No. 4 in the final polls.
Thanks D.E. - Now let us win in Tempe, please.
Despite years of ridicule and punch-lines, Oregon State football has resurfaced as one of the conference's most steady, and now respected programs.
What proved to be a magical ride in 2008-until the Civil War sent orange clad fans into a pedal ripping rage-saw the Beavers fall just short of what has still to this day eluded them for 45 years...a trip to Pasadena and "The Grand-Daddy of Them All."
As the program progresses and recruiting reaches the national level, opposed to its former diet of strictly west coast products, the Beavers look towards 2009 with both optimism and a sense of urgency.
The mountain which OSU has been forced to climb in the past three seasons has put the Beav's backs against the wall from the outset.
Three consecutive 2-3 starts have forced the Beavers to knuckle down and fight for their lives week after week. Not to say anyone can afford take a week off in college football, (USC and Florida fans, you argue about that one) but it'd be nice to be bowl eligible after week's seven or eight wouldn't it?
Even though the infamous Darryll Catchings fumble in Palo Alto and the melt down in Salt Lake will hurt for years to come, the Beavers were that close to something truly special last season.
The 2009 version of the Beavers hope to learn from the mistakes from the year before and improve on what nearly turned into one of the greatest years in OSU football history.
As the Beavers say goodbye to some tremendous talent, system players seem ready to step in and pick up virtually where their predecessors left off. If not, scheduling should allow for time to mesh and learn what major college football is all about before getting into the meat of their schedule.
This year's non-conference schedule pails in comparison to the early season gauntlet that decimated OSU's hopes for a fast start in 2008.
Trips to Stanford and Penn state and a home match up with Hawaii are replaced by home games versus Portland State and Cincinnati, and a trip to Las Vegas to face UNLV.
Cincinnati should be a test for the Beavs, and with a tough conference road schedule, the Beavs are hoping to come out of their first three games unblemished.
The 2009 season hinges on three crucial things:
1) The Health of Jacquizz Rodgers - If Jacquizz can stay healthy, and if the coaching staff can find an effective backup to spell him when needed, the Beavers are very dangerous offensively this season. If not, we've seen what happens to the offense without him.
2) Offensive Line Must Find a Tackle and Depth - All other line positions are fairly solid, but OSU needs to find a tackle opposite starter Mike Remmers. If you're weak at the tackle spot, you'll struggle in the Pac-10 with all the speed rushers. As with every team in the nation, O-Line depth is a crucial part of a successful season.
3) Secondary Must Play Fundamental Football - These are almost all new starters, and while they are more athletic than their departed seniors from last season, mental mistakes will greatly overshadow any physical advantage. Fundamental, smart, and fast football is what defensive coordinator Mark Banker is looking for.
September 5th ss. Portland State (4-7): Coach Glanville has found wins hard to come by in his last two seasons as the Vikings head man. Seven wins in the last two years certainly doesn't scare the Beavers, especially on the Reser Stadium turf.
What might give defensive coordinator Mark Banker a bit of a scare is the run-and-shoot offense matching up against the very inexperienced OSU secondary. Corvallis High product, 6'5" Jr. QB Drew Hubel, will look to have a big game in front of his home town crowd.
Still, the Beavers will prove to be too much at home in front of a revved up crowd and roll to an easy win on the legs of Jacquizz Rodgers.
September 12th @ UNLV (5-7): OSU figures to be the favorite walking into Sam Boyd Stadium, but I throw up an emphatic "not so fast my friend." The Rebels return 15 starters and now-2nd year quarterback Omar Clayton looks to improve on what were very impressive numbers as a freshman.
Clayton threw for over 1,800 yards and tossed 18 TD's to only four interceptions. With another spring and fall to perfect his craft, you can bet Clayton will be the man for the job in 2008.
What eases my fears is the astounding 32 points per game the Rebels yielded to opponents in 2008, this playing in the Mountain West. Game plan going in needs to be to pound the football early and often and tire out the Rebel front four. If this is achieved, the Beavers should win fairly comfortably.
September 19th vs. Cincinnati (11-3): The Bearcats are riding high after winning the Big East and earning a trip to the Orange Bowl last season. OSU certainly remembers the embarrassment that unfolded in 2007 and will have revenge on their minds.
The Bearcats sent six players into the NFL in April's draft, four of them from the defensive side of the ball and three of them from the secondary. With OSU at home, a senior quarterback, and speed at the receiver position, it could be a long day for the Cinci secondary.
OSU opens up the playbook and hits the long ball a couple times en route to a feel-good win.
September 26th vs. Arizona (8-5): The Wildcats went bowling for the first time in ten years in 2008 thanks to the strong-armed Willie Tuitama, and the all time Pac-10 receptions leader Mike Thomas. They are now gone, and with them 3,000+ yards and 23 TD's-826 and 4 which were caught by Thomas.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, lightning will not strike twice and again they will fail to make a bowl game. As for their trip to Corvallis, at this point, OSU should be hitting stride, and barring any injuries will begin to put all the pieces together.
Arizona proves to be OSU's punching bag in their first conference win. A far cry from the thriller in Tuscon last year.
October 3rd @ Arizona State (5-7): Tempe has been tough on the Beavers. Their last trip saw a 19 point lead evaporate thanks to the Houdini-like performance from now-departed Rudy Carpenter.
The ASU defense could be one of the best in the conference in 2009, DE Dexter Davis and DT Lawrence Guy anchor what is a stout and aggressive front seven. OSU will need to rely on timely play calling and their ability to run successfully enough to open the play action.
This game is 50/50, but with the lack of offense from ASU, I see the Beavers outscoring the Devils in a low scoring affair.
October 10th vs. Stanford (5-7): Darrell Catchings, we forgive you. Having now tamed his diabetes and playing like the Darrell of old throughout the spring, have yourself a game young man. OSU's inability to stop tough Toby Gerhart last year ruined OSU's bid for a win in the opening week last year and eventually ended up costing OSU the Rose Bowl.
This year, OSU's front seven will be their strength, and Stanford's passing game will have to win it for them. Another game which OSU feels they need to win for revenge's sake, and they do.
In methodical fashion, OSU screens and blitzes Stanford to death.
October 17th - BYE
October 24th @ USC (12-1): Oh how the tables turn. Just as OSU is comfortable in Reser, so is USC in the Coliseum. And just as OSU looks for revenge against Cinci and Stanford, so does USC versus the Beavers. OSU has ruined USC's bids for a national championship in 2006 and most recently with their shocking 27-21 defeat of then-No. 1 Trojans last season.
Many say this USC team may be the mosorevulnerable defensively than they have been in recent years, but something tells me those five star backups can get the job done.
Seriously, it's been happening for seven straight years now.
Carroll sells out to stop Jacquizz Rodgers and forces OSU to throw to victory. Unfortunately a BYE week doesn't help the Beavs and the curse continues, as OSU is unable to win in the Coliseum for yet another year. OSU loses in ugly fashion.
October 31st vs. UCLA (4-8): Homecoming night and Halloween against the most inept rushing offense in the Pac-10 from 2008. Kevin Prince has supplanted Keven Craft as the starting quarterback for the Bruins, but the offensive line is where improvement must be made before the quarterback play gets any better.
Whichever Kevin it may be, UCLA might be two years away from anything worth sweating over.
Jacquizz Rodgers does it all in this week nine matchup and the Beavers send the Homecoming crowd off to trick-or-treat with smiles on their collectively bloody or ghostly faces.
November 7th @ California (9-4): It's tough to think that any team could have as good of a linebacking crew as USC, but California could have at least been in the conversation. Unfortunately for the Bears, they graduate Williams, Follett, and Felder. Two of which are now with NFL franchises.
Kevin Riley returns, the Pac-10's leading rusher Jahvid Best returns, Cal's top two receivers from 2008 return, and an experienced O-line will have eight or nine games under their belt at this time.
OSU's run of four straight in Strawberry Canyon ends in an epic smash mouth overtime battle.
November 14th vs. Washington (0-12): Last time Jake Locker set foot on the Reser Stadium turf, he was carted off via ambulance with what later was, thankfully, only a strained neck. The culprit, Al Afalava, is now gone, however Locker wouldn't hesitate to run head first into him if the situation presented itself.
Washington is a scary team, and with the leadership and intensity that should transfer from first year coaches Sarkisian and Holt to the players, an 0-12 team could be just two years away from a bowl game.
Locker has a great game with his legs, but interceptions cost the Huskies late in the game. Closer than many Beav fans would like, but the Beavers win.
November 21st @ Washington State (2-11): I'm going to go out on a limb and say Ryan Leaf's recent troubles are because his former team may win only one game in 2009. Circle it Coug fans, September 19th versus Southern Methodist.
Being last in the Pac-10 in recruiting for the past three years doesn't help the Cougs either. Their best player, Brandon Gibson, has graduated and new faces look at 2009 as a year to grow and learn. Didn't we say this before last year too?
In the last two meetings OSU has outscored WSU 118-30. 2009's trip to Pullman plays out like the last two meetings between the Cougs and Beavs. Best of luck to Paul Wulff during his job search in 2011.
December 3rd @ Oregon (10-3): 65-38. 694. No Roses. The end of a season doesn't get much worse than what occurred last year at Reser on November 29th. The Ducks return the best dual threat QB in the conference in Jeremiah Masoli and the aptly named LaGarrette "Blount Force Trauma" to a rushing attack that had two players eclipse the 1,000 yard mark.
Big questions for the Ducks on the offensive and defensive line, as well as a few spots in the secondary. I'd imagine if things go well, both OSU and UofO should be ranked in the top 25, making this a game which will probably decide bowl invites and position in the final conference standings.
I think the questions on the defensive line prove too much and—absent from the 2008 Civil War—Jacquizz Rodgers shows the Duck defense just how durable he really is.
Beavers win a nail biter after almost giving it away late.
Given that USC will have no more than one loss (Ohio St.) come week six when they play the Beav, they should be a top-ten team. If California can take care of business against its non-conference opponents, they could be 6-2 or better when they host the visiting Beavers.
OSU's two losses would have come at the hands of ranked in conference teams, and they would have gone 2-2 vs. top 25 competition (wins vs. Cincinnati and Oregon).
Oregon, California, USC, and OSU all have the ability to make a splash on the BCS scene either through at large bids and Rose Bowl invites. This would possibly allow a third place Pac-10 team to be invited to the Holiday Bowl.
Out of all three teams, OSU has the easiest non-conference schedule.
USC travels to the horseshoe (Ohio State) and South Bend against what should be a much better Notre Dame team.
California hosts Maryland—who they lost to last year— and travels to play Minnesota.
Oregon has the toughest non-conference slate facing Boise State on the road, and hosting Sugar Bowl Champ Utah and Purdue who should have beaten UofO if not for two missed field goals.
The Pac-10 gains some respect this year if they can manage to come out of their non-conference match ups with a good record. The entire conference benefits from this.
With a little help OSU finishes the season ranked anywhere from 17th-11th and eyes a Holiday Bowl. But you never know, OSU could earn an at large BCS bid if the cards align just right.