Mike Riley might be on a bit of a hot seat this season. He had great success building up Oregon State, but they hit a bit of a plateau before declining the past couple of seasons. After hitting a high of 10-4 in 2006, the records have been sliding ever since. Both 2007 and 2008 were nine-win seasons followed by 8-5, 5-7 and the low of 3-9. There has been question if he has enough cache from the good years to hold him through another losing or .500 season.
Danny Langsdorf is the offensive coordinator and has been for the past seven seasons. On the other side is defensive coordinator Mark Banker. Banker has been running the defense for 10 years. Both have had ups and downs, but last year was some of the lowest rankings of the offense and defense in years.
The passing game is definitely the strength of this offense. The passing offense ranked almost 100 places better than the rushing. Quarterback Sean Mannion threw for 3328 yards last season. One thing he needs to work on, though, is his decision making. While he threw for 16 touchdowns, he also tossed 18 interceptions. Oregon State will need to bring down the turnovers starting here. There isn’t much for experience behind Mannion as former starter Ryan Katz has transferred to San Diego State.
His main target is going to be senior Markus Wheaton. He was the leading receiver last season with just under 1000 yards. With number two James Rodgers gone, I expect Wheaton to finish over that mark this year. Brandin Cooks will provide another target but he have half the production that Wheaton did.
For as good as the passing game should be, the line could be an issue in giving Mannion time to throw. Somehow they managed to provide plenty of pass protection last season, but did next to nothing for the running game. Now they must replace a couple starters including at the center position. They do return Michael Philipp who started in 2009, missed a few in 2010 and red shirted in 2011 due to injuries. He has the experience on the field—just not necessarily with the guys next to him. Still, I think the line should be improved.
If the line doesn’t improve then neither will the running game which was nearly the worst in all of the FBS. The Beavers ranked 118 out of 120 teams last season on the ground. This actually blows my mind because Oregon State has a long line of really good running backs over the last decade.
Ken Simonton, Steven Jackson, Yvenson Bernard and Jacquizz Rodgers were all running over the competition. Last seasons top running back only went for 431 yards. Behind him two more running backs went for 240 and 237. Agnew should be the starter and have vastly better numbers, but it will be a matter of him staying healthy.
The good news is Oregon State is returning eight starters on defense losing one player at each level. The bad news is the defense was 84th in the nation last season.
The run defense was giving up almost 200 yards per game and ranked 101 out of 120. The ends are solid with Scott Crichton leading the team in tackles for loss and sacks. The middle, however, is going to need to shore up if they don’t want a repeat of last season.
The linebackers are led by Michael Doctor who was second on the team in tackles. DJ Welch is expected to step in and give the unit more speed. In the middle, Feti Unga should step up and have better numbers if he stays healthy after being limited last year.
Strong safety Anthony Watkins led the team in tackles last season and had shoulder surgery this offseason. He missed spring, but I have yet to hear if he is expected to miss anything this fall.
The real star of the secondary is corner Jordan Poyer. With 12 pass breakups and four interceptions he may very well be one of the best corners in the nation. On the other side, Rashaad Reynolds has eight pass breakups of his own. The pass defense was solid last season and will again be the strength on this side of the ball.
Kicker Trevor Romaine returns. He was serviceable, but nothing really special. A missed attempt that should have been automatic all but lost the game against Sacramento State. Still, there isn’t anyone I see challenging for the job.
Punter Johnny Hekker on the other hand was outstanding for the Beavers. Unfortunately, he is gone. Australian footballer Tim McMullen looks to be the guy to take his spot. Jordan Poyer is not only one of the best corners, but he is also a solid return man. He worked double duty taking back both kicks and punts.
I don’t have much hope for the Beavers this coming season. It’s not that I think they are entirely bad, I just think the rest of the division has improved too much for them to keep up. I feel they will be looking at another losing season and I wouldn’t be too surprised if they only hit the same three-win mark as last season. Then again, I don’t like to doubt Mike Riley either.