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December 24, 2012

10 Things the Beavers Want for Christmas

Christmas is Tuesday, so Santa Claus is making his final list and checking it three times before embarking on his annual around-the-world journey. What will be Oregon State get for Christmas? Well, according to reliable sources in the North Pole with direct knowledge of the situation, here are 10 things the Beavers want for Christmas:

1. Alamo Bowl win over Texas: Beating an eight-win Longhorn team might not sound impressive to a casual Oregon State fan, but Texas remains one of the powerhouse programs in college football (just ask the TV folks) despite its struggles over the past three seasons. From a national and recruiting perspective, a win over Texas would bring well-deserved notoriety to the Beavers program and position OSU nicely for an energetic and productive winter conditioning program and spring practice heading into 2013.

Additionally, a 10-win season, the first since 2006 and just the second since 2000, would virtually guarantee a Top 25 ranking for Oregon State in the preseason polls next August considering the significant number of impact players returning. In many ways, this is the most important game for the Oregon State program since the 'War of the Roses' in 2009 when the Beavers fell to Oregon, 37-33, in the Civil War battle in which the winner was guaranteed to go to the Rose Bowl.

2. One quarterback takes command: What's that old football saying? Oh yeah, 'If you have two quarterbacks, you don't have one.' But Mike Riley maintained Saturday having two quarterbacks battling it out day after day for the right to start the bowl game was "a good thing." In way it is because the season has shown that Cody Vaz (named the starter for the Alamo Bowl) and Sean Mannion are both good quarterbacks.

However, most coaches (even Steve Spurrier, who is notorious for yanking quarterbacks in and out of the lineup) will tell you the best case scenario occurs when one quarterback steps up and becomes the clear-cut starter. No fuss, no mess. Right now, it appears the competition between Mannion and Vaz will continue into spring practice.

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3. Top 25 recruiting class
: In view of the fact Oregon State is currently No. 68 in the Rivals.com rankings (and 11th among Pac-12 schools) with about six weeks left until National Signing Day, finishing among the top 25 schools might be far-fetched, but it's not impossible. Snagging several four-star prospects will help propel the Beavers up the rankings. Twelve of OSC's 16 commitments (including JUCO signees DT Siale Hautau and CB Steven Nelson) are rated three-star prospects. So, the Beavers have secured commitments from solid players, just not anyone that's going to show up in the Rivals 250.

Then again, the underrated 2009 signing class that produced stalwarts Jordan Poyer (consensus All-American), Rashaad Reynolds, Michael Doctor and Cody Vaz was ranked only No. 54 in the country. Believe it or not, Poyer was rated just a two-star prospect by Rivals.com coming out of Astoria High School. Clearly, Riley and his staff have proven proficient in player development. Could this be a case of being careful what you wish for?

4. Suitable replacements for Jordan Poyer and Markus Wheaton: With apologies to Doctor, Oregon State's leading tackler with 72 stops (10.5 TFL) during the regular season, the two most difficult players for the Beavers to replace will be Poyer and Wheaton. In the case of Poyer, consensus All-Americans and All-Pac 12 First team performers don't grow on trees, so his production (tied nationally with seven interceptions; 13 INT in career) will be tough to duplicate.

Wheaton, meanwhile, will leave as OSU's career receptions leader (224) and has caught a pass in 35 straight games, the longest consecutive streak among Pac-12 receivers. Behind Poyer on the depth chart for the Alamo Bowl is junior Sean Martin (the nickel corner) with senior Brian Watkins third. Presumably, sophomore Brandin Cooks (64 receptions for 1,120 yards and five touchdowns) will try to step into Wheaton's shoes as the Beavers' top receiver next season. But who will the number two guy?

5. New contract for Mike Riley with huge buyout on both sides: Three years ago, the 59-year old Riley agreed to a three-year contract extension (and to a provision requiring his contract roll over one year each time Oregon State goes to a bowl game) with Oregon State through the 2019 season, so his current contract has seven years remaining, although one year will be added through 2020 because of the Alamo Bowl appearance. Since then, Riley has become the all-time winningest coach in OSU football history with an 81-66 record in 12 years.

This season's reversal from the lowly 3-9 mark in 2011 to 9-3 so far in 2012 is the greatest single season turnaround in school history. Yet, Riley remains one of the lowest paid head coaches in the Pac-12 with an annual salary around $1.4 million.

The majority of Pac-12 head coaches are earning more than $2 million annually, and new lucrative TV revenues will push that staggering number even higher. What should Oregon State do? Award Riley with a much-deserved raise and alter the buyout terms so both Riley and the school has a financial disincentive to try to get out of the deal.

6. Victory in the Civil War next November: After winning five of eight Civil War contests between 2000 and 2007, the Beavers have seen the Fightin' Phil Knights take command over the last five years with five straight wins. Only one of those losses has been by single digits (the aforementioned War of the Roses in 2009). The last three defeats have been by 17, 28 and 24 points.

The time has come for the Beavers to put a halt to the Ducks' domination. The recipe for victory could be the talent returning in Corvallis and Oregon's issues with the NCAA that could accelerate Chip Kelly's exit from Eugene towards the NFL, where, if you believe the speculation, multiple league owners are lining up to make him the head coach of their respective teams.

7. Better weather in early September: Oregon State started preparations for the 2012 season on August 6 in anticipation of opening the season on September 1 against Nicholls State at Reser Stadium. However, Hurricane Isaac roared through Louisiana a few days before and prevented the Colonels from traveling to the Pacific Northwest. As a result, the Beavers didn't open the season until September 8 with a home game against Wisconsin, and then had a bye until September 22.

Thus, OSU played just one game in the opening three weeks of the season and were forced to play catch-up the rest of the year with no byes over the final 11 weeks. Next season, Oregon State opens with home games against Eastern Washington (August 31) and Hawaii (September 7), so unless the Pacific Northwest experiences atypical late summer weather or the Hawaiian Islands are belted by a typhoon, those games should proceed as scheduled.

8. Successful completion of the new basketball practice facility: Believe it or not, Oregon State is the only Pac-12 school without dedicated practice facilities for men's and women's basketball. The long-awaited new $15 million building is presently under construction and supposed to be completed this winter.

Once finished, it should provide a much-needed boost to Oregon State's recruiting in both men's and women's basketball. The 34,500-square-foot, four-story structure will contain two regulation basketball courts on the first and third floors, along with locker rooms, satellite training and medical areas, and service and mechanical spaces. Office spaces for coaches and other employees will occupy the second and fourth floors.

Construction of the new basketball practice facility follows on the heels of the Tommy Prothro Football Complex, which features two full-length football practice fields, and a new $14 million, 30,000 square foot academic success center. From a facility perspective, Oregon State is finally catching up to the rest of the Pac-12.

9. Invitation to March Madness: The last time Oregon State made the NCAA Tournament in 1990, George H.W. Bush was President of the United States. The last time the Beavers won a NCAA Tournament game? 1982. Yes, it's been a long time.

The time has come to end the dry spell. Last season, Craig Robinson took a major step forward with OSU's first 20-win season since 1989-90 when Jim Anderson went 22-7 in his first season as Ralph Miller's successor. Now the Beavers must take another step forward and that's the Big Dance. Sorry, the CBI shouldn't be acceptable anymore.

10. First Trip to College World Series since 2007: Based simply on geography, Oregon State's back-to-back national championships in baseball in 2006-07 remain one of the most impressive feats in NCAA history. The Beavers haven't been back to Omaha since knocking off North Carolina for the second straight year in 2007. But this could be the year OSU finally returns to Omaha and has the opportunity to play in TD Ameritrade Park, the sparkling two-year old downtown ballpark that replaced aging Rosenblatt Stadium.

The Beavers are ranked No. 10 in the Collegiate Baseball preseason poll and feature one of the top players in the country in sophomore outfielder Michael Conforto, who was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in 2012 after hitting .349 with 13 home runs and 76 RBI. Conforto was recently named a preseason first-team All-American by Louisville Slugger while left-handed pitcher Ben Wetzler (8-2, 3.10 ERA in 16 games last season) was named to the third team. The 2013 season begins February 15 in Palm Springs, Calif. The home opener is March 1 against Bryant.

Will the season end in America's Heartland?

It will if Santa grants Oregon State's wish.




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