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December 24, 2013

Oregon State's Wish-List

Christmas is almost here. What is on the wish list Oregon State sent to Santa Claus this year? Here are 10 things we think should be on the list:

1. Win The Civil War: The Beavers came agonizingly close this year. All they needed to snap Oregon's five-game winning streak in the series was one defensive stop in the final two minutes. But the Ducks drove 83 yards in just over a minute for the decisive touchdown, pulling out a bitterly disappointing 36-35 victory over OSU. So, the losing streak now stands at six games.

More than anything else, the Beavers must start beating the Fightin' Phil Knights on a regular basis. They won't win every year, but a 50-50 split isn't too much to ask for.

This year's one-point defeat, while disappointing, showed the once canyon-wide gap between the two programs is narrowing. Not too long ago, Oregon State won five of eight Civil Wars from 2000-07. At the moment, that will do just fine.

2. Multiple Four-Star Commitments: Oregon State has 21 verbal commitments for the 2014 signing class after JUCO offensive lineman Bobby Keenan signed a LOI last week and plans to enroll in time for spring practice. The remainder of the class features 15 three-star and six two-star prospects.

That's a formula for a solid class. But in order for the Beavers, currently ranked No. 7 in the Pac-12, to jump into the upper half of the conference, they must secure commitments from some elite four and/or five-star prospects.

Right, OSU is one of only two Pac-12 schools without a commitment from at least one four-star recruit - Colorado is the other. The Ducks have seven four-stars in the fold, while USC has a league-high nine. Coaching is important, but it's still mainly about players.

3. Brandin Cooks and Sean Mannion Return In 2014: Oregon State's prospects for 2014 would rise significantly if both Mannion and Cooks, the most prolific quarterback-wide receiver combination in school history (191 completions; 22 touchdowns) decided to return next season.

Will they? Mannion is expected back after throwing for 4,403 yards and 36 touchdowns during the regular season. The five-game losing streak closing out the season showed he still has some things to work on before taking the big step onto the NFL stage.

Cooks, though, is another matter. His return is less certain. After winning the coveted 2013 Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best receiver, Cooks certainly doesn't have much left to prove at the college football level from a personal standpoint. If he leaves early for the NFL, few will be surprised. If Mannion and Cooks come back to Corvallis, watch out.

4. Bowl Win: Oregon State's last bowl win came in 2008 when they edged Pitt, 3-0, in a Sun Bowl slugfest, the last of five straight bowl wins for the Beavers. They will get an opportunity to snap a two-game bowl losing streak today when they square off with Boise State, a familiar nonconference foe, in Hawai'i.

With Boise State reeling from the departure of head coach Chris Petersen and the sudden suspension of quarterback Joe Southwick (set home from Hawaii), the Beavers must pounce. Bowl wins furnish momentum heading into next season and unquestionably affect pre-season rankings.

5. Reinvigorated Running Game: The Beavers finally showed signs of life on the ground by amassing 231 yards against the Ducks. In the previous six games, they totaled no more than 106 yards in a single game, averaging 76.8 yards rushing the football. OSU was held to a meager 17 rushing yards by Stanford and 70 yards by Arizona State, frustrating Riley, who admitted the Beavers became too one-dimensional offensively.

Heading into the bowl game, Terron Ward leads the Beavers with 467 rushing yards on 104 carries (4.5 yards per carry). Sidelined for two games by a concussion, Storm Woods has averaged just 3.3 yards per carry this season. In 111 carries, his longest gain has been 11 yards.

Overall, the Beavers are averaging 86 yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry. Even if Mannion and Cook return, both figures must improve next season in order for OSU to contend for an upper level bowl game.

6. Key Defensive Players Get Healthy: Injuries ravaged the linebacker position this season. When fall camp started, the trio of D.J. Alexander, Michael Doctor and Joel Skotte were expected to start on the second level.

However, Alexander suffered an injury in August and missed the first two games. Then, Doctor was sidelined for the season with a serious foot injury in the Week 2 victory over Hawaii, meaning Oregon State's two best linebackers were never on the field together for a single play in 2013.

According to the Oregon State depth chart, the projected starters at linebacker for the Beavers on Wednesday are Caleb Saulo, Rommel Mageo and Jabral Johnson. What were the chances of that happening a few months ago?


Doctor (team high 83 tackles in 2012) intends to seek a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA, and it should be granted because he appeared in just two games. If the request is granted, and Alexander foregoes the NFL Draft, the linebacker position should be frighteningly deep in 2014.

7. A 2014 Schedule That Isn't Backloaded: The Pac-12 schedule maker didn't do the Beavers any favors with the 2013 schedule. After three laughers against Colorado, Washington State and California, Oregon State faced Stanford, USC and Arizona State within a four-week span, and closed out the season against Washington and the Civil War in Eugene.

Without a doubt, Mike Riley would prefer a more balanced slate. How many teams in the country, let alone the Pac-12, played a more difficult schedule down the stretch? Not many.

One thing to keep an eye on when the 2014 conference schedule is released - the November schedule. We know the Civil War will be played on the final Saturday of the month. Before that, it will be intriguing how the first four Saturdays in the month shape up.

8. Pay Raises For Mike Riley And OSU Assistant Coaches: When Chris Petersen left Boise State to take the vacant head coaching job at Washington, he didn't do it simply because he suddenly wanted to live in Seattle. The school will pay him $3.6 million annually to coach the Huskies, about $1 million more per year than Steve Sarkisian was earning.

When the season started, Riley was the lowest paid head coach in the Pac-12 at $1.417 million. Nothing to sneeze at, but clearly the Beavers are enjoying the benefits of a hometown discount.

When Riley eventually leaves Corvallis (nothing lasts forever, remember), the next Beavers head coach should receive significantly more annually because that's what the market will likely dictate due to new TV money flowing into the coffers of Pac-12 schools.

9. Another Trip To Omaha: Six months after the Beavers participated in the College World Series, OSU is ranked No. 4 in the preseason Collegiate Baseball poll. And for good reason. They have a boatload of talent returning in 2014 and anything less than a return trip to the Mecca of college baseball would be a major disappointment.

Five Oregon State players were named preseason All-Americans by Collegiate Baseball - most of any program in the country - led by Michael Conforto on the first team, Andrew Moore, Ben Wetzler and Dylan Davis named to the second team and Scott Schultz named to the third team. In fact, no other school in the country had more than three players on Collegiate Baseball's All-America team.

Conforto is the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year after batting .328 with 11 home runs and 47 RBI last season. Moore tied for the most victories in the nation at 14 and was the 2013 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. The Beavers are locked and loaded for another national championship run. This time they might get there.

10. Win A NCAA Tournament Game In March: Highlighted by the Orange Express of 1980-81, the decade of the 1980's was kind to the Oregon State basketball team with seven NCAA Tournament appearances. While Michael Jackson was selling millions of 'Thriller' albums and showing off slick dance moves, the Beavers were excelling on the hardwood. Since then? Not so much.

The Beavers' last participated in March Madness in 1990 and haven't won a NCAA Tournament game since 1982. So far, the best Craig Robinson has done is three appearances in the College Basketball Invitational, a secondary tournament below the NIT.

The Pac-12 has been far from a stellar league lately, so the Beavers are wasting a chance to take the next step. The scoring duo of Roberto Nelson and Devon Collier looks promising and OSU is currently first in the Pac-12 in field goal percentage (.527), third in steals (7.6) and fourth in assists (16.4). But a knee injury suffered by center Angus Brandt could dampen those positive vibes. Anyway, the time has finally come for Oregon State to get back to playing for all the marbles in March.


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