Quite frankly, the Pac-12 conference office was remarkably kind to Oregon State when they wove together the 2013 football schedule.
Together with non-conference games against Division I-AA (FCS) Eastern Washington, Hawaii and San Diego State, the Beavers face Pac-12 bottom feeders Utah, Colorado, Washington State and California before the calendar turns to November.
Combined record for those seven teams in 2012? 35-52. And 20 of those wins belong to Eastern Washington (11-3) and San Diego State (9-4), two of OSU's three non-conference foes. The four conference opponents were a combined 12-36 this past season, and three of the four Pac-12 antagonists (Colorado, Washington State and Cal) will have head coaches in their first or second seasons with their respective schools in 2013.
Is a 7-0 start and Top 10 ranking in the major national polls a realistic possibility for the Beavers? Absolutely. In fact, barring an upset, the chances of OSU carrying an unbeaten record into the October 26 Homecoming clash with defending Pac-12 Stanford range anywhere from decent to virtual certainty depending on your point of view.
But the final five weeks of the season promise to be grueling with home games at Reser Stadium against the Cardinal and disappointing Southern Cal (Friday night football!) six days apart, followed by road tests at Arizona State and Oregon sandwiching the final home contest of the year with Pacific Northwest rival Washington.
Unless the Beavers are careful, the positive vibes from a quick start could disappear with a sluggish finish. But OSU should go bowling for the sixth time in eight seasons.
Which teams are on the schedule is just as important as which teams are. This upcoming season, UCLA and Arizona don't show up on the conference slate, and that might be a good thing since the Bruins and Wildcats promise to be fairly competitive in 2013. The upcoming season marks the first time since 1989 OSU won't square off with Arizona.
Blame it on the price that must be paid for conference expansion.
How about a fifth season of nine or more wins in eight years? It should happen as long as Oregon State stays focused, wins their home games and takes care of business early in the campaign against inferior opponents.
Rose Bowl? Well, beat Stanford at home, knock off the Fightin' Phil Knights at Autzen Stadium in the Civil War for the first time since 2007 and capture the Pac-12 North Division. Do those three things and Oregon State could find themselves in Pasadena. But 12, perhaps 13, games stand between the Beavers and the 'Granddaddy of Them All.' Here is a brief glimpse at the 2013 schedule:
August 31 vs. Eastern Washington: The Eagles reached the national semifinals in Division I-AA and nearly knocked off Washington State in Pullman. EWU knows how to throw the football, averaging 318.9 yards per game through the air this past season, giving the Beavers' secondary an early test. Based on what happened two years against Sacramento State, few OSU fans are willing to put this into the 'guaranteed win' category.
September 7 vs. Hawaii: Norm Chow struggled in his debut season as head coach of the Warriors, finishing 3-9 but on a two-game winning streak. Granted, those wins came over UNLV and South Alabama, hardly FBS powers. Hawaii has always been renowned for a high-voltage passing attack, but they were just 98th nationally in passing offense (188.8 yards per game) this past season. Where art thou Colt Brennan?
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September 14 at Utah: The most recognition Utah received in 2012 during an unsatisfactory 5-7 season came when Utes fans prematurely rushed the field twice celebrating a Holy War win over rival BYU. But Utah hung on for a 24-21 win. That was the highlight in a non-bowl year. Utah will be looking to rebound in its third year in the Pac-12.
September 21 at San Diego State: The Aztecs won seven straight games in one stretch this past season, including a clutch road win at Boise State, before falling to BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl to finish 9-4. San Diego State loved to run the football, averaging over 220 yards per game on the ground. An inordinate amount of pre-game attention will focus on Mike Riley returning to San Diego, but this one won't be easy for the Beavers.
September 28 vs. Colorado: How bad was the Buffaloes' defense last season? Colorado surrendered 30 or more points 11 times, 40 or more points six times. And the CU offense was equally the disaster. Still, the decision to fire Jon Embree, a Colorado alum, was controversial. His successor is former San Jose State head coach Mike MacIntyre, who has built a solid reputation by assembling quality defenses. Colorado will need plenty of that to survive against the up-tempo offenses prevalent in the Pac-12.
October 12 at Washington State: Much to the chagrin of some Beaver fans, this game is scheduled to be played in rural Pullman instead of CenturyLink Field in Seattle. The Cougars were regularly awful in Mike Leach's first season (3-9) in the Palouse but salvaged the year when they toppled Apple Cup rival Washington in overtime after a frantic fourth-quarter comeback. The Cougars will throw the football early and often, and won't stop for 60 minutes. The defense, on the other hand, should continue to surrender points by the megaton unless significant improvement is made.
October 19 at California: Another rebuilding program trying to get back on track with a first-year head coach after stumbling for the past couple of years under the fired Jeff Tedford. Sonny Dykes takes over the Golden Bears program and he promises, similar to Leach, to call an obnoxious number of pass plays. Louisiana Tech, Dykes' former place of employment, led the country in scoring offense and total offense this past season, but they were also dead last in total defense. Buckle your seat belt because this game could be a wild ride in Berkeley as the second half of the schedule blasts off with points aplenty.
October 26 vs. Stanford: The Beavers came excruciatingly close to upending the reigning Pac-12 champions in Palo Alto last season, and OSU could be looking to perhaps keep an unbeaten season alive as long as they prevail in all of the preceding games that they should. But Stanford will be a tough out. The Cardinal play with incredible discipline and intensity under head coach David Shaw and they're gunning to defend their conference title and Rose Bowl win. Last year's game served as Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan's coming out party. The OSU defense will need to keep him shackled if they want to win in front of the home folks in Corvallis.
November 1 vs. Southern Cal (Friday): Poor Lane Kiffin. After beginning this past season as the top-ranked team with a boy wonder quarterback everybody concurred would be one of the top picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Trojans season burst into flames. Kiffin was supposedly forced to let his father Monte Kiffin go under the guise he sought a return to the NFL. The disastrous season ended mercifully following a dreadful performance in the Sun Bowl against mediocre Georgia Tech. Now the sanctions handed down by the NCAA will start to kick in, so the depth problems will only get worse. Want to beat the weakened Trojans? There will be no better opportunity for Oregon State than 2013.
November 16 at Arizona State: Todd Graham's first season in Tempe ended with an exclamation point when the Sun Devils crushed Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. The 8-5 season met expectations in Graham's encouraging debut, but now more is demanded even with a difficult 2013 schedule highlighted by matchups with Wisconsin, Stanford and Notre Dame before the Beavers head to the desert. Arizona State enjoyed one of the most balanced offenses in the Pac-12 last season (3rd in rushing offense; 6th in passing offense). Oregon State beat ASU, 36-26, in Corvallis last season and will be seeking yet another win in the series.
November 23 vs. Washington: The Huskies were the Pac-12's nominee for most perplexing team in the country. Home victories over Stanford and Oregon State were mixed in with a blowout loss at Arizona and head-scratching fourth-quarter collapse in the Apple Cup loss to Washington State. Assuredly, 7-6 in Steve Sarkisian's fourth season at the helm is not what Huskie Nation signed up for when the former Southern Cal assistant was hired as head coach in 2009. Quarterback Keith Price was a major disappointment after beginning the season on most Heisman Trophy hopeful lists. The Beavers are eager for revenge and they could get it.
November 29 at Oregon (Friday): The 117th renewal of the Civil War will take place on the day after Thanksgiving. So, if you were planning to get some Christmas shopping done after eating all that delicious food, forget it.
Here's something to whet the Beavers appetite: a five-game losing streak to the Ducks. The stakes could be high again at Autzen Stadium. Chip Kelly is back after Phil Knight's money convinced him that dealing with the enormous egos and eccentric owners in the NFL wasn't worth the hefty paycheck.
What must the Beavers do to beat the Ducks for the first time since 2007? Play defense. Oregon is averaging 47.2 points during the current five-game winning streak over OSU, so any anticipation about snapping the disheartening stretch begins on that side of the ball. Unless the Beavers find a way to slow down the Ducks, the Civil War losing streak will continue. Your move, Mark Banker.
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