Oregon State's 2013 signing class consisting of 25 new players is in the books. Some of these players will contribute in 2013, others will be redshirted with an eye towards 2014. Here is the first five of 10 things we learned from signing day:
1. The Beavers are closing the talent gap on the Ducks:
When is the last time Oregon State finished ahead of Civil War rival Oregon in the Rivals.com ream rankings?
That year, the Beavers finished No. 41, while the Fightin' Phil Knights were No. 49. However, over the next six years (2007-12) the Ducks dominated the intrastate recruiting wars, finishing outside the Top 20 just once (2008) while OSU managed to finish better than No. 40 only once (2012).
The recruiting gap between the schools peaked in 2011 when Oregon State (No. 55) finished a staggering 46 spots behind the Ducks. Just as important, the average star rating per prospect that year was 3.57 for Oregon, 2.71 for the Beavers, a difference of 0.86 stars per signee. However, the gap in the classes between the two schools fell to 0.51 per prospect in 2012 and then to 0.34 in 2013.
This year, Oregon State's average rating was 2.92 per prospect, highest since 2010, while Oregon's was 3.26. The gap in team ranking (No. 19 for Oregon; No. 37 for Oregon State) is the slimmest since the Beavers won the head-to-head recruiting battle with the Ducks in 2006.
2. The road to the Pac-12 title runs through the defense:
It's hardly a coincidence the backbone of one of the finest seasons in Beavers history was a solid defense that ranked No. 3 in total defense, No. 3 in passing defense, No. 3 in rushing defense and No. 2 in scoring defense in the Pac-12 in 2012. The emphasis on defense is reflected in the most recent signing class as the Beavers signed 15 defensive players, eight offensive players and two athletes. So, almost 70 percent of the class could end up on the defensive side of the football.
Rivals.com noted OSU's slant towards defensive players in this year's signing class: "Oregon State's haul features a focus on defense and is made up of capable athletes, many of whom can help the program right away. Signing five junior college prospects is done with intent, after all."
3. Riley believes he has uncovered Jordan Poyer's successor:
All-American cornerbacks don't come along very often, so when one does, you'd better locate a prospect capable of approaching his performance level when he eventually departs. Jordan Poyer was perhaps Oregon State's top defensive performer in 2012 with seven interceptions, seven pass breakups and 51 tackles.
Riley eyes JUCO transfer Steven Nelson from College of the Sequoias as the chosen one to pick up the slack and make an immediate impact opposite returning CB Rashaad Reynolds as Poyer moves on the NFL. Ironically, the 6-foot, 185-pound Nelson is almost identical in size to Poyer. Riley hopes his production is identical, too.
"We hit the nail on the head with the corners and defensive backs we have coming," Riley said. "When you graduate a guy like Jordan Poyer, it's hard to fill his shoes. But Stephen Nelson is an outstanding prospect to be in the top competition to play for us. We also have some young defensive backs that will be outstanding athletes. For our freshmen, it will be about coming to camp ready to play. Don't come ready to redshirt and we'll see where you are."
Nelson was highly coveted by a number of major programs around the country, including Georgia (he verbally committed to the Bulldogs last February until decommitting in November), Missouri, Southern Cal, Baylor and Texas Tech. But he spurned them all to sign with the Beavers.
"Steven was highly recruited," Riley said. "I know USC came in on him, but that's just one of the names that tried to recruit Steven. I think this is one of our best defensive back classes ever."
4. The Beavers had a need for speed:
Like a lot of coaches around the country, Riley has encountered a new reality - the game of college football is getting faster and faster as the potpourri of spread offenses proliferate at a rapid rate. The game is now played at 78 rpm. If you can't keep up, you will be left behind.
So, Riley put increased emphasis on improving the Beavers' team speed with this class. That meant recruiting and signing several prospects (Victor Bolden, Walter Jones, Corey Lawrence, etc.) that sought to play football in the fall and run track in the spring.
Riley gladly agreed, a sign he doesn't mind some of his players participating in two sports. Speed, after all, is still speed.
"I disagree with those guys that don't let guys compete in other sports," Riley said. "I think it's really good for them. There are football players who can play basketball or wrestle or play baseball or run track. There's always a carryover, whether it's speed or strength or agility.
"We love to use basketball as an evaluator (in high school). Watching a guy play basketball gives you a good idea of his athletic ability, desire to compete and playmaking (ability). I don't think young men should be made to specialize as a young player. Some of our best players have been multi-sport guys."
Track and field, in particular, can accelerate a football player's growth as an athlete, Riley believes.
"It might be speed or it might be explosion," Riley said. "Those are characteristics that, if developed correctly, have a chance to play into their development as football players. Being able to run fast and jump high and bend his body well, those are important characteristics in our game. It all transfers into being a good football player. We like speed with our style of offense."
5. Defensive tackle has been nicely replenished:
Losing a pair of solid senior defensive tackles like Castro Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo would set back many defenses at the BCS level. Unwilling to suffer that fate, the Beavers targeted the defensive tackle spot as a major position of need and ended up signing a trio of three-star prospects: Edwin Delva (6-3, 290), Siale Hautau (6-0, 315) and Kyle Peko (6-2, 295).
The presence of these three JUCO transfers means the Beavers should be stout up the middle again. OSU also signed four defensive ends, giving them a total of seven defensive linemen in the 2013 class. Indeed, it would be time-consuming to find another BCS school that signed more defensive linemen than OSU.
"We thought we needed help immediately, so we pursued more mature guys that could possibly come in and be involved in the competition early on and add something to our team right away," Riley said.