Oregon State is trying to turn back the clock to the turn of the century, an era when the Beavers were Fiesta Bowl champions behind quarterback Jonathan Smith.
He's the new OSU coach, trying to rebuild a program that was more than respectable as of 2013, when the Beavers had claimed the third-most victories in Pac-12 play over the past 10 seasons. Everything has crumbled since then, with the Beavers' program becoming a distant 12th in any Pac-12 overall rankings.
Other than a 2016 victory over Oregon in the Civil War, falsely suggesting that OSU was on the verge of a comeback, the outlook has been bleak in Corvallis since early in the 2014 season. The Beavers stood 4-1 overall going into October that year; they've now lost 30 of their last 34 conference games.
So here's Smith, having replaced Gary Andersen (and interim coach Cory Hall) after a 1-11 season that was highlighted only a narrow win over Portland State. The former Washington offensive coordinator is trying to restore the aura of the Dennis Erickson years, when Smith quarterbacked highly productive OSU offenses.
Erickson, a former Utah assistant, is now the coach of the Salt Lake City entrant in the Alliance of American Football, launching in February. From him, Smith said, “I learned a lot in regard to competing and motivating and never backing down. Those are some of his attributes that I’ve linked onto, for sure. … Building is tough. This league’s tough. But enjoying that process and that challenge, that’s why I [came] back.”
Smith's immediate reward, or punishment, is visiting Ohio State for his head coaching debut.
The Beavers' best chance to avoid a winless season comes Sept. 8 vs. Southern Utah, followed by a trip to Nevada. OSU skips Utah in the Pac-12 scheduling rotation.
The Beavers will succeed if:
They win a conference game. The next issue is how they possibly could do that, although it should be said that they certainly could have beaten Colorado and Stanford (missing Bryce Love) last season.
OSU's offense will feature tight end Noah Togiai, a Hunter High School graduate who led the team with 34 catches for 461 yards in 2017.
The Beavers won’t succeed if:
Opponents take them them seriously, rather than overlook them, or if quarterback Jake Luton is injured again. A fractured back sidelined him after four games last season and there’s nobody with experience behind him. The Beavers also need all the production that running back Artavis Pierce can give them, after they lost Ryan Nall.
This is the fourth installment in a series about Pac-12 football teams in 2018. Today: Oregon State.