HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - This time, fantasy will become bowl game reality for Oregon State.
OSU players invited to take part in Pac-12 Media Days the past two seasons under coach Gary Andersen talked openly about their goals of reaching a bowl game. It didn't happen. Not even close. Instead, the Beavers went 2-10 in 2015 (zero wins in the Pac-12) in Andersen's first season after replacing Mike Riley, and then 4-8 last season (3-6 Pac-12).
To be fair, the players' beliefs were largely based on competitiveness, hope, bravado and perhaps some innocent delusion. This time around, however, the Beavers truly have good reason to believe that the program could realistically return to a bowl game for the first time since winning the Hawaii Bowl in 2014.
Junior running back Ryan Nall and senior linebacker Manase Hungalu expressed such sentiments during today's media session. For the first time in three years, such talk didn't sound like a misguided pipe dream. That's because for the first time during the Andersen era, the Beavers might actually have both the physicality and mental toughness to get it done.
"This is a part of a process," Hungalu said. "It's just a process that we're building upon. Coach A is doing a great job with that. And we all understand that in order for what we want, we just have to continue to keep working and continue to keep playing and the results will show for itself."
Oregon State will likely never be a place where high-end recruits flock. Nor will it ever have the resources that nearby Oregon and Washington possess. But that doesn't mean the Beavers can't win. It just means that they have to be more calculating and deliberate to get it done.
Unheralded recruits must be developed through patience and great coaching. Both physically and mentally. Last year, Andersen said here that the Beavers had to become more physical after getting pushed around by opponents in 2014.
The Beavers were certainly tougher last season, improving by about a touchdown in both points scored and points allowed, moving from 19 points scored per game in 2015 with 37 allowed to 26 and 30. . That allowed the Beavers to play in more close games.
"At the end of the day we played physically with every team in this league," Andersen said. "That is very, very important."
That progression continued this summer with 50 players, Andersen said, who can now squat 500 pounds or more.
However, mentally the Beavers simply weren't ready to win enough of those games to become bowl eligible.
OSU lost three games by seven points or less: 30-23 at Minnesota, 19-14 vs. Utah and 35-31 vs. Washington State. Three other losses came by 14 or less, meaning OSU was at least in those contests.
Losing close contests stuck with Nall all offseason. Especially the Washington State game in which the Beavers led 24-6 at halftime only to see WSU scored 22 points in the third quarter and ultimately win, 35-31.
"Our execution," Nall said. "It comes down to that. Whether it's on offense or defense, make sure we do our assignment instead of doing too much If we do the little things. If we execute. We will have a chance to win every single game."
"I go back to being consistent and disciplined," he said. "Those games slipped away from us from little mistakes. Mistakes that shouldn't have happened."
So, while the team focused last year on becoming stronger and tougher, this offseason they worked as much on their mental approach.
Andersen spent part of the offseason going through different situations and scenarios from last season that went south to try and pinpoint areas of concern.
Andersen said mistakes and silly penalties cost the team and must be cleaned up this season. That endeavor will include some simplification to improve coaching and teaching and overall team-wide communication.
"I think that naturally happens in three years," Andersen said. "But now it needs to be automatic."
Could a dramatic turnaround be in store for the Beavers?
Why not? Colorado did it. Buffaloes coach Mike MacIntyre won a total of 10 games during his first three seasons before going 10-4 (8-1). Colorado hadn't reached a bowl game since 2007 before taking the Pac-12 by surprise to win the South and reach the conference title game where the Buffaloes lose to Washington.
Nall said the Beavers hope to duplicate Colorado's sudden success.
"I definitely see ourselves doing that," Nall said. "I have confidence in our team. I trust the process with Coach A and our staff. I believe we're going to have a successful year."
For the first time in years, such talk shouldn't be dismissed.