Will Oregon State end its bowl drought in 2017?

The Oregon State Beavers open the 2017 football season on August 26, against Colorado State in Fort Collins. The game will not only mark the start of the season for the Beavers, but will start what could be the Beavers first bowl eligible season since 2013. The hype train is rolling in Corvallis, and many fans are wondering if head coach Gary Andersen finally has this team pointed in the right direction. Vegas oddsmakers have the over/under for the Beavers set at 5.5 wins. If I were a betting man, I would take the over. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic if you are a Beavers fan. Will the Beavers go bowling this season? Here are five reasons I think they will:

2) In Jake Luton, the Beavers finally have a passing threat -  

Not since Sean Mannion left the program following his senior season in 2014 have the Beavers had a true quarterback behind the center. In the two season since Mannion left the Beavers have seen five different signal callers take a snap: Seth Collins, Marcus McMaryion, Conor Blount, Darell Garretson, and Nick Mitchell. In 2015 and 2016 the Beavers finished 117 and 113 in passing offense respectively. In those two seasons combined the Beavers passed for a total of 3,995 yards and 23 touchdowns. To put that in perspective, Mannion passed for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns in just his junior year alone.

The Beavers have had a giant question mark at quarterback, and transfer Jake Luton could be the answer.

It was announced early last week that Luton will be the No.1 quarterback for the Beavers, and with that coach Andersen finally has a quarterback that can get the ball downfield. In 2016, while the quarterback for Ventura CC, Luton passed for a school record 3,551 yards and 40 touchdowns. Luton has the size and the arm to help add the air raid elements that coach Andersen wants in the offense, and may finally be the quarterback that can get the ball to the Beavers playmakers. Tight end Noah Togai has been turning heads early on in camp, catching three touchdown passes in the latest open scrimmage, and can be a huge weapon for Luton. The Beavers also have senior wide receiver Jordan Villamin who is due for a monster year. Villamin has all the intangibles to be one of the best receivers in the conference, but over the past two seasons he hasn’t had someone who could consistently get him the ball. That should change in 2017. Oh yeah, the Beavers also have Seth Collins in the slot, so Luton will have plenty of hands to get to the ball to.

A decent quarterback can be the difference between a four win season and a bowl game, and the Beavers finally have a decent quarterback.

2) The running back stable may be the best in the Pac-12 -

Talk about the rich getting richer. The Beavers had one heck of a backfield heading into 2017. They had returners Ryan Nall and Artavis Pierce, who combined for 1,474 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2016, as well as TCU transfer Trevorris Johnson. The backfield was stacked. Then, out of nowhere, the news broke in late May that former Oregon Ducks stud running back Thomas Tyner was coming out of retirement to join the Beavers. Tyner dealt with injuries during his time in Eugene, but when on the field he was a force. In two seasons at Oregon Tyner rushed for 1,284 yards and 14 touchdowns. The four-headed monster of Nall-Tyner-Pierce-Johnson gives the Beavers one of the best backfields in the conference, if not the country.

At this point, and for the foreseeable future, Nall is the starting back. But let’s be real. The Beavers have two legit starting caliber backs, and two others that could start on a lot of teams in the country. They have running backs 1A, 1B, 1C, and 1D. The depth is unreal.

3) The schedule plays out well for the Beavers -

The Beavers do have a gauntlet to run mid-season, a stretch of three games that sees them play Washington State, Washington, and USC in three consecutive weeks. That is followed by tough games against Colorado and Stanford. Outside of that stretch the schedule plays out favorably for the Beavers. They open the season on the road against Colorado State, which is a tough but winnable game for the Beavers. A lot of experts see Colorado State as a team that could sneak into a New Years Six bowl. A win in Fort Collins could set the tone for the season.

Following the Colorado State game the Beavers get Portland State and Minnesota at home. PSU is nearly a certain win, and Minnesota should be as well. The Beavers played a heck of a game against the Gophers last season, and with Minnesota starting out the P.J. Fleck era, a win on the road for the Gophers may be a challenge.

The Beavers also end the season with an incredibly “easy” slate of games: Home against Cal, home against Arizona, on the road at Arizona State, and home against Oregon. Following last season’s Civil War win, fans and players alike have every reason to think the Beavers can beat the Ducks again.

Realistically, the Beavers could go 3-0 in non-conference play, then drop 5 straight in the aforementioned “gauntlet,” then finish the season 4-0. For those keeping track, that is a 7-5 season, and a trip to a bowl game.

4) Year Three of Gary Andersen has a history of success -

Back in 2009 Gary Andersen took over a poor Utah State football team. In fact, calling them a poor football team is an understatement. The Aggies went just 3-9 the season prior the Andersen’s arrival, and hadn’t had a winning season since the team went 6-5 in 1997. From 1998 to 2008 Utah State went a combined 35-90. Then came Andersen.

Andersen’s Aggies went 4-8 in both his first and second season, and then jumped to 7-6 in his third season. In Andersen’s fourth season the Aggies jumped to 11-2, won their first bowl game since 1993, and finished No.16 in the final AP Poll. Andersen’s first two seasons at OSU have largely mirrored his first two at Utah State; there is every reason to think year three will see the same leap it did in Utah. Andersen has a quarterback, a stacked backfield, a young talented defense, and a team that is finally his. Really, after two straight losing seasons, anything less than six wins would be a disappointment for Andersen in year three.

5) The Oregon State defense will be better than people think -

Defensively the Beavers have not been great in recent seasons. Last season the Beavers were 75th in the nation for total yards given up, at 5150, mainly because they just couldn’t stop the run. Oregon State allowed 2616 yards on the ground, which was 101st worst in the nation. However, they balanced that out with a decent pass defense, allowing just 2534 yards through the air, which was the 40th best pass defense in the country. Looking ahead to this season, the Beavers should be even better against the pass, and hopefully improved against the run. The Beavers played a lot of freshman and sophomores in 2016, and that year of experience should pay off this season. The Beavers return impact players such as Brandon Arnold, Jalen Moore, Bright Ugwoegbu, Kammy Delp, Manase Hungalu, Jonathan Willis, Elu Aydon, and Xavier Crawford just to name a few. Of that group, only Arnold and Hungalu are seniors. There is plenty of young talent on this defense to help push the Beavers forward. If the defense can improve against the run, they should be able to help the improved OSU offense win a few more games. ---

The only thing working against the Beavers is that the Pac-12 is stacked with talent. The Beavers have to play at least four teams that could easily win the conference (Washington, WSU, USC, Stanford), and some other teams that may be on the downswing but are by no means pushovers. That being said, Andersen has steered his ship in the right direction, and the Beavers should be more optimistic than ever that this is the year they get over the hump. The only question left to ask - “is it August 26 yet?”