It has been a wild, bumpy, anxiety-filled year for all of us in 2020. That includes the Oregon State Beavers and their counterparts throughout the Pac-12.
Throughout the season games across the country were canceled due to COVID-19. Player availability was up in the air week to week. There were no fans in the stands. Nothing was normal.
Despite all the rough waters, players put on the pads and went to work.
For Oregon State, this was supposed to be the year. The year Coach Smith put it all together and showed the conference that the rebuild was complete and the Beavers were here to turn heads, here to compete.
And really, they did.
Every game the Beavers played in, except for the season finale against ASU, the Beavers had a chance to win. They could have beaten Washington, Utah, Stanford, etc.
For the first time in years, it felt like the Beavers had a chance to win whenever they took the field. They had a chance, they had the talent, they just didn't have the results.
With the loss to ASU on Saturday, the Beavers ended the season 2-5, securing a losing record for the seventh season in a row.
Since the team's last bowl appearance in 2013, Oregon State has gone a combined 21-57, and 2020's two wins were a disappointing step back from the 5-7 record from the year prior.
"It's definitely disappointing," said Linebacker/Quarterback Jack Colletto. "It was a long journey and a long road but I'm just really thankful for all the seniors, some of the guys that aren't coming back, all the work they've put in and what they've done to help this program."
And that was the sentiment postgame. The season may have been a disappointment in the record books, but the team itself worked its tail off and the locker room is closer than ever. There was no dissension, no drama. No poor us. Just a bunch of guys that went to war with each other and can't wait to do it again.
Said Quarterback Chance Nolan, "I'm a person that loves football. I love to get out there and compete and go smack people around and just go play football. So I wish we had another game."
The love for one another and appreciation of the brotherhood, win or lose, comes from the top down.
Before he even dove into answering questions about the game itself, head coach Jonathan Smith shared with the media the message he had for his team postgame.
"Let me just start with what I told the team after the game. Really just talked about the appreciation I have for their efforts for the last few months of this unusual season and all the extra effort that took place throughout the last few months and allowed us to play seven games. We've learned a ton about this team. I think we've grown."
There are good kids in that locker room, and great coaches leading the charge, but now is the time for Oregon State to show us what the future holds.
Don't get me wrong, despite being 2-5, I think this season was a win. For the Beavers to go from conference doormat to a team that competed in every game and took down eventual conference champion Oregon is a giant victory. It showed that win or lose, this team is moving up.
Every team needs an identity and under Coach Smith this team's identity has been that of a fighter. A team that will never give up and will go down swinging. They proved it time and time again in 2020 no matter what was thrown their way. That's a good thing, it really is but at the end of the day it's just another moral victory. Oregon State has more than enough of those.
2021, aka year four under Coach Smith, will play a pivotal role in the future of Smith and the program as a whole.
The Beavers don't need any more moral victories. They need real ones.
With a new crop of talent coming in, the experience gained this season and a large chunk of the roster set to return there really is no excuse for the Beavers next fall.
Said Nolan on the 2020 season, "To be able to play all seven games and have seven opportunities to go out there and compete. I think we were blessed... a lot of guys got experience. I got experience. A bunch of young players got big-time minutes. It's been good just to see them grown as players and be able to take this thing to the next level next year."
Nolan sees OSU getting to the next level next season. Fans want to see it happen more than ever and they should be optimistic about what 2021 holds. Why? Because Coach Smith is, and that should be good enough reason for all of us.
"I'm pretty confident with the culture we've created around here that we're ready to go back to work," said Smith. "I'm pretty optimistic about the next season and what we can do."
Smith has changed the culture. He has changed the effort level. He has changed the overall perception of OSU... now it's just time to change the outcomes.