I can't wait to get to the Palouse this upcoming weekend. Think about it, for the first time since the 2014 season the Oregon State Beavers have a chance to qualify for a bowl game.
Mike Riley's final season as Beaver coach included a big win over seventh-ranked Arizona State to improve the season record to 5-5. But Oregon State couldn't beat Washington or Oregon to qualify for a bowl. It's a similar situation in 2019 after four years and just nine wins. Jonathan Smith has transformed the Oregon State football program back into legitimacy. Now, can the 2019 team get to the next level in just year two with Smith and his talented coaching staff guiding the Beavs? The Cougs and the Ducks stand in the way of a bowl qualification.
Let's look at this matchup before Saturday's kickoff at 6 p.m. at Martin Stadium:
The Beavers are better in 2019 and the Cougars are not the team they were last year. The Cougars won the Alamo Bowl over Iowa State last season and finished with 11 wins. This season, just like the Beavers, the Cougs are 5-5.
The Beavers are in second place in the Pac-12 North at 4-3. The Cougars are tied for the cellar in the north at 2-5 with Cal.
This northwest rivalry is streaky. The Cougs have beaten the Beavers five-straight times, but before that the Beavers had won six-of-seven.
Both teams quarterbacks are going to be huge Saturday,
Cougars quarterback Anthony Gordon is a touchdown machine with 39 touchdown passes. He has thrown for 4,314 yards, but also has 11 interceptions.
Jake Luton has thrown for 2,306 yards, but he is much more consistent with the football. He has 23 touchdown passes and just two interceptions.
How will the Beavers react to the comments of Washington State running back Max Borghi?
He says the Cougs are winning Saturday and he guarantees it:
A win feels great (Stanford win) and now carry it into next week and have a great week of practice preparing for Oregon State cause we're going bowling and you can guarantee that cause we're winning next week.
He then stood up and walked out of the news conference in Pullman. Is that bulletin board material for the Beavs?
Another factor about Saturday's game is the timing. The students at Washington State have the week before Thanksgiving off. So after this Friday they have no classes until December 2. How many of them will stick around for a football game on a chilly Saturday night? The locals say most of the roads on Friday will have an exodus of students so the crowd at the game may not be anything close to what the Cougs normally draw.
The Beavers players on this roster have never played an opponent with a bowl game in their sights. They are ready to make it happen:
Quarterback Jake Luton on the possibility of playing in a bowl game:
We've got everything we want, ya know, right in front of us. We've got the opportunity and thats all you want. As a competitor, as a football player you want an opportunity and we have a chance to do that next week.
Noah Togiai chimed in as well.
It is huge. Its something we haven't experienced since I have been here and we are going to try and treat it like any other game. We will enjoy the ASU win then get to work and treat the game like any other.
Jalen Moore added his thoughts.
Everyone is going to say what they are going to say you know that life. Its just worrying about being 1-0 on the week. Coach Tibesar says that all the time and you gotta be 1-0 on the week and thats what we are preaching all the time so we just wanna be 1-0 next week."
Hamilcar Rashed Jr. on playing for a bowl game.
It's there but you know we gotta put our best effort every week. We let Arizona State put up 34 points and 300 yards of offense and we can do better. We did better on the rush defense and we gotta be better.
One other intangible: the Beavers road record. They are currently on a three-game conference road winning streak and are 3-1 away from Corvallis.
Jonathan Smith has been mentioned by some media types as a potential Pac-12 Coach of the Year candidate for his performance in year two in Corvallis.
Mike Leach has had a ton of success on the Palouse and has brought winning to Pullman. But this season he has criticized his players in graphic terms after losses. Following the 49-22 win at home over Stanford last week, Leach called Anthony Gordon the best quarterback in the country.
He is also rumored to be on the list of other schools seeking a savior at the head coaching position. The Arkansas media has him in the top-three of potential coaches to turn around their football team.
What will happen Saturday?
I have no idea. But I do know that to see the Beavers playing in a game to qualify for a bowl game is a huge step for the program. Will they win? Vegas odds have them as a 12-point underdog. The potential small crowd, the weather forecast in the low 30s or upper 20s could be a factor. This time of year snow can't be ruled out.
Max Borghi says it's a done deal for WSU. I'm not so sure.