The year was 2013. Mike Riley led the Beavers to a 7-6 record, their second consecutive winning season, and victory over Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl. Things looked to be turning around in Corvallis, but then the floor fell out from under Beaver Nation.
Since that Hawaii Bowl victory, the Beavers have yet to have a winning season, are on their fourth head coach, and have gone a combined 12-36 - the third most losses and fifth-worst winning percentage of any Division I team over that span.
For a chance at a brighter future, Oregon State decided to lean on its past. Enter first-year head coach Jonathan Smith.
Smith was the quarterback under center in 2000 when the Beavers went 11-1, throttled Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, and finished the season ranked fourth in the nation. A return to prominence will be a tough task, but if anyone knows how to win in Corvallis it’s Smith.
But the task could be harder than expected, and Beavers fans could be in for another rough reason to start the Smith era. To say the cupboard is bare is an understatement. The Beavers are full of youth, and the veterans they do have are largely inexperienced. Just look at the senior class - The Beavers have 16 seniors on the roster and they have combined for 116 career starts. That’s an average of just 1.8 starts per season for each player. The Beavers also have 68 underclassmen, many of whom will be called upon to
make a significant impact this season. Even their coach is young. At just 39 years old Smith is the 14th youngest coach in Division I.
All this could add up to a rough season for the Beavers
Key Losses: The Beavers lost a ton of talent on both sides of the ball this offseason. Star running back Ryan Nall and star linebacker Manase Hungalu were both lost to the NFL. Jordan Villamin, Darell Garretson, Xavier Hawkins, and Brandon Arnold all graduated, and Thomas Tyner chose not to pursue another year of eligibility.
Those losses were expected. The two that weren’t expected were the departures of Bright Ugwoegbu and Xavier Crawford. Ugwoegbu made 11 starts and had 55 tackles in 2017, but was suspended prior to spring practice and left the program shortly thereafter. As for Crawford, he was set to make a huge impact this season but chose to transfer to Central Michigan. At Central Michigan, Crawford will be reunited with former DB coach, and OSU’s interim coach from last season, Cory Hall.
Players to watch on offense:
- QB Jake Luton:
By all accounts, the starting quarterback job is Luton’s to lose. Luton transferred to Oregon State last offseason and was named the starting quarterback, but he played in just four games before a horrific spine injury sidelined him for the season. Now healthy, Luton looks to give Oregon State a true passing threat under center. The Beavers have struggled at quarterback ever since Sean Mannion left, and Luton hopes to change that. Last season Luton threw for 853 yards and four touchdowns while completing 62% of his passes.
- WR Timmy Hernandez:
Hernandez had a solid year for the Beavers, ending the season as the team’s second leading receiver. With the departure of wide receivers Seth Collins, Jordan Villamin, and Xavier Hawkins, Hernandez looks to see a significant increase in targets. Hernandez caught just 30 passes last season, but it was on an offense that leaned run-first. Hernandez is a sure-handed receiver that could have a breakout season in 2018.
- TE Noah Togiai:
Togiai was the Beavers leading receiver in 2017 and earned All-Pac-12 Second Team honors. Togiai caught 34 passes for 461 yards last season, but only managed to find the end zone twice. At 6’6”, 241lbs, Togiai needs to use his size advantage to become a true red zone threat in 2018. If Luton remains healthy Togiai should once again have a stellar year for Oregon State
- RB Artavis Pierce:
With Ryan Nall moving on to the NFL, Artavis Pierce slides into the starting running back slot. Pierce played in all 12 games last season, starting two of them, and was the team’s second leading rusher at season’s end. Pierce rushed for 323 yards in 2017 but shared carries with Nall and Thomas Tyner all season. Heading into 2018 Pierce will be looked at to be the team’s workhorse. Oregon State currently has seven running backs on roster and Pierce is the only upperclassman. That experience will make him the unquestioned leader of the running back stable.
- OL Blake Brandel:
Brandel is perhaps the most seasoned vet on the roster, having played in and started all 24 games he has played in the past two seasons. His streak of 24 consecutive starts is currently the longest streak on the team. Brandel will be looked upon to lead the veteran laden offensive line, and his ability to get that unit performing to its fullest potential could be the difference between another losing season or a bowl game appearance.
Players to watch on defense:
- LB Jonathan Willis:
Willis has had a solid career with the Beavers, recording 161 tackles and 10.5 sacks over his three seasons in Corvallis. Last season Willis started all 12 games and had the best season of his career. This season the Beavers don't need him to be a solid part of the linebacking corps; they will need him to be the leader of it.
- LB Kee Whetzel:
Setting up shop in the defensive backfield with Willis will be sophomore Kee Whetzel. Whetzel played in all 12 games his freshman season, recording 26 tackles and two sacks. With the departure of Manase Hungalu and Bright Ugwoegbu, Whetzel will see a big increase in snaps and responsibilities. If you are looking for a star to breakout on defense, you should be looking for the player wearing No.7.
- DT Elu Aydon:
Aydon had a solid season in 2016 but didn't show much improvement in 2017. He and Kalani Vakameilalo are the only defensive tackles on the roster that made a significant impact last season, and Aydon will have to step up this season. At 6’3”, 378lbs, there are not a lot of offensive linemen that can stop Aydon. If his motor catches up to his size, Aydon could be unstoppable
- CB Dwayne Williams:
The Beavers have a ton of youth at corner, and if they don't want to get burned through the air they will need Williams to step up in a big way. Things didn’t seem so dire when the Beavers had him and Xavier Crawford to lean on, but the transfer of Crawford has left Williams alone on an island. Hopefully, he can turn that into “Williams Island” à la “Revis Island” in the NFL, or “Nelson Island” just a few seasons ago in Corvallis.
-S Jalen Moore:
Of all the defensive backs, none have more experience or pressure heading into the season than Jalen Moore. Moore played in all 12 games last season, starting 10 of them, ending the season second on the team with 75 tackles. While his tackles numbers are amazing, Moore has just one interception in 18 career games. If he can improve on his coverage, you could be looking at an All-Conference caliber player.
The Beavers will be challenged at every turn but should be able to improve on last season’s 1-11 campaign. The Beavers start the season on the road at Ohio State and run a gauntlet at the end of the season when they play USC, Stanford, Washington, and Oregon in consecutive weeks. But sandwiched in between those tough contests are some winnable games – Home vs. Southern Utah and at Nevada are games Oregon State can win. They will also face Arizona and Arizona State, two teams also breaking in new head coaches. This season will test coach Smith and his crew at every turn, and the 2018 Beavers will come out on the other side battle tested and much improved. Prediction: The Beavers finish the season 4-8
Sept. 1 @ Ohio State
Sept. 8 vs. Southern Utah
Sept. 15 @ Nevada
Sept. 22 vs. Arizona
Sept. 29 @Arizona State
Oct. 6 vs. Washington State
Oct. 20 vs. Cal
Oct. 27 @ Colorado
Nov. 3 vs. USC
Nov. 10 @ Stanford
Nov. 17 @ Washington
Nov. 23 vs. Oregon