For a team that is used to success, the last two years have been hard on the Oregon State Beavers. A 5-7 finish in 2010 was bad enough, only the second losing season under Coach Mike Riley, but the 3-9 finish, including a 0-3 finish out of conference last season, was a crushing blow. The quarterback controversy with Sean Mannion and Ryan Katz caused discord, and injuries to almost every key player on both offense and defense blew away the season. Riley is on the coaching hot seat carousel, and a strong finish this year may be needed to save his job in Corvallis.
Junior quarterback Sean Mannion has all of intangibles to be a great player. Tall in the pocket at 6’5, possesses a rifle arm, and there is not a throw he cannot make. However, he is the leading source of the Beavers offense, causing defenses to line up in pass protect more often, and that resulted in 18 interceptions against only 16 touchdowns. He did throw for 3,328 yards, but the Beavers would like to see him get his completion percentage above the 65% it was at last season.
What Mannion needs more than anything else is support from the running game. Junior Malcolm Agnew is again the primary carrier, but he will need to provide more than his 428 rushing yards from last season. Agnew did average 4.8 yards per carry in his limited action between injuries, and a full healthy season will help to relieve much of the pressure off of Mannion. Concern can be found that his only truly good games last season occurred against Sacramento State and Washington State. In every other game, he failed to eclipse 50 yards. Much of that can be attributed to the Beavers being heavily behind during the other games, and being forced to rely on the pass. Senior Jordan Jenkins is directly behind Agnew on the depth chart.
The receiving corps returns almost entirely intact from last year, with leading receiver Markus Wheaton, a senior, heading the wideouts. Wheaton caught 73 passes for almost a thousand yards last year, and a repeat performance is expected. Wheaton has remarkable speed, and showed flashes of top level agility at times last year. Senior Jordan Bishop lines up opposite Wheaton, and has the size and hands to be a great compliment, giving Mannion two terrific targets. Senior tight end Colby Prince looks to make the transition to a top level blocking and receiving threat.
Leading the push on the offensive line is redshift junior left tackle Michael Phillipp. One of the Beavers top draft prospects, injuries have derailed his college career somewhat, and he looks to prove the scouts that doubt his health wrong with the kind of season that justified the hype when Phillipp signed with the Beavers. Senior Colin Kelly has the flexibility and mobility to lock down the right tackle position, giving Mannion plenty of time to unload the ball.
On defense, all eyes are the aggressive inside linebacker Feti Unga, a senior. Injuries shortened his stellar campaign last season, but the aggressive tone-setter looks to provide a run-stopping force for the Beavers defense. Behind him in the secondary is senior cornerback Jordan Poyer, an NFL quality defender and first class ball hawk. He picked off four passes last season, recorded 57 tackles, and excelled returning kicks. His off the field issues call his character into question somewhat, but his talent on defense is undeniable.
As long as the injury bug steers clear of Corvallis, and with the experience of last year motivating this senior class, Riley’s job will probably be safe. Expect an improved season and postseason play for this club.
Projected Finish: 7-5 (6th in conference).