There can only be one national champion each year. Just one team finishes #1 and hoists that crystal football to conclude each season. Not every team can go undefeated, and for every team celebrating a win there must be another team attempting to pick themselves back up after feeling the bite of defeat. While every fan dreams of their team finishing a season with zero losses, the reality is that there are only a handful of teams each year that have the talent and resources to complete that elusive pursuit. With 123 schools playing football at the FBS level, most schools are forced to be satisfied with at least six wins and a bowl game appearance, no matter what brand name happens to be endorsing the event.
But how is a fan supposed to know what level of success should be applauded, and what amount of failure is too much? For Oregon State supporters, it can become tiring watching the team 47 miles south rack up wins and complain about being ranked #2 or #3 in the country. It might be easy to wonder when it will be the Beavers turn to find disappointment in a one-loss season. At times like these, it might be wise to recall the history of Oregon State football.
The Beavers have fielded a football team for 116 complete seasons, and in 52 of those years, the team finished with a sub-.500 winning percentage. From 1972 to 1997, Oregon State won 55 games total. That works out to an average of 2.1 wins per season - for 26 straight years. In fact, in 116 years of playing football, only 13 of those have concluded with at least eight wins (six of those 13 seasons have come in Mike Riley’s current stint as head coach, a span of ten years). Beaver Nation has enjoyed exactly two seasons with ten or more wins in the history of the program. For a little perspective, the Oregon Ducks have posted double-digit wins for the past five years straight, and most likely will hit that mark again this season.
What does this have to do with 2013?
The Beavers are 6-1, undefeated in conference play, and winners of six straight games. While many fans still have a sour taste in their mouth about that lone loss, this year’s team is in excellent position to log one of the best finishes in program history. Many articles have been written about the individual numbers that Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks are accumulating, and there is deserved excitement about Steven Nelson and Rashad Reynolds combining for nine interceptions. However, long after the players are gone, the outcome of the next five games (plus whichever bowl game the Beavers play in) will determine how the fans remember this year.
Can Oregon State reach ten wins for only the third time in school history? To do so, they would need to find four wins over these last six games, and while there are no obvious victories remaining on the schedule, the feat does seem like a possibility. This coming weekend, #6 Stanford comes to Reser Stadium to play #25 Oregon State, and an upset seems possible. Last season, the Beavers hung with the Cardinal, losing by only four points. This year, despite being ranked #6, Stanford has lost to a Utah team that Oregon State beat in a shootout, and also struggled with #12 UCLA before putting them away last week. If the Beavers can score early, Stanford’s plodding style might have trouble playing catch up. Right now, Stanford is as vulnerable as the #6 team in the nation could be. This weekend could be a critical game for Oregon State’s odds to reach ten wins.
The day after Halloween, the Beavers will host USC in what looks to be a probable win for the team in orange and black. USC might still be a “name” in college football, but they are no longer an intimidating presence. Furthermore, the Trojans have a history of playing poorly in Reser Stadium. If Oregon State is able to get the upset against Stanford and then hold serve against USC, they would have an 8-1 record (and most likely a top 15 ranking). They then would travel to Arizona State, a site where they have struggled mightily in the past. The Sun Devils have won all four games at home this season, and their two losses are respectable, having been to Stanford and Notre Dame. If the Beavers are given the benefit of the doubt in the Stanford game, then it is only realistic to assume they fall to Arizona State on the road, putting them at a projected record of 8-2 with three games (including a bowl game) left in the season.
Oregon State would then host Washington in a game that seemed much more difficult three weeks ago. The Huskies are currently on a downward spiral, having lost three straight games. By the time they travel to Corvallis, they will have just played UCLA and may once again be on a losing skid. As of right now, the Beavers should see this game as a victory (albeit a difficult one) that would put them at 9-2 overall. To finish the season, Oregon State travels to Autzen Stadium to take on the Oregon Ducks, currently ranked #3 in the BCS standings. Not much needs to be said here, as the Ducks are still clearly a better team than the Beavers. If Oregon State can come into this game at 9-2 overall, and fall to a team that is ranked in the top three nationally, they should be satisfied with a 9-3 record. This exact scenario happened last year, but Oregon State squandered an opportunity to reach ten wins, losing to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
This Saturday, Oregon State begins their quest for redemption and another shot at reaching double-digit wins for only the third time in program history.