This has been a crazy year for Oregon State football. While the team is mired in a four-game losing streak that was punctuated with its worst game in decades, it also has had moments where fans thought this squad might be special. Many in Beaver Nation were certain that the Beavers would pull off the upset against Stanford. Riding a six-game win streak, there were so many possibilities. The Stanford game did not disappoint, because despite some sloppy play by the Beavers, it came down to the very last play, with OSU missing on forth and goal.
Losses to ASU and USC appeared to be losses to teams that are playing as well as any the nation, and the game against ASU was still well within OSU’s grasp. So prior to the UW game, this appeared to a be a season where the Beavers were the team that just came up short. In fact, it felt like a two-year syndrome, with 2012 being another season where OSU was as capable of being 11-2 as they were of being 6-6.
And prior to the UW game, while no one was satisfied, many in Beaver Nation were willing to bet that the team could end the season with eight wins and maybe fix a few things this offseason, in order to come out and take the college football world by storm in 2014. Or at least, being a squad that has the potential to be a 10-win club.
Then, in one terrible game, everyone in the athletic department has become completely incompetent (or the people who always felt that way, were finally brave enough to say what they really feel. Which, in many cases might be “I told you so.”), and that every day those members of the athletic department stay on the job is proof that 28 years of losing is just around the corner.
And maybe they are not wrong. But before we throw everyone out on the street, let’s look at a few things:
1. What does the future hold?
Barring any declarations for the NFL draft, the Beavers will return all, but five of their offensive starters (offensive Guards Grant Enger and Josh Andrews, offensive tackle Michael Philipps, receiver Kevin Cummings). On defense they lose four as well (corners Rashaad Reynolds and Sean Martin, defensive linemen John Braun and Mana Rosa ). Those are not losses to laugh at or discount. We saw this season how even the loss of a single cornerback (Jordan Poyer) can be a huge deal.
At the same time, with all the talent returning as well as the quality starting time that many linemen, linebackers, receivers and corners got this year, could mean that OSU hits the ground running next year. Well, maybe not running, but at least passing and stopping its opponents.
If OSU has the leadership and if the younger players, such as Bolden, Magea, and Gavin Andrews, can make the leaps they need to make, the Beavers could find their future much brighter than what we feel it is right now.
2. Do we trust the coaches?
Ultimately, it is all well and good to have a lot of players returning, but as we saw this year, it doesn’t mean anything if the coaching staff is not getting the most of out of those players. There are some feelings that many of the coaches have run their courses here — that they are ineffective. Even fan favorites like Cav and Brennan had some of their players appear to be off at times on the field.
And what about play calling? Or details like a hurry-up offense? Will there be any innovations, or even attempts to stay current in a game that is rapidly evolving?
To be fair, the program has done a better job lately of recruiting talent and better coaches. But if the staff cannot get the most out of the players that they get, and the whole staff is not sold on getting new players, then will they have the depth to weather the storm of injuries that happen every year, or will they have the schemes and execution of those schemes to win close games? Ultimately, that is the largest deduction made this weekend. OSU could end up with eight wins, but the relationship between fans and coaches has been damaged and it may not get fixed unless they either make changes or get to a BCS Bowl next year.
I will talk about this more later, but I really think that while we have all seen OSU under-perform on Mike Riley’s watch, we have also seen the Beavers triumph over impossible odds. We trust that he is close to getting it done and believe that adages such as “Mike does more with less” and “OSU always gets better as the season goes on.” The biggest damage done this season is that all the goodwill and capital that Mike has earned during his record-setting career at OSU has been spent. Fans are not willing to wait anymore. That, combined with the struggles of men’s hoops and other programs has shattered the confidence of many in Beaver Nation.
So that is the challenge before Mike and the Beaver football program? As the administration announces the most ill-timed ticket hike in the history of the school, it is up to Mike to win this weekend, give fans/donors hope, and find a way to get his program headed in a positive direction. Because anything less is going to result in more and more fans turning a deaf ear to the cries for help from the administration.