As the 2013 season came to a close on a bittersweet note, the chance for one last game materialized into a trip to paradise to take on a familiar, if unstable, opponent. As Oregon State enters the game this Christmas Eve, hoping to electrify a national, ESPN audience, there is quite a bit at stake: 7-6 sounds a heck of a lot better than 6-7. And a win against Boise State, a quality opponent for sure, would amount to a great step forward going into next season. This game also could give the Beaver a great showcase for future players, some on the islands and some around the country.
While those are all great things, the real reason that OSU needs this win is so it can maintain momentum. Beaver Nation is filled with angst, but more importantly, an increasing level of apathy. Apathy, not anger, is the killer of sports teams’ fan bases. Apathy is what kills donations and season ticket sales because apathetic fans close their wallets and their minds. While seven wins would be three short of what I had hoped for this year (and it is obvious now what those three wins could have been), it is at least a winning season. Not only that, it continues a winning trend. I have talked about recruiting for a while, and how it predicates winning, but there is something even more important.
Oregon State has tried to create momentum in losses for five straight years. The loss to BYU in Las Vegas to the string of Civil War losses has left players during the offseason having to rely on their collective chip-on-the-shoulders to motivate themselves to improve. No player on this Oregon State squad is satisfied with this season, just like no player thought they would be going to Hawaii this time of year. Truth be told, they all probably thought they would be in Pasadena this year.
As they should’ve.
A win in Hawaii would enable the Beavers to be motivated by positives result heading into the offseason: being one step closer to their goals and the fact that two years of losing has turned into two years of winning. With the changes Mike Riley has made to his staff in recent years as well as changes in recruiting methods, OSU is not only bringing in better athletes, they are keeping them.
Recruiting rankings according to Rivals since 2009:
2009: 54th-ranked class; 15 stayed all four/five years; 9 did not complete their time at OSU.
2010: 44th-ranked class; 10 stayed all four/five years; 10 did not
2011: 56th-ranked class; 17 are still there; 8 gone
2012: 39th-ranked class; 19 still here; 4 gone.
2013: 39th-ranked class; 22 here; 3 gone
OSU is currently ranked 44th this year. With a few blue-chip players out there that Oregon State is in the hunt for, a big win in Hawaii might go a long way. Three big-name players sign and this could be another sub-40 class. Oregon State is just starting to see the effects of the the most talented classes they have signed since 2004.
Recruiting is slow and prognostagory (not a word) in nature. We want quick fixes such as firing coaches and swapping out coordinators, but those are answers to today’s problems. When working toward the future, you have to look five years down the road, especially in football.
Don’t like the way the Beavers ran the ball this year? The majority of linemen were from the 2009 class. Wish we had better defensive tackles? The only defensive tackle from the 2009 and 2010 classes that was on the field was Mana Rosa, a player recruited as a defensive end.
This year and some of its shortcomings are a direct result of mistakes, missed opportunities and past tragedies. As much as we may bemoan coaching decisions and play calls, there is also an element of players making plays. The more talent you can draw from, the better your chances. Not that OSU is bare of talent, not at all. The problem is that when a player goes down, who is their backup? When OSU lost several linemen early this season, the young and inexperienced players that came in did well because they were on par with the talent of those who they were playing against.
A win in Hawaii, and in a small way, the follow up game in Hawaii next fall, could be a great way for OSU to not only secure the recruits it already has verbals from, but to sway some of the other players it’s reaching out to. Going into the offseason with a bowl win, a winning record, and promising recruiting class could spell big things for OSU in the future. Three straight top-40 classes would be the best three year stretch in Oregon State recruiting history (well, since they started keeping track of such things in 2002).
Beat Boise State and there are still questions going into the off season and still things OSU can do to improve, but for the first time since 2008, they can go out with a win and a favorable schedule next season to build on the success of the last two years.