With the NFL Draft behind us, we thought it would be fun to take a look at Pac-12 North, which should be intriguing this season. While there are some bright spots, most of the North looks to be uncertain, and in many cases, I predict the cream of the conference is going to reside in the South. I am going to take a team-by-team look at each team lost, what it has returning, and where they may finish in the standings. After going through the sixth team, I will do my final preseason break down of where I pick each team to finish.
I will start things out with the Beavers, since that is why we are all here.
Oregon State Beavers:
What they lost:
We all know that Oregon State is replacing some key players from their 2014 team. Beyond 3rd round pick and Pac-12 career leading passer Sean Mannion going to the Rams, 4-year starter Dylan Wynn going to Cleveland, the Beavers also say goodbye four other draft picks and nine starters on defense. Also gone are tight end Connor Hamlett and running back Terron Ward.
What they have coming back:
While the departing list seems daunting, offensively, Oregon State returns six offensive linemen with at least one season of starting experience (assuming Isaac Seumalo is good to go). They return two running backs with experience and all of their receivers from a year ago. They also return a lot of young players who saw significant playing time on defense, including Jalen Grimble, Justing Strong, Cyril Noland-Lewis, Larry Scott, Rommel Mageo, and defensive ends Lavonte Barnett and Jashwa James. There is a lot of talented youth ready to step in as well, but definitely untested.
I would have to say that the strength of this team will be the offensive line. Should Isaac return and be in any sort of pre-injury form, this unit is going to shine. OSU will run the ball, and the new strength coach has them reshaping their bodies and putting in more work than they have in previous years here. OSU needs these guys to be stout because its breaking in a new system and new QB.
This is tough for me. I think that the defensive secondary for sure has the most questions. It is not an indictment of talent or work, but just a void of any live information on them. That being said, I think that we will see an odd base front from the team because there are a lot of questions along the defensive front.
Unfortunately, I am going to throw a curve ball because I have my fears. I am going to pick the receivers. You can look at talent and experience and say that these guys are going to be a strength. But this is a new offense and they have to do new things and work their butts off to do them. I am going to be hard on this unit this year because they have to do one fundamental thing better than they have at any other time at OSU: Block.
Outside of Richard Mullaney, who is a fantastic and tenacious blocker, I have not seen anyone block well in this group. They are also going to have to play better than they have in terms of route running and catching the ball because their is a good chance the QB throwing to them is not going to be as accurate as Sean was.
Ultimately, this group needs to live up to their billing, and I think they have the most expectations, and therefore need to step up the most. I think the person who will benefit most from the offensive scheme change will be Mullaney, who I liken to former ducks WR Jeff Maehl.
Way Too Early Prognostication:
Any time you change coaches, there is going to be some mystery around a team. When you change from a pro-style offense to a spread-style offense, there is even more intrigue. Your view on this team depends on your trust in the new regime, trust that players buy in and trust in the pieces they have to get the job done.
I think Coach Andersen will have this team ready to go as well as he can, but that there will be some learning curves and bumps along the way. In terms of the North, I have OSU finishing near the top, but mostly because of the turmoil in the division.