Oregon State hits the road for the first time in a month, for their Pac-12 Conference opener at Colorado today. It’s been one of the more competitive series for both teams, with the last 2 meetings being split, and both were won by the road team. This despite both venues having some notable home field advantages when the matchup is close enough for that to come into play.
The teams were also widely picked to repeat last year’s last place finish in the 2 divisions in the preseason. But while Oregon State looks likely to live up (or live down) to that expectation, Colorado may not, after taking their first win in Autzen Stadium this century, a 41-38 upset of Oregon that’s really upset a lot of the Ducks.
The Beavers were not successful at not getting trampled by the Broncos last week, and getting stomped by Ralphie will be even more painful. And though the Buffs haven’t decided whether Sefo Liufau will be able to play or not, Coach Mike MacIntyre and the Buffs are quite comfortable with going with redshirt freshman Steven Montez if need be. That will happen when your backup quarterback is named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week after his first start.
Oregon State also went to a freshman, walk-on Conor Blount, at quarterback last week, in the second half, after Boise State had raced to a 31-7 halftime lead, on their way to a 38-24 win, after Darell Garretson was ineffective in the first half.
Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen has said Garretson will start when/whenever healthy, but the most watched development of the game will be whether Garretson will be deemed healthy, and then, if he’s healthy but his production isn’t, how soon will Blount get to play again.
If he does, it will also be interesting to see what happens now that an opponent has film on Blount. Boise State had no idea of what to expect from him, but that window of opportunity is over.
Beyond the quarterback question, there’s a bunch of questions about the Beavers, including whether the defense can continue to create turnovers, whether the o-line can protect whomever is at quarterback even a little bit (against the Broncos, the answer was no; both Garretson and Blount were dumped 3 times), and whether they can get any rushing game going, among others. Many, many others.
The long awaited and much overdue return of Sean Harlow, out since he suffered a broken ankle in the game against these same Buffs a year ago, might answer some of them, and I’m excited to see how much Harlow can help.
At the same time, Colorado has its own list of questions, and though quarterback doesn’t appear to be as big of one, Montez also now is on tape, and that might make a difference for him as well.
The Buffs have looked the part of a bowl team so far, getting off to a 3-1 start with a competitive loss at Michigan. But they have also lost some key players for the season, and are new to this prohibitive favorite business (the Buffs opened as 16.5 point home favorites, and watched that line climb since). How will they handle it?
One of the leading topics of conversation leading up to this game revolves around the rebuild at Colorado, which finally is seeing some real results, and how it might serve as a model for Oregon State’s rebuild. And its valid, as while there are differences in the programs and their circumstances, there are also a lot of similarities, most notably a not too distantly past period of relevancy and competitiveness, and a shortage (but not total absence) of talent and speed in tandem that formed the core of the problem.
The main issue of course is not the condition Colorado found itself in, and Oregon State now is, and for that matter, to different but similar degrees, Oregon and USC. A few years ago, Washington was there as well. And only secondarily is the issue of how programs get there to begin with, though not having a program go off the rails to begin with would be a good idea, and how to prevent it is a worthwhile topic too.
But once things have gone wrong, for whatever the combination of reasons, the real question becomes how long should it take to get back on track?
When there’s a shortage of personnel talent, it will take until personnel with requisite talent can be brought in at a minimum. But are their signs of things heading in the right direction before that?
Colorado, and Coach MacIntyre, who went 10-27 in his first 3 years in Boulder, before getting this year’s team off to a 3-1 start, are held up as examples of the virtue of patience.
At the same time, national radio personality Colin Cowherd, who has lengthy west coast and northwest roots, and knows the Pac-12/Oregon State scene, as well as the situations at Oregon and USC, this week proclaimed that at a Power-5 program, with the resources and advantages they have, a new coach should win 5,6, or 7 games immediately. If not, a program should consider that they have made a mistake, and don’t have the right guy.
Massive investments of money and time by those investing in the program of course drive those expectation of relatively quick return on those investments.
Somewhere in between these extremes probably lies a good practical reality.
But Cowherd’s point is relevant; how long should it take to determine if you have, or don’t have, the right guy to get the job done?
After not seeing any of those signs in the first half last week, only to see a stark difference after the break (something thousands of Oregon State fans who didn’t return to their seats after halftime didn’t see), I’ll be looking today to see how many of those signs I see. With both programs.