Saturday night’s B1G Ten-Pac-12 showdown where Minnesota visits Oregon State won’t get the attention the matchup between teams from the same Rose Bowl partner conferences down the road earlier in the day will, and not just because local favorite son Mike Riley and a number of other ex-Beavers who are running the Nebraska team are the ones visiting Oregon. But its still important, and not just because new Gopher coach PJ Fleck is one of this year’s media feature figures.
Visits by B1G teams, or any now Power-5 teams for that matter, to either Corvallis or Eugene, are relatively rare, and 2 non-conference games in the state on the same day against any Power-5 teams are exceedingly rare. This is the first time 2 B1G teams have ever been in the state of Oregon at the same time.
Nor is it likely to happen again any time soon, as Oregon State doesn’t have a future home game scheduled against any B1G team, and Oregon has just one. And with Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen being on record as being opposed to playing B1G opponents, attracting attractive opponents isn’t on the immediate agenda either. (But then, he’s opposed to playing Boise State too.)
So this is a big deal, not an opportunity to be missed. Yet last week’s 1/3 empty stadium, and having every indication that Beaver fans aren’t enthused about the game doesn’t suggest reality will measure up to opportunity. Especially with most of the other attractive and or most important games involving conference teams at least overlapping if not almost totally in conflict with this one.
Being before the bulk of the students arrive on campus doesn’t help either. Indeed, the realization that after tonight, ¼ of the season, and 1/3 of the home schedule, and 40% of the games at Reser on Saturdays, will already be in the past, raises some real qualms about schedule management.
More importantly, there is a real urgency about the game, against a Gopher team that barely beat the Beavers last year in Minneapolis, and who struggled to beat Buffalo 17-7 last week in their opener.
After getting blown out of Fort Collins, and with a gauntlet of games against Washington State, Washington, USC, Colorado, and Stanford to come, this may be the last and only remaining opportunity for the Beavers to get a win before November. A loss could be a bowl eligibility ending in week 2, even if its game 3.
Unfortunately, Oregon State’s performance, especially defensively, in last week’s 35-32 win over FCS Portland State, gave little tangible evidence that the known deficiencies that were underscored by Colorado State are being corrected, or even can be corrected in the near term.
That failure could cost a lot of attendance, based on the poor turnout for what was a competitive contest that went down to the wire last weekend, and especially the early exodus from a game no where close to being decided, and the measures the school has undertaken to avoid the embarrassment of a lot of empty seats for a nationally televised game on Fox Sports 1.
Whether Beaver fans, and football fans generally, turn out for this one, and the consequences if they don’t, will certainly be something to see. (And if there is a bad look to the game, don’t be surprised when the big networks elect to not come back, and a lot of OSU games get relegated, not only to the Pac-12 channel, but to the least desirable time frames as well.)
Even more important will be whether Oregon State can capitalize on the opportunity. It’s vital that the Beavers sink PJ Fleck’s boat, or their own will likely sink. And a sinking football program sinks the revenue necessary for other programs, and sinks the local economy with it.
Will defensive coordinator Kevin Clune figure out how to stop the run or the pass, much less both simultaneously? Will he try some actual creative defensive schemes? Will he figure out how to get the defense to flow to the gaps that have been massive?
Will offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven get the ball to Thomas Tyner in space? Or get the ball to Ryan Nall enough? Will the game plan afford Jake Luton an opportunity for a second competent quarterbacking performance in a row?
Will Jordan Villamin reappear? If he does, will Isaiah Hodgins disappear as a result?
Minnesota doesn’t appear to have the offense to run away with things. And the Beavers are actually slightly favored at home. That might indicate a real lack of confidence in Minnesota on the national level, though it feels more like a ploy to get some money on Oregon State, something we have seen before.
But do the Gophers have the defense to shut down the Beavers? Is Fleck’s unorthodox approach going to work, or was his success at Western Michigan an anomaly? As such, it’s a very important game for the Gophers too, maybe a must win.
Either the stakes are high, or a growing number of Oregon State fans are right, and it doesn’t matter in the bigger picture. It will be interesting to find out which.