Top 50 Countdown: No. 34 Oregon State

Coach: Mike Riley | Staff
In 2006: 10-4, 6-3; Defeated Missouri 39-38 in the Sun Bowl.
Returning starters: 9 offense, 9 defense.
Key losses: WR Ruben Jackson, QB Matt Moore, SS Sabby Piscitelli, DT Ben Siegert
2007 breakdown: Top 10 players | Outlook | Offense | Defense | Special teams | Coaching | Schedule

Breaking down the offense

Overview: Wide receiver Sammie Stroughter, running back Yvenson Bernard and four offensive linemen are among nine starters returning on offense. The unit scored at least 30 points in six of its final seven games of 2006. The Beavers figure to be just as explosive in 2007 - if they can get effective quarterback play from one of their two sophomore passers.

OREGON STATE TOP 10
Sammie Stroughter is one of the nation's most explosive and productive players.

1. Sammie Stroughter, WR
2. Yvenson Bernard, RB
3. Alexis Serna, K
4. Alan Darlin, MLB
5. Joey LaRocque, LB
6. Derrick Doggett, LB
7. Jeremy Perry, G
8. Kyle Devan, C
9. Dorian Smith, DE
10. Curtis Coker, DT
Best player: WR Sammie Stroughter is one of the nation's most explosive and productive players. Last year he caught 74 passes for 1,293 yards and averaged 15.7 yards on 30 punt returns. He scored three touchdowns on special teams.

Most overrated: WR Anthony Wheat-Brown caught 40 passes as a sophomore, but he is coming off a disappointing year in which he managed just 21 catches.

Most underrated: C Kyle DeVan consistently performs at a high level in an obscure position. He has made 25 consecutive starts despite nagging injuries. He earned second team all-conference recognition a year ago.

Must step up: LT Tavita Thompson is the new face in an otherwise veteran offensive line. He had a good spring, but he'll have to prove he's not the weak link up front.

Impact newcomer: Redshirt TE Brady Camp looked very good in the spring and could make a significant contribution. However, he'll have to beat out teammates Howard Croom and John Reese.

Position battle: Sean Canfield, a 6-foot-5 drop-back quarterback, would seem to be the leading candidate to replace the departed Matt Moore. But Lyle Moevao, a transfer from El Camino (Calif.) College, wowed coaches and teammates this spring. Moevao's competitive streak matches Canfield's size.

New in 2007: The system won't change, but obviously the quarterback will. The Beavers are counting on either Canfield or Moevao to at least approach the production of Moore, who threw for 3,000 yards in 2006.

Grade the units:
QB: Incomplete: Neither Moevao nor Canfield has started a Division I-A college football game. Only Canfield has accumulated any yardage at that level, so there is not enough information to make a sound judgment.
RB: A-: Yvenson Bernard is already the third all-time rusher at Oregon State with 2,648 yards. With another typical year, he will move up to No. 2 on the charts. Clinton Polk is a solid backup who rushed for 100 yards against USC when Bernard was sidelined by injury.
WR/TE: B: Sammie Stroughter, who averaged 92.4 yards per game last season, is one of the nation's most dangerous receivers. Alternative target Brandon Powers had 39 catches last season, and Anthony Wheat-Brown had 21 in 10 games. New players must prove themselves at tight end.
OL: A-: The Beavers had five linemen earn some kind of postseason honor in 2006, and four of them return. C Kyle DeVan and G Jeremy Perry head a group that paved the way for the Beavers to average 360.6 yards per game in 2006.

Breaking down the defense

Overview: The Beavers were OK defensively last season, but they gave up way too many big plays. Oregon State ranked 88th in the nation in pass defense and allowed 17 touchdown passes. The Beavers are hopeful that having an experienced secondary will produce better results in 2007. It had better. Four times the Beavers won last season despite giving up at least 28 points. They don't want to keep pushing their luck. The linebackers are a solid group, and the defensive line is above average, too.

Best player: LB Alan Darlin ranked among the Pac-10 leaders with six sacks, 13 1/2 tackles for losses and four fumble recoveries. He was fourth on the team with 72 tackles.

Oregon State Schedule
Date Opponent
Aug. 30 Utah
Sept. 6 at Cincinnati
Sept. 15 Idaho State
Sept. 22 at Arizona State
Sept. 29 UCLA
Oct. 6 Arizona
Oct. 13 at Cal
Oct. 27 Stanford
Nov. 3 at USC
Nov. 10 Washington
Nov. 17 at Washington State
Dec. 1 at Oregon
Most overrated: DE Jeff Van Orsow received a lot of attention after a pass deflection that clinched the upset of USC last season. He had a good year with 48 tackles, but he only managed three sacks.

Most underrated: DE Dorian Smith only posted 30 tackles last year his first season at Oregon State but nine were sacks.

Must step up: The entire secondary must improve its performance. Two years ago the Beavers were consistently burned for big plays, but were starting three freshmen. Keenan Lewis, Al Afalava and Brandon Hughes have grown up now and need to show they've learned from experience.

Shoes to fill: Daniel Drayton faces the task of replacing Sabby Piscitelli, who led the Beavers in interceptions last year. Piscitelli also was the defense's vocal leader, and Drayton may have to fill that role, too.

Impact newcomer: With nine defensive starters returning and several veteran backups, there won't be many chances for new guys to step into the lineup. If any newcomer gets a chance it will likely be defensive back David Ross a four-star prospect.

Position battle: None

New in 2007: Not much will be new. The Beavers didn't use nickel packages with much frequency until mid-season in 2006. That coverage scheme will probably be part of the game plan from Day One this year.

Grade the units:
DL: B: Van Orsow and Smith provide a solid set of ends, and tackles Curtis Coker and William Akau'ola Vea have played well as non-starters. Junior college transfer Latu Moala is capable of making an immediate contribution.
LB: A: Joey LaRocque, Derrick Doggett and Darlin are all quick and physical. Each notched at least 72 tackles a year ago.
DB: C+: Three starters return in the secondary, but the Beavers need to get better after allowing an average of 223.7 passing yards per game last season.

Breaking down the special teams

Overview: A Lou Groza Award-winning kicker and an All-American return man will ensure special teams is a strong point. Alexis Serna hit 22 of 29 field goals a year ago, including 10 from beyond 40 yards. Sammie Stroughter averaged more than 15 yards per punt return and had three touchdowns. Punter Kyle Loomis had a decent freshman year, averaging just over 41 yards per kick.

Season outlook with bowl forecast
Seven of the Beavers' 12 opponents played in bowl games last season, but that's not even the most demanding aspect of their schedule. The Beavers must go on the road to face Arizona State, California, Southern Cal and Oregon, which are all capable of fielding Top 25 (or much better) teams. A four-game stretch from Sept. 22 to Oct. 13 at Arizona State, vs. UCLA, vs. Arizona and at California will likely determine whether the Beavers have a strong season or just a good one. In spite of its difficult schedule, Oregon State should be good enough to post at least seven or eight victories and reach a bowl game for the fifth time in the last six years.
Grade the units:
K: A: Serna is one of the nation's best kickers and puts the Beavers in scoring position when they reach the opponents' 35-yard line. He has converted 80 percent of his field-goal attempts for his career.
P: C: Loomis' first year was a good one. He averaged over 40 yards per punt and had 14 killed inside the 20. He needs to be more consistent, but that usually comes with experience.
KR: B: Coye Francies and Gerard Lawson both averaged more than 20 yards per return.
PR: A+: Stroughter's 15.7-yard average per return ranked third in the nation.

Breaking down the coaching

Overview: Mike Riley was catching some heat early last year, especially after a blowout loss to Boise State. But the laid-back, low-key head coach directed a resurgence. Oregon State closed with an upset of Southern California and a bowl victory, so he's the toast of Corvallis for now. The Beavers coaching staff has shown the ability to devise effective game plans, which was evident in the victory over the Trojans.

Grade the coaches:
Head coach: A-: Mike Riley is the first Oregon State coach to win multiple bowl games (three). He is also the first to guide the Beavers to more than one winning record in the Pac-10 conference race since 1969. OSU has posted three winning records in the last four years.
Offense: B: The Beavers have averaged at least 360.6 yards per game in each of their three seasons with Danny Langsdorf at offensive coordinator.
Defense: B+: Defensive Coordinator Mark Banker's defenses are typically strong against the run. In 2003 and 2004, the Beavers ranked either first or second in the Pac-10 in total defense.

Special Teams B: In four seasons at Alabama, Dave Ungerer's special teams blocked 13 kicks and returned five punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns. Now, he takes over a program with one of the nation's best kickers and kick return men.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 50. Coming tomorrow: No. 32.

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