Coach:Mike Riley (56-42 in eight seasons). | Staff In 2008: 9-4 overall, 7-2 in Pac-10 (tied for second in league). Beat Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl.
Returning starters: Offense: 7. Defense: 3. Special teams: 2. | Depth Chart Final 2008 Rivals.com ranking: 14th. | Complete Final 2008 Rankings Past four Rivals.com national recruiting rankings: 54th in 2009, 52nd in '08, 47th in '07, 43rd in '06
THE SCHEME: Oregon State runs its offense out of multiple formations, primarily using a three-receiver set. The bread and butter under coach Mike Riley has been the ground game; the Beavers have had a 1,000-yard rusher in eight of the past 10 seasons. The fly sweep is a mainstay of the offense, thanks to WR James Rodgers.
STAR POWER: Riley says 5-foot-7 RB Jacquizz Rodgers isn't small, just short. The Pac-10 – and USC, in particular – found that out firsthand last season, when he was Rivals.com's national freshman of the year. Rodgers ran for 1,253 yards despite having just four carries in the last three games because of a shoulder injury.
IMPACT NEWCOMERS: Redshirt freshman Colin Kelly will go into fall drills as the No. 1 left tackle, replacing second-round draft pick Andy Levitre. Freshman Geoff Garner, who enrolled in January after a two-year church mission, also could move into the mix for a starting job on the offensive line with good summer workouts.
WATCH FOR HIM TO EMERGE: Oregon State needs to find wide receivers to replace the dynamic Sammie Stroughter and the dependable Shane Morales. Junior Darrell Catchings is the leading candidate to replace Stroughter at split end. Catchings had just seven receptions last season, but he had 33 for 386 yards as a true freshman in 2007, when Stroughter missed the season with injuries.
STRONGEST AREA: Any position manned by someone named Rodgers. Before his shoulder injury, Jacquizz Rodgers averaged more than 25 carries per game. Older brother James has built a nice career running the fly sweep, rushing for 994 yards in the past two seasons. James also improved as a receiver last season, when he caught 51 passes for 607 yards. While the quarterback position is unsettled – Lyle Moevao missed the spring with an injury to his throwing shoulder and Sean Canfield enters fall drills as the starter – the Beavers have proven they can win with either Canfield (7-4 as a starter) or Moevao (11-4).
BIGGEST PROBLEM: C Alex Linnenkohl and RG Gregg Peat are established starters on the line, but there are issues elsewhere. RT Mike Remmers started seven times last season only because Tavita Thompson was ineligible; Remmers returned to the bench when Thompson returned to the lineup. Possible starting LG Michael Lamb was a walk-on at the start of spring practice. And Kelly, the aforementioned redshirt freshman, looks like the starter at left tackle. Depth is iffy, too.
THE SCHEME: Oregon State runs a 4-3 defense. The Beavers like to be aggressive in the front seven, putting a premium on defensive backs who excel in coverage.
STAR POWER: T Stephen Paea recorded only five sacks last season, but he deserved credit for several more. One of the Pac-10's best linemen, Paea helped pave the way for Es Victor Butler and Slade Norris, who combined for 22 sacks. Paea (6-1/285) is a squatty presence in the middle of the line.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: The Beavers substitute liberally on defense. One place where that has paid off is along the line. Look for Nevada transfer Matt LaGrone to get into the mix at end. LaGrone (6-6/256) played basketball for two seasons with the Wolf Pack, and his athleticism should be put to good use as a pass rusher. Actually, his athleticism needs to pay off because the Beavers lost both starting ends. LaGrone's brother, Josh, is a backup free safety.
WATCH FOR HIM TO EMERGE: Senior E Ben Terry could break out the same way Butler and Norris did last season. As with Butler and Norris, Terry has patiently waited his turn. Unlike Butler and Norris, he is far less established going into his senior season. Terry, though, is quick and played enough in a backup role last season to be ready for a bigger role this season.
STRONGEST AREA: Outside linebacker features the most experience on this side of the ball. Keaton Kristick and Keith Pankey started last season and were productive. The projected starter in the middle, third-year sophomore David Pa'aluhi, played only one season of high school football, but he should be enough of an athlete to get the job done. He's a kick-boxer who lettered as a wrestler in high school.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: Oregon State needs to replace all four starters in the secondary, three of whom were taken in the NFL draft. Senior CB Tim Clark is the most experienced of the bunch, having started six games in his career. Likely to start opposite Clark is junior James Dockery, who is coming off a knee injury. SS Suaesi Tuimaunei started twice last season, but the job's all his now.
K Justin Kahut (16-of-24 on field-goal attempts) and P Johnny Hekker (39.7 yards per attempt) return; they were adequate during the regular season, but they arguably were the MVPs of the Beavers' 3-0 Sun Bowl victory over Pittsburgh. Kahut was just 4-for-9 from 40 yards and beyond. The Beavers must replace Stroughter, who was one of the best punt returners in the nation when healthy. James Rodgers averaged 24.8 yards per kickoff return, with one touchdown, and could also be the punt returner. The punt-coverage unit needs improvement, but the kick-coverage team was solid last season.
Once a laughing stock, Oregon State has become one of the most consistent programs in the Pac-10. The Beavers' 28 victories in the past three seasons are second-most in the league, behind only USC. Riley and his staff have built the program through shrewd recruiting. The Beavers don't often sign blue-chippers, but Oregon State still has been able to win and send players to the NFL. Defensive coordinator Mark Banker, a longtime Riley aide, is one of the most underrated assistants in the nation. Banker uses a lot of players, which means the paltry number of returning starters isn't as bad as it looks. Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf always seems to get the utmost from his group.
Oregon State has been a victim of slow starts in recent seasons – 0-2 in 2008 and 2-3 in 2007 and '06. That shouldn't be a problem this season, when the Beavers open with Portland State and UNLV, followed by winnable home games against rebuilding Cincinnati and Arizona. That's the good news. The bad news is the brutal second half of the season, which features road games against USC, California and Oregon, which look to be the top three teams in the league. The Beavers have to go at least 3-1 in October to have any shot at the league title heading into November.
Oregon State stunned fans last season by finishing a win short of the Pac-10 title, which would've meant a Rose Bowl appearance. The Beavers often exceed expectations, but another run at the conference championship might be too much to ask this season. The Beavers should be competitive and almost certainly will be a bowl team, but the demanding road schedule in the second half of the season could put a damper on things.