For the sake of the overall success of the season, and for Jacquizz Rodgers, the Beavers can't afford to get off to a slow start. The early-season schedule is challenging, but this team is as built to handle it as any of the teams of the past several years.
On the offense, there's depth and proven experience at almost every position except quarterback, where the Beavers will be breaking in sophomore Ryan Katz this season.
Will Katz's success determine Oregon State's success this season? Perhaps. In the non-conference schedule, probably. The Beavers don't need Katz to become Sean Canfield of last year-- and they shouldn't expect him to-- but the Beavers really can't afford for him to struggle with accuracy right out of the shoot. But with playmakers like Jacquizz, James, Wheaton, Catchings, and Bishop to throw and hand off to, his job should be manageable.
If you thought the offense was experienced, the defense is even more so. The majority of OSU's starters against TCU will be seniors, including the entire front line. There are questions at linebacker, where linebacker Tony Wilson will take over for the departed David Pa'aluhi in the middle, but if Keith Pankey can recover from achilles surgery, the group should be solid, although Keaton Kristick will be missed.
The secondary has matured over the past few years, and now includes more depth. Tim Clark is gone, but Dockery, Mitchell, Collins, Tuimaunei, and Hardin return under Coach Banker.
Justin Kahut is back to kick for his senior season, and Johnny Hekker will handle the punting as a junior.
So, the question becomes: where do you see this team headed?
Like I was saying above, it's hard to pin Oregon State's livelihood solely on Ryan Katz, but it's hard to judge a team that doesn't have a proven quarterback. It puts the Beavers at a distinct advantage in the Pac-10 race at this point in time, but the Beaver offense definitely won't be inept with the Rodgers brothers.
The fact that 16 starters return from a team that came a win away from the Rose Bowl means that nearly anything is possible in 2011.
What are your predictions for Oregon State football this season?
--Jake | (firstname.lastname@example.org)