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Beavers Holiday Bowl Bound?

Jake jump-started the expectations for the coming season theme, and following is my very early cloudy crystal ball look ahead at the season to come for the Beavers, remarkably already the last one in the too-short (for Beaver fans, not opposing defensive coordinators) career of James Rodgers (r.).

The Holiday Bowl in San Diego, site of coach Mike Riley's pro football excursion between his OSU stints, is one popular post-season destination that Oregon St. hasn't found it's way to yet. But the 2010 season shapes up as the year that streak ends.

The opener against TCU in Dallas is a national stage game on ESPN at Cowboys Stadium that many Beaver believers are looking forward to, even more so than the Rogers brothers, who will be playing in their home state for the first time post-high school.

There is a reason that even OSU teams with experienced quarterbacks have started slow, never mind one with an inexperienced Ryan Katz at the wheel. Plus, the deep, experienced Horned Frogs are one of the better teams the Beavers have ever faced.

Too often Oregon St., as happened especially early last season, will have to turn to Justin Kahut. Kahut will come through, but that will be the problem, and TCU will launch another run to a BCS Bowl with a shootout win with the nation watching.

Riley and staff will capitalize on a week off, and the Beavers will bounce back with a big win when the Louisville Cardinals fly into Reser for the home opener.

Should Boise St. beat Virginia Tech, and OSU overcome TCU, it could force ESPN Game Day to come to Boise, but I just don't see that materializing. The Broncos can win against the Hokies, but the odds are better that the loss of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will be too much to overcome in week one, and both BSU & OSU will be out of the BCS at large race by Labor Day.

It won't matter to Oregon St., though, as if Boise does win in Landover, they will be rolling, knowing the game is a BCS elimination game. If they don't, they will be angry, looking to take it out on a northwest rival, and a Pac-10 target.

Ryan Katz will be emerging as a star, but Kellen Moore already is one. Boise St. is a better team than TCU, though their schedule won't allow the BCS and the country to realize that. Oregon St. will find out though, and the Broncos' incredible record on the blue turf will be extended.

Oregon St. will bounce back again, and former coach Dennis Erickson's visit back to Corvallis will end worse than the last one did. The unsettled Arizona St. offense can't keep pace with the OSU offense, and the Beavers will get the Pac-10 race off to a good start at the Sun Devils' expense.

The next two weeks will actually be the most critical of the season, with trips to Tucson and Seattle. Both games will be winnable, but also extremely losable. Remember, Arizona upended OSU last year in Corvallis, and the desert heat will be a big factor in this one. And Washington, with Jake Locker looking for the Heisman, will be looking for revenge for what has become a long string of Beaver wins.

Expect a knock-down, drag out affair with the Wildcats, reminiscent of both the Beavers' trip to Tucson two years ago, and the Oregon-Arizona game last season. But coach Mike Stoops and the Wildcats have too much upheaval in the ranks of their coordinators, and will take a step back defensively, a bad combination when facing the Rodgers brothers. Oregon St. continues the state's recent run of success in the desert.

Husky Stadium will be rocking when the Beavers roll into town, and packed with Washington fans thinking Rose Bowl, and talking about all the weapons at Locker's disposal. The Huskies do have the speed in their secondary to stay with Oregon St.'s fleet of receivers most of the time. But a time or two, they will lose someone. Also, Washington's lines, though much improved, are both still a step slow, and not deep.

The win will be contingent on the OSU offensive line playing at the top of their game, but if they do, talk of roses will be dampened in Seattle. And 'Quizz will remind all who the best player in the northwest is.

The back to back battles on the road would ordinarily spell doom, but the schedule provides another timely bye before Cal comes to town for Homecoming, and Riley will again leverage the extra preparation time. Cal hasn't had a good time up here, or against OSU anywhere, of late, and they are a player or two away on both sides of the ball. The Bears will have had more than enough of the Beavers by the time Halloween eve ends.

The trip to the Rose Bowl will be another game that goes a lot like it did two years ago, with Rick Neuheisel's improved Bruins giving the Beavers all they can handle for a while. But as happened the week before against the other Bears, offensively challenged UCLA won't put enough points on the board, and OSU will head home with the win.

Washington St. will walk into a buzzsaw on Dad's weekend, and the Cougars will take yet another lopsided beatdown from OSU, kept closer than it would be only because Riley will get a lot of reserves in, trying to avoid wear and tear headed for the home stretch.

The visit from bowl ineligible USC so late in the season is one of the toughest games to predict all year, as it is hard to anticipate the impact of injuries, and possibly unexpected game outcomes, on both teams. On the one hand, the Trojans have had just a terrible time in the Willamette Valley, and new coach Lane Kiffen has yet to inspire confidence in his ability to successfully manage adversity week in and week out.

On the other hand, USC still has the most talent of anyone on the schedule. And when the current Beaver defense has matched up with arguably superior athletes (see last year's Cincinnati, USC, and Oregon games), they haven't been able to get off the field in the late going, and give their offense a chance to win the game. And how long can the Trojan losing streak in the valley last?

It's possible the season may have gotten away from USC by late November, but I can't shake the feeling that the most likely way for OSU to win this one will be if they have also already stumbled, probably in Tucson or Seattle, and are in "fight back mode." Recent history has shown the Pac-10 to be too tough to carry an unbeaten record past Thanksgiving, and one, or even two, conference losses is more likely.

The last time Oregon St. visited Palo Alto, in August of 2008, the Beavers blew a winnable game, and a Rose Bowl trip, and it could happen again. Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh will have had ample time to adjust the Cardinal to life after Toby Gerhart. Also, remember what Andrew Luck did to Oregon last year.

Add in that it is a road trip on a distracting Thanksgiving week, after a highly draining effort against USC, and probably the smallest crowd of supporters all season, and you have the biggest chance of the year for a flat performance by the Beavers.

This is where senior leadership will need to come forward, and obviously it won't come from Katz. Unlike Jacquizz, who can talk the walk as well as he can run it, elder brother James Rodgers does most of his talking with his performances. This will be the week he adds an element of maturity to his resume. And also a huge kick return. Beavers find a way, setting up a third straight Civil War with a Rose Bowl trip on the line. Count on the fact that Oregon has to travel to both Cal and USC, houses of horrors for them of late, to keep the Pac-10 race unsettled going into December.

This time the Civil War is back in Corvallis, and after two straight Duck wins, Reser will be rocking. Oregon coach Chip Kelley seems to have the Oregon St. defense figured out though (remember, he was the offensive coordinator two years ago that produced the most points ever in a Civil War), and by then, the Duck passing game will again be clicking well enough to compliment the multi-threat Oregon running game.

LeGarrett Blount was a tremendous change of pace, first to Jeremiah Johnson, and then to LaMichael James, the last two years, for the Oregon offense. He's gone, but James still has Kenjon Barner as a sidekick, and together, they make the Ducks the most difficult rushing attack to contend with in the Pac-10.

Oregon's defense is most vulnerable to great quarterback performances (see last year's Stanford and Ohio St. games), and Katz to James Rodgers, Marcus Wheaton, Joe Halahuni, Jordan Bishop, and Darrell Catchings will be the key to an OSU win, not ‘Quizz, if it is to happen. Teams breaking in inexperienced quarterbacks rarely win the Pac-10, and Katz won't be able to buck the trend.

The Duck starters are the most talented in the conference, and will earn another Rose Bowl trip. With two, or possibly three conference losses, and at least four overall, the Beavers' brutal schedule will see them passed over for the Alamo Bowl, but the Holiday Bowl will prove to be a nice way to spend the week between the holidays. Hopefully, Riley can do a bit better in his return to San Diego than in his first venture there.