The first football season of the Gary Andersen era at Oregon State will come to an end today at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, in the 119th battle of the Civil War against 23rd ranked Oregon. Odds are it won't be pretty, as the Ducks are 5 touchdown favorites to extend their 7 game winning streak in the series to 8 over the Beavers.
Oregon, despite being eliminated from defending their Pac-12 North and Conference titles last week when Stanford beat California, is playing their best ball of the season, as Vernon Adams is healthy, and the Ducks downed USC 48-28 last week for their 5th win in a row.
Oregon State has lost 8 in a row, and the injury plagued Beavers have't been competitive this month, with Saturday's 52-7 loss to Washington in their home finale their worst outing yet.
The least experienced team in the conference entering the season, and one of the least experienced in the country, has turned into the worst team in the conference, and one of only 4 teams in a Power-5 Conference, and 9 in the country, that hasn't won a conference game.
Inexperience & youth doubtless also helped cause the extraordinary number of injuries that have compounded the problems. Getting consistency in any phase of the game has eluded Andersen's team and frustrated his staff.
Oregon State has risen up and played a vastly superior Oregon opponent before, including after a beat down by Washington, as recently as 2 years ago, when but for a terribly defended Duck score with seconds left, could have been an upset Beaver win. If that happens again, it will be an exponentially more surprising effort that it was then.
And if today doesn't result in the upset for the ages, it will be the first time Oregon State hasn't won a conference game in a season since 1997, prior coach Mike Riley's first year. It will also be the worst season since the Pettibone era, a level of ineptitude that should never, under any circumstances not involving an airplane crash, ever have been allowed to occur again.
There will be no bowl for the second year in a row, and 4th in 6 years, in an era when multiple teams that can't even muster a winning record will get to go bowling, And equally as important for a team that's randomly searching for who can play, and in what combination, practicing for 3 more weeks before playing a game against a [relatively] quality opponent.
Since there won't be those 3 additional weeks of work, this game is about identifying which, if any, of the current players who will be returning can show that regardless of the overall outcome, they are capable of playing at this, or any, competitive level, and that's what I'll be watching for.
I think Gabe Ovgard could be one of those players, based on what I've seen in the course of the recent debacles. I hope Ryan Nall might be as well. The fact that both are on the relatively short list of in-state players on either team is not a coincidence with the fact that they both might be part of the answer of how to become a competitive team next season. Both have shown an element of pride and self-respect that has been hard for a lot of others to match.
Clearly, the job of rebuilding the Beavers has turned out to be a bigger, tougher job than Andersen or anyone else on his staff. The issues extend beyond just the current coaching staff, but they are the ones paid to straighten it out. Today will be the last and lasting image Beaver Nation will carry into Minnesota next season, and it would be a great time for Andersen to give the investors in the program some shred of encouragement that they have a plan to perform above their talent level, which will still be an inexperienced one next fall.
Beaver Believer Believes:
This cannot be a good result, but what really counts is the fight of this team. I want to see the Beavers scrap and claw all game long. Regardless of the result Andersen needs to keep his boys playing their hearts out, especially in the most critical game of any season. They have been destroyed in the last couple of games, but I always felt that they kept doing their best despite that and in a year that became strictly rebuilding.
To even try and compete the Beavers need to win in turnovers. They are going to need mistakes from the Ducks to get them some short fields for a very poor offense to have a chance to succeed, especially with even more injuries. The part of the Oregon defense to target would be their cornerbacks and maybe McMaryion offers the best chance to attack them with Jordan Villamin and Victor Bolden, but the Beavs haven't been able to pass the ball effectively yet and it seems unlikely to start today.
If the offense can keep some extended drives alive that would help as well, not allowing the UO offense to keep pushing the ball down the field. The defense needs some help with how much they have been run down this season and a successful running game with occasional passing to maintain the drive would go a long a ways. If the defense can get some stops.
The defense will need to bring their absolute best game and make stops in space. For a team that is not real athletic it is going to be difficult though, espeically with injuries at linebacker and at 'rest of team.' They cannot let the Duck skill players get away from the first defender, at worst they need to hold him up for the second hit to come in. Any yards after contact will prove lethal to OSU.
This has been a brutal season and it will finally end and I don't see anyway it will end with a win, but if the Beavers continue to show that will not quit that is all we can ask for.
Okay, here's the thing, Oregon State is probably not going to win this game, and signs point to the game being a blowout. I could take time breaking down how I personally think if the team has any chance to compete in this game the defense needs to do this and that, the offense needs to get more yards and score some points, but let's face the facts and really if the team is going to compete the players, the coaches, and the fans supporting them all need to get on the same page. But for this transitional year that is not going to happen.
So I want to get personal and ask why does this all matter in the end for us not out there on the field?
Well for me it does matter, to a point, for I am part of the Alumni of Oregon State and I have been following their ("our") football team for over thirty years now. I loved the stretch in the 2000s where the Civil War was a back and forth deal every year, well maybe did not love some of those UO wins, but you get my point. Winning is great and just competing is very fun, so yes watching this season's team lose over and over again is not fun.
I also get it matters in bringing in money to the University and brings OSU (not THE OSU, but just OSU) some better national attention and promotes the University as a whole. But in the end I did not play for Oregon State in any athletics, I earned my degree and am proud of my academic success and the ways in which that success has made me what I am today.
So, football? Ah, yes, and here is my annual love-hate deal with Beaver Nation and college football overall. Why are we so wrapped in this deal to the point where everything is about how everyone ELSE is to blame? I don't get it. We are not the young men (and for other sports women) out their risking our long-term health to entertain. We are not the coaches out there trying to mold young adults into adults AND win games for us the fans.
I will be honest; I don't get it. And this is not calling anyone out, but really myself, for that in the end is the deal, isn't it. I just don't get why I get so wrapped in it to start blaming the refs, the player's attitude and skill, the players and the coaches will to win (where did I/we become the mini ‘Inner' self coaches here to know how much they want to win?), and so on.
But I actually do know why, for I have identified myself as part of something larger than just myself. I don't have much control over that, but I feel it is very personally important too. But here is my thing though about all of this, and there has to be perspective. College football is not going to cure cancer, it will not stop war, it will not stop hunger, it will not stop sexual assault, and so on. But it can play a part in this as a part of a larger whole. A larger whole that I am also part of and take pride in. But it is NOT THE whole.
In the end am I settling for mediocrity? Maybe, I'll let others be the end judges for that. But I feel I am settling for realism here. Will this program turn things around in the near future? I have no idea. Do I want this team to pull off maybe the biggest CW upset in the series history? Hel (cough, cough), heck yes!
What I will say for sure is next season I will come back and question many things once again, the Beavs program's success, college football in general, and my own relationship to that all. But I will come back to this all still wearing the Orange and Black (not silver and black, not green and black, purple and gray, or some other combo), and I will be rooting for Oregon State University and what it does, beyond just on the field.
I am sure many people are wondering where my over-rambling final thoughts are going for this specific game?
Oregon State is probably not going to win this game, and signs point to the game being a blowout. But for a few hours today, we need to put aside our disappointment with the season. We can come back to this later and reflect back.
Some day Oregon State football will be winning games again. When? Don't know, but it will happen. So let's root for what we have put ourselves within—the larger thing called Beaver Nation. And let's root for the Orange and Black past, for its present on the field, and for its future.