Oregon St. is about to enter a new era, where not only is long time Coach Mike Riley and many of his long-time assistants are gone, so is almost everything about the way things have run for Beaver football.
Unfortunately, so too are many of the players with much experience, especially on defense, along with the quarterback who threw for more career yards than anyone in conference history.
Even if we were not entering the Post-Riley era, popular predictions of only about 4 wins would not be unreasonable. With so many unknowns, and (for sure) a freshman starting quarterback, while a look at the schedule reveals enough opponents that also have unanswered questions that a bowl trip is not outside the realm of best case outcomes, its also a distinct possibility that the 4 win benchmark might be beyond reach.
For that reason, I'm not setting any number as the win total I expect to see this year. Come 2016, that number will exist, and the floor will be 7.
But there are some things that I do expect to see (or in some cases, not see) that may or may not translate to wins, but won't translate by themselves to losses, regardless of other developments.
The first one is the one we will actually see first, and that's to name a starting quarterback by August 15th. At the latest. By August 7, the end of the first week of practice, would be even better.
I get that Andersen and Offensive Coordinator Dave Baldwin want to be as sure as possible that they have made the right choice, and leave opponents guessing. But this team does not need a quarterback controversy or even ANY lack of reps with the guy who will line up on opening day.
Seth Collins appeared to be the most dynamic of the candidates this spring, and Andersen needs to go with him (or Nick Mitchell if he makes a decisive move right off the bat). We aren't dealing with veterans like Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz, so the team needs to know who "the guy" is, and "the guy" needs to know he is "the guy". (Besides, Collins will probably get banged up running around at some point, so Mitchell will get his chance.)
The next thing I need to see is an opening win over Weber St. The Wildcats have won 2 games in each of the last 3 seasons, and don't represent what should be a threat to any Power-5 FBS team, even one in rebuild mode.
After that, it gets more nebulous, but Beaver fans should be able to expect some benchmarks.
It's tempting to say "No blowouts", but with the most inexperienced team in the Pac-12, and several games against teams good enough to entertain thoughts of a run at the College Football Playoffs, that's unrealistic. And remember, Andersen's last outing was a 59-0 loss to one of the other OSU's, that with a Wisconsin team good enough to win the B1G 10 West.
But there shouldn't be more than a couple of them either.
More importantly, there should be no non-competitive outings where the team is obviously unprepared, and also doesn't react. There's no way to guarantee that some team won't pull a complete surprise against Oregon St. the way Stanford did last year, but if that happens, a coaching staff worth the upgraded payroll this one will be receiving should at least come up with some response fairly quickly.
There should ALWAYS be a plan "B" at the ready.
Similarly, I also don't expect to see any games where Oregon St. doesn't bother to show up, organizationally, essentially conceding the game before ever arriving at the stadium. Trips to the LA Coliseum, and most recent trips to Tempe, for that matter, fall into this category.
To be fair, that's not totally on the coaching staff; and gets into what I expect to see from the Athletic Department, and new AD Todd Stansbury.
Further, this year's schedule doesn't present any obvious possibilities for this. The road trip to the Big House could turn out looking a lot like the disastrous showing in Madison, but after that, the road schedule isn't daunting.
The Beavers traditionally have competed well in Tucson, and the trips to Pullman, Salt Lake City, and Berkeley are all very makeable. Oregon St. has been very successful against the Cougs and Bears, and there should be no shortage of motivation in Salt Lake City, the lofty prospects for the Utes this year not withstanding.
And while not always competitive against Oregon, there's never a lack of institutional interest in going to Autzen.
2016 will be when we get a better handle on where things are headed in this regard.
Another place where coaching matters is when you do get into close games. Last year, Oregon St. was in 5 such contests, and they won 3 of them. But the Beavers also lost a 4th quarter lead in both of the ones they lost, as well as a 4th quarter lead in the Cal game that wound up not being close after all.
Worse, all of those losses came at Reser.
Andersen needs to win a majority of the games that come down to a key decision or two, but he really needs to win a majority of those close games that are at home, leveraging Beaver Nation and endearing himself to them at the same time.
It will earn a reprieve for what could otherwise be a difficult season, but more importantly, it will demonstrate that he actually merits that reprieve.
I also expect to see sound clock and game management. That's not a function of talent or resources; it's a function of preparation and communication, and the opponent has nothing to do with that. And a better job in this area alone would have kept Riley in the good graces of Beaver Nation.
Finally, I expect to see a win in region. This year's edition of the Huskies should not dominate the Beavers (not that they should have the last 2 meetings, or stole away wins in 2 of the 3 games before that). Plus, the Cougars still reside in the Northwest!
Leave word in the comments below what your expectations, especially those that are measurable, are.
(44 days until the Beavers can beat the Wildcats.)