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Three Reasons Oregon State Football will Struggle in 2019

On-field improvements? Yes! Better Record? Uh...

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Media Day Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It is officially August and with fall camp underway optimism is at an all-time high amongst Oregon State Football fans. Every player is bigger, faster, stronger and better coached. The continuity among the coaching staff is allowing the team to learn plays and schemes that they couldn’t even fathom a season ago. All of this will lead to a completely different product on the field once the season starts, bowl eligibility is on the horizon! Right? Well probably not. Here’s three big reasons why Oregon State will find it difficult to improve on last year’s 2-10 record.

#1 - Oregon State is playing one of the toughest schedules in the entire country.

But wait that can’t be! The Pac-12 isn’t very good; it’s not like the Beavers play in the SEC or something. Well unfortunately it’s true. ESPN’s FPI ranks Oregon State’s schedule as the 8th toughest in the nation. Even with FCS team Cal Poly on the schedule, Oregon State will play Oklahoma State (who hasn’t had a losing record since 2005), a road game in Hawaii and then nine conference games. The two schools Oregon State will miss in Pac-12 play? Colorado and USC; the former of which is considered the worst team in the South Region and the only conference foe the Beavers have defeated the over last two seasons.

Using the S&P Rankings (fancy advanced college football stats) from Bill Connelly’s season previews; the Beavers will be favored in just one game all season. - Bill Connelly

Despite the Beavers being favored in just one game, the numbers have them winning 2.6 games for 2019. In order to win those 2-to-3 games they’ll obviously have to pull off some upsets. After Cal Poly the best chances to get a win according to S&P: is at Hawaii (36%), Arizona State (23%), at UCLA (19%) and at Cal (19%).

It’s usually much easier to pull an upset off at home, but the Beavers home slate does them zero favors. Oklahoma State, Stanford, Utah and Washington are all extremely good football teams; top-25 type football teams that will be huge double-digit favorites when they visit Reser Stadium.

With this schedule, Oregon State has very little chance of even coming close to bowl-eligibility. Achieving six wins would likely require four conference victories. Something that hasn’t happened for Oregon State since 2013 (the days of Sean Mannion to Brandin Cooks). This is a brutal schedule for the Beavers, but on the bright side the schedule should get a little easier in the next few years.

#2 - The Defense won’t dramatically improve.

It’s been covered extensively, but Oregon State had a very very very very bad defense last season. Potentially the worst defense that a “Power 5” program has ever fielded. They would have been the worst defense in all of college football if UConn didn’t flirt with having the worst defense ever. This Oregon State team has brought in reinforcements though, they return most of 2018’s production and a lot of their young guys gained valuable experience. The big picture though is that another rough year could still be in store.

College football teams don’t typically go from bad to good; or bad to even average defensively. Take a look at some of the worst defensive teams in 2017 (points allowed per game) and how they progressed the following season:

  • Eastern Carolina University: 45.0 PPG (130th) to 37.3 PPG (120th)
  • Kansas: 43.4 PPG (129th) to 30.0 PPG (82nd)
  • San Jose State: 41.7 PPG (127th) to 36.6 PPG (115th)
  • Louisana-Monroe: 41 PPG (126th) to 31.8 PPG (92nd)
  • Ball State: 40.7 PPG (125th) to 32.4 PPG (96th)
  • Louisiana 2017 40.0 PPG (124th) to 34.2 PPG (105th)

Looking at the worst defensive teams in 2017 (excluding Oregon State at 128th) most of them improved year-over-year; but the improvements were gradual. Even Kansas who made the biggest leap defensively still allowed 30 points per game in 2018 and were in the bottom tier of FBS teams. The Beavers and UConn both had very bad defensive teams in 2017 and they actually were (much) worse the following season. I’d expect both schools to show improvement this upcoming season, but defense is just one of those areas that doesn’t dramatically improve season-to-season. You need experience, continuity, talent and an established scheme in place. Those things take years to pursue and cultivate.

#3 - Oregon State’s progress on the offensive and defensive line is questionable...

Jeromy Reichner’s tragic ACL tear only hampers the Beavers worst position group (defensive line). I won’t further bemoan the defensive line here, since the defensive struggles have long been chronicled. The offensive line on the other-hand is another worry for this Oregon State team.

Football is won at the line of scrimmage in the trenches and that is the one place that Oregon State is seriously lagging behind most Power 5 schools. The Beavers have 18 offensive lineman in fall camp and while that bodes well for depth down the road; not many of those offensive lineman are ready to compete and excel in the Pac-12. Blake Brandel and Gus Lavaka (the only two returning starters) will need to carry this group. Nathan Eldridge has been a solid Pac-12 performer before with Arizona; but his health and fitness level is still a huge question mark at this point. Beyond those three guys its looking like a lot will be asked of Brandon Kipper, Clay Cordasco and Nous Keobounnam.

Any injuries to the top six lineman would thrust Jake Levengood or Onesimus Clarke into action and while they’ve got talent; they’re both young and inexperienced. The Beavers have a plethora of playmakers and two solid quarterbacks that can move the ball down the field; but it all starts at the line of scrimmage. The Beavers will simply be over matched at the point of attack in a majority of the games they play in 2019.

The bottom line is this team is still in rebuild mode. The players are just as sick and tired of losing as the fan base is, but as the old saying goes “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. I’ve seen lots of Oregon State fans predict four, five and even six wins for the Beavers in 2019. I just don’t see that as a realistic expectation for the Beavers.

Arkansas is another Power 5 team coming off a 2-10 season and our friends at HawgBeat dug into just how often Power Five teams are able to quickly turn it around. Here’s what they found out (full story here): “We examined all 71 BCS/Power Five conference teams that won two or fewer games since the turn of the century (2000) and found that they increased their win total by an average of just 2.21 the following year and only 22.5 percent of them actually reached the six-win mark. Throw out teams that have at least three seasons of two or fewer wins... and the numbers slightly improve.”

The Beavers 2-10 season in 2018 certainly isn’t an outlier like it was for Arkansas. The odds-makers in Las Vegas put the over/under for Oregon State’s win total in 2019 at 2.5 wins. On FanDuel, Oregon State opened up at 2.5 wins and so many people bet the under that FanDuel dropped Oregon State’s win total to just 2 wins. Yes gambling odds aren’t perfect, but their typically pretty accurate. Last season one sports better won big money taking the under for Oregon State’s season which ironically was also set at 2.5 wins.

The fact is Oregon State is not yet a good football team. Danny Sheridan of Sporting News recently ranked Oregon State as the worst Power 5 team in the nation. Today, CBS Sports ranked all 130 FBS teams and slotted Oregon State in at 108th. Don’t get me wrong the Beavers will show improvement during the 2019 season. Last year they lost nine games by 17 points or more; that won’t happen again. They will be much more competitive and the scoreboard will reflect that. Despite the improvements and overall talent influx, don’t count on Oregon State’s final record improving much.