The Beavers take on Washington State in Reser Stadium in just over two weeks! Pac-12 football is finally just around the corner. If Oregon State has any hopes of having a winning record then they absolutely need to win the season opener. ESPN FPI has the OSU/WSU game as essentially a toss-up, giving the slight edge to Washington State. The rest of the scheduled games are not exactly favorable for the Beavs.
How good is Washington State? Nothing is certain in this shortened-season; but the Cougars are breaking in a new head coach (Oregon State nemesis Nick Rolovich), new true freshman quarterback (Jayden de Laura) and new starters at wide receiver (they lost their top three pass-catchers).
It might seem like the cupboard is bare for Washington State based on that description, but it’s far from the truth. Washington State is still going to have an extremely lethal offense. Max Borghi is a stud running back that accounted for more than 1,400 scrimmage yards last season. The team is loaded with talented wide receivers and the team has three big, highly recruited options at quarterback. Not to mention they have at least two future NFL-ers on their offensive line in Abraham Lucas & Josh Watson.
Bill Connelly’s SP+ rankings project Washington State to have the 21st ranked offense in college football despite losing their starting QB and top three pass-catchers. The problems arise for the Cougars on the other side of the ball and hiring Jake Dickert from Wyoming as defensive coordinator won’t immediately solve them. SP+ has Washington State as the 102nd ranked defense in college football (out of 127 teams). There’s room for improvement, a lot of improvement.
The Cougars have some nice pieces on defense; linebacker Jahad Woods and defensive lineman Will Rodgers III to single a couple out. But the Mike Leach Air Raid did them no favors, leaving the defense to defend more plays and stay on the field longer than typical teams. The run-and-shoot that Rolovich will install from Hawaii won’t exactly help them catch their breath either though.
As I’ve dug in and done some surface level research on Washington State’s football team this offseason, it’s clear I initially wasn’t giving them enough credit. They are going to be a darn good football team and probably deserve to be slight favorites over Oregon State. If Washington State is going to have a successful season though, the transition from Air Raid to run-and-shoot will need to be smooth, a reliable quarterback will need to emerge and the defense will need to take a big step forward.
In 2019 Oregon State went 5-7 and had three losses by a combined seven points. Finishing the season one loss short of bowl eligibility stung. And two of those losses still stick in my mind. The loss to Nick Rolovich’s team in Hawaii and the one-point loss to Washington State. Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat remembering those games and how if the ball bounces differently Oregon State plays in a bowl game last season.
I think those two losses are going to be fresh on Oregon State’s mind. I’m sure the coaching staff will make them re-watch the tape (several times over) before the season-opener. How often do you get to avenge TWO heart-breaking losses in the next season’s home-opener? Honestly if the Beavers can beat Washington State and nab another victory along the way in a shortened season I expect them to go bowling and I will count it as a successful season.
This is not going to be the 54-53 shootout of last season, where both teams easily surpassed 600 yards of offense. Oregon State’s defense is vastly improved; while Washington State will be working through some early season rust. On the flip side, the Beavers offense won’t be in mid-season form; while the Cougars defense is bound to improve. Max Borghi will probably gain at least 100 yards. Jayden de Laura will probably create a few big plays, but ultimately I’ll go with the Beavers.
31-27 Oregon State pulls out the win.