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How ‘Not Done Yet’ Is Oregon State Football?

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After demolishing USC what are the expectations for this team?

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Southern California Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

After Saturday’s annihilation of USC in the Coliseum, Oregon State earned themselves a hearty celebration. The 45-points the Beavers offense put up was the most Oregon State has ever scored against USC. It ended a 61-year streak of losing to USC on the road and all of it happened in just an incredibly dominate fashion. The Beavers offensive line was remarkably efficient and outright ruthless. In fact, the offense did not have a single negative play the entire game. It was gritty, it was delightful and more than anything it signaled to the outside world that this Oregon State football team is the real deal. Amidst the celebration Jonathan Smith declared “you guys earned this, but hear this. We ain’t done yet”. Just how far can this team go?

Before the season if I would have told you Oregon State was going to finish the 2021 season 6-6 and be playing Minnesota in the Redbox Bowl I think every Beaver fan would have been satisfied with that outcome. Now? No way! Riding high after that USC win and sitting 3-1 on the season with the rest of the Pac-12 melting around them, 6 wins seems like the floor and might even be considered a disappointment. ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) has the Beavers favored in every remaining game besides the road rivalry game vs. Oregon.

ESPN FPI

So how far can this team go? It doesn’t seem far-fetched to think 8 wins could happen. What about 9? Could the Beavers finish 2nd in the Pac-12 North? Heck, why couldn’t Oregon State challenge Oregon for the Pac-12 Championship? No matter how this season shakes out it sure has been fun to watch this team shine the last few weeks. Fans have seen the improvements under Jonathan Smith over the last 4 years, but it hasn’t lead to a lot of wins. This year is different, this year winning week-in and week-out is the new expectation.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to be a good football coach. I was amped back in December of 2014 when OSU hired Gary Anderson from Wisconsin. I figured an energetic, highly sought after, rah-rah type of coach would bring top recruits to Corvallis and get the Beavers over the hump that Mike Riley was always just on the precipice of reaching. Boy was I wrong and the Gary Anderson era quickly imploded.

I didn’t share the same optimism when Oregon State hired Jonathan Smith. I thought he was a good offensive mind, but didn’t necessarily think he had the charisma or leadership abilities to run a successful Pac-12 football program. I (perhaps naively) thought a good coach/leader would need to be admired, distinguished and be the type of person who commands eyeballs when they walk into a room. Maybe that line of thinking is just an outright lie when it comes to the characteristics of a good leader.

I’ve also been watching a lot of Ted Lasso (a great TV show) lately. Ted Lasso (the main character and head coach) is just relentlessly optimistic. He earns respect from everyone around him through his cheesy sound bites and overall unstoppable kindness. Obviously Ted Lasso is just a show for entertainment purposes, but it does make you think and reflect on the type of coaches and leaders you’ve encountered in your own life.

Is Jonathan Smith Oregon State’s version of Ted Lasso? The unassuming head coach doesn’t wow you away during a press conference. He’s recruited well during his 4 years in Corvallis, but he hasn’t exactly lit the recruiting trail on fire. Coach Smith isn’t going to miraculously convince a top-100 recruit to come to Corvallis with his smooth talking ways. But what has he done successfully? He’s rebuilt a winning culture from the ground up.

That culture is one of the reasons Oregon State has been a hot spot for players in the transfer portal looking for a new home. Just think of a few of the stars in the win against USC. The Beavers top tackler? Avery Roberts (transferred from Nebraska). Top two receivers? Tyjon Lindsey (Nebraska) & Tre’Shaun Harrison (Florida State).

What if the Beavers were still struggling to develop a solid culture? Do you think Chance Nolan would have stuck it out this offseason after essentially being relegated to 3rd string with the addition of Sam Noyer to the QB room? Now Chance Nolan has led the team to three straight blowouts and looks like a star in the making.

Another example of Oregon State’s strong culture is B.J. Baylor. During his college career Baylor has been stuck behind guys like Jermar Jefferson and Artavis Pierce. This offseason when it looked like he might finally be the star running back the Beavers brought in some stiff running back competition. But B.J. Baylor didn’t look to get more touches somewhere else, instead he has seized the opportunity before him and over the last three games he’s ran for 398 yards, while becoming the focal point of Oregon State’s offense.

No one can predict the future, but it sure looks like Oregon State will be playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2013. With the Beavers likely to be favored in a handful of their remaining games, eight (or more) wins and a reputable bowl game could certainly be in their future. Regardless of how this season plays out, I sure am glad Jonathan Smith will be the man leading Oregon State football for the foreseeable future.