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Top 25 college football team preview: No. 23 Oregon State Beavers

Top 25 college football team preview: No. 23 Oregon State Beavers Photo: Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Oregon State needs to establish some balance offensively. A year after passing for a Pac-12 record 4,662 yards, quarterback Sean Mannion returns with a group of unproven receivers and a banged-up offensive line. Junior center Isaac Seumalo, one of the only four-star recruits to ever pick the Beavers, is still recovering from a broken foot suffered in last season’s Hawaii Bowl win over Boise State. Seumalo and a handful of other experienced linemen missed time this spring, prompting coach Mike Riley to admit in late July, “I’m worried about our offensive line.”

Mannion is one of the best pro-style quarterbacks in the country, but he needs a healthy line to protect him -- and to open up holes in a ground game gone missing. The Beavers relied too heavily on the pass last year, throwing 66 percent of the time. That’s partially because they had a prized quarterback-to-receiver tandem in Mannion and the now-departed Brandin Cooks, but it’s also because the rushing attack averaged a paltry 72.8 yards in the first 11 games of 2013. For the Beavers to make a push in the loaded Pac-12, backs Storm Woods (43.4 rushing yards per game) and Terron Ward (40.1) will have to up their production considerably.

Oregon State has one of the deepest linebacking corps in the conference, led by fifth-year senior Michael Doctor. The secondary returns both starting safeties and cornerback Steven Nelson, who grabbed six interceptions in 2013.

Opposing coach's take

You have to limit their big plays. You don’t want to let Mannion get settled in the pocket; moving around is not his strength, so you want to force him into that, and hopefully he’ll be inaccurate and turn the ball over. There’s no question that with [receiver Brandin] Cooks gone, they have a lot more to prove. I think people will play more press-man coverage and go after Mannion, at least until one of their receivers demands a little more attention.

If you can make them one-dimensional, like they were last year, it’s really hard for them. I don’t know that they have the type of running backs that they used to. From an offensive standpoint, attack their run defense and see if the front holds up. Their safeties are pretty aggressive, but you can attack their corners a little bit, and if you make them stop the run first, then you can hit them over the top with play-action.

X-factor

Wide receiver Victor Bolden’s size won’t intimidate anyone, but like Biletnikoff Award-winning wideout Cooks and All-America James Rodgers before him, the 5’9”, 175-pound speedster is built for the fly sweep. Bolden stole the spotlight a few times as a true freshman, including with his touchdown late in the fourth quarter of a 36-35 loss to Oregon. The natural starter at flanker, Bolden should excel in the Beavers’ pass-heavy attack. He is also a weapon on special teams, returning 58 kicks for 1,198 yards and one touchdown last fall.

Schedule analysis

It’s rare that Oregon State’s nonconference schedule sets up to start 3-0, yet with games against Portland State, Hawaii and San Diego State, the Beavers should be undefeated heading into Pac-12 play. Oregon State avoids Pac-12 South favorite UCLA, but has to play on the road at Stanford and USC. Could this be the year it snaps a six-game losing streak against rival Oregon?

Oregon State 2014 Schedule
 
date opponent
Aug. 30 Portland State
Sept. 6 at Hawaii
Sept. 20 San Diego State
Sept. 27 at USC
Oct. 4 at Colorado
Oct. 16 Utah
Oct. 25 at Stanford
Nov. 1 California
Nov. 8 Washington State
Nov. 15 Arizona State
Nov. 22 at Washington
Nov. 29 Oregon

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