2020 Team Preview: Can Oregon State Crack The Top Four In Its Division?

It has been a slow and difficult process for Jonathan Smith, the head coach at Oregon State. Smith was Washington’s offensive coordinator in 2016, the year when the Huskies made the College Football Playoff and faced Alabama in the Peach Bowl national semifinals. Smith used his time at Washington under then-coach Chris Petersen to position himself as an attractive head coaching candidate. When the Oregon State job came open a few years ago, Smith pounced. Now at Oregon State, he is realizing how challenging it is to recruit players to come to tiny Corvallis, a small college town a few dozen miles off Interstate 5 in the farm country of the Northwest. Oregon State has been buried beneath the top teams in the Pac-12 North for several years. Can the Beavers dig out of this hole and improve?

Offseason Changes

The Beavers lose a pair of four-year starters along their offensive line: Blake Brandel and Gus Lavaka. Quarterback Jake Luton needs to be replaced. Receiver Isaiah Hodgins is gone too after collecting over 1,100 receiving yards last season. There are a lot of holes on offense which need to be plugged this season in order for the Beavers to climb up the ladder in the Pac-12 North Division.

The Beavers Will Succeed If…

Their defense becomes a significant and imposing force. Oregon State’s personnel losses on offense mean the defense is the unit which will have to carry this team – if not for the full season, at least for the first three games on the Pac-12 schedule. Oregon State has historically fielded teams which were strong on offense and average to weak on defense, but this year’s team is expected to be better on defense than on offense. If that is true, Oregon State can’t have a moderately good defense and a mediocre offense. The Beavers would need an excellent defense and an above-average offense. There is no margin for error with this team, so the defense has to be elite, not just fairly good, from the opening kickoff to the end of the last Pac-12 game in late December.

The Beavers Will Fail If…

Tristan Gebbia doesn’t put the pieces together at quarterback. Gebbia had played at Nebraska under former Husker head coach Mike Riley, who had coached at Oregon State several years ago. Oregon State has a few players on its 2020 roster who transferred from Nebraska, presumably because they had wanted to play for Mike Riley but then watched him get fired so that Scott Frost could take over. If Gebbia – trying to rebuild his career by transferring to Oregon State after a negative experience in Nebraska – can become a quarterback who can expertly run Jonathan Smith’s offense, Oregon State could become a much tougher Pac-12 opponent than many people are currently ready to expect.

Prediction

The Beavers could possibly pass Stanford for fourth place in the Pac-12 North, but there are so many unanswered questions surrounding their offense. Stanford is no longer a division title contender, but it is still probably better than Oregon State. The Beavers’ lack of a proven quarterback would be a concern in any year, but a pandemic year is not the right time to have an unsettled reality at football’s most important position.

Prediction: 5th in Pac-12 North

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