Beavers Face Tough Road Schedule In 2014
By John Baker
Coming off a 7-6 campaign in 2013, Oregon State wants to improve on that record in 2014 with a schedule that has a heavy load of home games, but also forces the team to play key conference games on the road.
However, to take advantage of the favorable home slate, particularly late in the season, head coach Mike Riley must get the running game out of its three-season slump and find some capable receivers to catch the ball from quarterback Sean Mannion.
The Beavers open the season with two road games and play three of its first four league contests on the road. After theoretically feasting on Portland State to open the season Aug. 30, the Beavers face an interesting road test at Hawaii, host San Diego State and then open the Pac-12 Conference slate at USC.
Oregon State will be looking to re-establish a receiving corps that's young and fairly inexperienced with the loss of Brandin Cooks to the NFL. The trip to Hawaii appears to be a winnable game, but it's fraught with peril as the travel and myriad distractions in and around Honolulu have derailed many a team. Mannion will need his backfield to hit the ground running to help loosen up the secondary. Fortunately, the Beavers return seven starters on defense and get 2012 starting linebacker Michael Doctor back as well.
Defense may carry this team in the early part of the schedule.
The games against Portland State and Hawaii, followed by a Sept. 20 tilt with San Diego State, certainly are games the Beavers can and should win. However, given Oregon State's slow start the last two years, sitting at 1-2 in a worst-case scenario isn't unthinkable. A good start is vital to building confidence as they head into a formidable middle part of the schedule.
Beavers fans hope the squad will use those first three games as a proving ground for the receiving corps and establish a running game, because the league opener is going to be tough — at USC on Sept. 27.
For all intents and purposes, the Trojans just have the feel of a team that's on the way back and there's no doubting the talent level at USC. A new coach, a new attitude and plenty of talented players spell a tough go for the Beavers. An upset road win would be huge. A well-played, confidence-building loss would be fine.
Oregon State then travels to Colorado on Oct. 4, hosts Utah in a Thursday night showdown Oct. 16 and then has another nasty road trip to Stanford on Oct. 25. Coming out of that with a 2-1 record would be tremendous for the Beavers. Handling a physical Stanford team in Palo Alto may be asking too much of this team. However, Oregon State has a history of shocking upsets, both on the road and at home. We'll know a lot about this team by the time Stanford lines up across from it.
Through seven games, it's not unthinkable to hope for 5-2, possibly 4-3, or if things struggle in the running game and receiver corps, 3-4 or even 2-5. The last three years, Oregon State has shown it can and will lose games it should not lose on paper. Fortunately, after this stretch, the Beavers have a chance to regroup with four of its last five games at Reser Stadium.
Oregon State plays three straight at home — California (Nov. 1), Washington State (Nov. 8) and Arizona State (Nov. 15) before heading to a rebuilding Washington on Nov. 22. It closes out with the annual Civil War against Oregon at home on Nov. 29.
Traditionally, Mike Riley-coached teams improve as the season goes along, putting together winning streaks in the latter part of the schedule. A three-year struggle to run the ball has put a crimp in the late-season surges. Oregon State would benefit by getting the ground game back where it was with Steven Jackson, Yvenson Bernard, Jacquizz Rodgers and others motoring along behind a tough, hard-nosed offensive line.
The line play has suffered of late and the lack of emerging running backs has left the offense without its most potent weapon, forcing more and more pressure onto the shoulders of Mannion and his receivers. There were signs the running game was coming around at the end of the 2013 season, but nothing consistent on which the team can hang its hats. As a result, Mannion set a Pac-12 record with more than 4,600 yards through the air. That's a fun stat, but not what Riley wants from his offense.
If the Beavers can't find another receiver or two to be productive and can't run the ball again, the defense will start to wear down and no amount of Mannion filling the air with footballs will stop the inevitable.
Looking at the schedule, it appears a 9-3 or 8-4 season is likely under good circumstances, while Oregon State could face another 6-6 season or worse should the running game struggle again.
Oregon State's 2014 Schedule
Aug. 30 -- Portland State
Sept. 6 -- Hawaii
Sept. 20 -- San Diego State
Sept. 27 -- at USC
Oct. 4 -- at Colorado
Oct. 16 -- Utah (Thursday)
Oct. 25 -- at Stanford
Nov. 1 -- California
Nov. 8 -- Washington State
Nov. 15 -- Arizona State
Nov. 22 -- at Washington
Nov. 29 -- Oregon