Oregon State Prepares for Biggest Non-Conference Home Game in History

The Oregon State Beavers are coming off a rough 2011 campaign where they went just 3-9, including a loss to Sacramento State, an FCS team that went on to go just 4-8. They were hoping to start off 2012 on a better note, but had their opening game against Nicholls State postponed because of Hurricane Isaac. That means that the Beavers will kick off their 2012 season against the No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers in a game that head coach Mike Riley has described as the biggest non-conference home game in Oregon State history.

Technically speaking, he’s right. While it isn’t very often that OSU hosts a big time non-conference foe, Wisconsin coming to town represents the biggest one to hit Corvallis. Prior to this game, the Beavers have hosted just ten non-conference games against an opponent in the top-25 (going a very respectable 5-5), and this will be their first since a 28-18 loss to No. 17 Cincinnati in 2009.

The last time that the Beavers beat one of their highly ranked guests was in 1977, when the Beavers upset No. 13 BYU 24-19. While officially the 1949 Michigan State Spartans, ranked No. 8, are the highest ranked opponent OSU has hosted, that game took place in Portland, meaning that these 2012 Badgers are still the biggest non-conference foe to roll into Corvallis.

Riley is using this big game to hype up his team and the home crowd. The head coach called Wisconsin the “best team” to ever come through Corvallis in an unprompted compliment. The team has certainly taken notice of who they’ll be playing. Cornerback Jordan Poyer broke a defensive huddle at practice this week, bringing up Wisconsin and asking his teammates if they were ready to shock the world.

The Beavers aren’t strangers to pulling major upsets at home under Riley, though normally its at the expense of the men of Troy. In 2006, the No. 3 ranked USC Trojans rolled into town riding a 27-game conference winning streak before falling to the Beavers 33-31. Two years later, the Trojans came back as the No. 1 team in the country but fell 27-21 as the Beavers rode freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers for 187 yards and two touchdowns en route to just their second win over a No. 1 ranked team in their history.

Oregon State will have a monumentally difficult task ahead of them this Saturday if they hope to add these Wisconsin Badgers to their list of upsets. The Badgers are back-to-back Big Ten champions with a pair of Rose Bowl appearances the last two seasons. Last season, the Beavers went to Madison in the second game of the season and left with a 35-0 beatdown to show for their trip. Montee Ball is arguably the best running back in the country and a Heisman contender as he runs behind one of the most dominant offensive lines in the country. If there’s a style of football that can fend off an upset, it’s Bret Bielema‘s smash-mouth running style.

But there’s a reason they play the games on grass instead of paper. The Badgers are coming off a near-upset at the hands of FCS foe Northern Iowa despite having things go almost perfectly to plan. They ran the ball, with Ball running for 120 yards and a touchdown, controlled the clock, holding the ball for almost 19 minutes more than their opponent and running 16 more plays. Their quarterback, Danny O’Brien was efficient, completing 19 of 23 passes for 219 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The defense, however, nearly let them down as they did twice last year in back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Ohio State. Northern Iowa exploited the softness of the Badger pass defense and threw for three touchdowns, two of which were long scoring plays. The Badgers ultimately ended up being able to do just enough to sneak out of Madison with the 26-21 win, but they didn’t instill any confidence in anyone watching in the process.

Enter Oregon State, who has one of the more experienced quarterbacks in the Pac 12 with Sean Mannion, who played his first road game last year in Madison. In addition, because of the postponement of their opening game, the Badgers are going into this game blind with no game film of their OSU foe. With a Beaver team that is young and putting out new faces all over the place, that mystery could give them in an edge over a Wisconsin team that will need to feel them out to start the game.

To craft an upset, the Beavers will have to play near flawless football and catch the Badgers flat on their feet. Mike Riley knows how to get his team up for games against highly ranked opponents, but does he have one more trick up his sleeve for Wisconsin?

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