The Oregon State Beavers have been one of the surprise teams in the early part of 2012, jumping out to a 4-0 start and climbing to #10 in national polls, but quarterback Sean Mannion‘s recent knee injury could bring the Beavers back to reality.
Mannion suffered a partially torn meniscus in his left knee during last weekend’s 19-6 win over Washington State, according to Oregon State’s Senior Associate Athletic Director for Sports Medicine, Dr. Doug Aukerman. Mannion finished the game, but will have surgery to repair the knee.
Officially, his status is “week to week,” but he’ll certainly miss at least a few games. Recovery time for the procedure is generally about 2-4 weeks for elite athletes. Earlier this season, USC placekicker Andre Heidari reportedly had the same type of surgery; he missed two games and returned following the team’s bye week.
The good news for Oregon State is that Mannion’s injury isn’t season-ending. The bad news is that the team will be without one of its key players for up to a month.
In 2012, Mannion has thrown for 1,358 yards and seven touchdowns, and he’s averaging more than 300 passing yards per game. The chemistry he’d developed with receivers Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks elevated them into one of the nation’s best receiving duos, but now they’ll have to find rapport with another quarterback, at least for a few weeks.
Junior Cody Vaz will start beginning this Saturday at BYU. Vaz hasn’t seen game action since 2011, when he appeared in five games. He is 6 of 17 for 48 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions.
The Cougars are dealing with quarterback issues of their own; senior Riley Nelson is slated to start after missing a few weeks with a back injury. He was relieved by freshman Taysom Hill, who played well in two starts before suffering his own season-ending knee injury last week.
There’s never a “good” time for a starting quarterback to go down, but with BYU having a lackluster season, this week’s game in Provo isn’t quite as daunting – and it’s not a conference game, so a loss won’t impact the Beavers’ Pac-12 standings.
Oregon State hosts Utah the following week. The Utes haven’t won a Pac-12 game yet, and if Vaz does a decent job against BYU, the Beavers should also be able to handle them. (Even if he has a rough first outing, he’ll be expected to improve as he gets more playing time.)
After that, the schedule gets a little dicier as Mannion’s return gets closer.
Oregon State travels to Washington the last weekend of October for the Beavers’ first division game, one that would’ve been a challenge even with Mannion starting. The UW defense looked rock solid against Stanford but then surrendered 52 points to the Oregon Ducks. If the Huskies bounce back against USC and Arizona, then Vaz and the offense are in trouble. If the Stanford performance was an outlier, UW could pick up another loss or two before Oregon State comes to town.
The Beavers open November with a home game against Arizona State. The Sun Devils lead the Pac-12 in total defense and are among the top 25 in total offense but theoretically, Oregon State could catch ASU on a down week, sandwiched between back-to-back games against Oregon and UCLA, and with USC looming the following Saturday.
If everything goes according to plan, the Beavers will get Mannion back by early November, in time to get them through some tough Pac-12 North games. They have Stanford, Cal, and then the Civil War at home against Oregon – but those will be tough games to win, even with Mannion, especially if he hasn’t played in a month.
The Beavers’ 4-0 start means Vaz has a little wiggle room while he gets his bearings; he’s not in a situation where he has to take over the offense and make the sure the team wins out to get to a bowl. The more he wins, the less pressure there is for Mannion to try to rush through his recovery to save the season.
If Vaz isn’t up for the task, the team could be 4-4 when Mannion comes back, and a bowl game would still be possible. On the other hand, if he plays well, the Beavers could be bowl eligible a few weeks before their quarterback is ready to return.
Regardless of the season’s outcome now that Mannion is out, one thing is certain: Oregon State is already better a better team than last season.