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Five Reasons the Oregon State Beavers Will Win the Pac 12 in 2013

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Five Reasons the Oregon State Beavers Will Win the Pac 12

Oregon State helmet
Scott Olmos - USA TODAY Sports

The Oregon State Beavers shocked the country last season when they seemingly came out of nowhere to win their first six games of the season, including huge upsets of the then-No. 13 Wisconsin Badgers and No. 19 UCLA Bruins in back-to-back weeks. They eventually came back down to earth a bit, finishing the year 9-4, but they still surpassed just about everyone’s expectations with their success.

Now, they’ll be looking to build off of that in 2013 and take the next step towards Pac 12 champions and a Rose Bowl berth. They’ll have a tough road ahead of them with a pair of BCS-bowl winners ahead of them in their division with the Stanford Cardinal and Oregon Ducks and the ever-improving Washington Huskies nipping at their heels.

These new-look Beavers may have what it takes, however, to take that next step. Many of their top contributors last season came as a shock to everyone, including the Oregon State coaching staff probably. Now, OSU knows the weapons they have at their disposal and can start designing their schemes around the talent they unearthed in 2012.

They have a somewhat favorable schedule to get it done in 2013. Two of the three teams they suffered conference losses to (Stanford and Washington) come to Corvallis this season, along with the USC Trojans, who struggle at Reser Stadium. They’ll have plenty of difficult tests along the way, including a late road game against the Arizona State Sun Devils and holding the Civil War in Autzen Stadium, but the road is not as daunting as it could be.

This Beavers team could be the dark horse in the Pac 12 race next season that shocks the world and wins the whole thing. Here are five reasons why they’ll get it done.

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5. Continuity in the passing game

Sean Mannion, Brandin Cooks
Joe Nicholson - USA TODAY Sports

Sean Mannion looked fantastic last season before he injured his knee, and never looked the same when he came back (probably quicker than he should have). That opened the door for Cody Vaz to steal some starts and create a quarterback controversy that distracted the team down the stretch.

That won’t happen again in 2013 (or it shouldn’t) as a healthy Mannion should take control of the starting job early and hold it tight. If he can stay healthy, he’ll get back one of his better options in the passing game last season in Brandin Cooks who caught 67 passes for 1,151 yards and five touchdowns during his sophomore season.

Oregon State will need Cooks to step up his game to replace the production of Markus Wheaton (91 catches, 1,244 yards, 11 touchdowns), and would love to find another option in the passing game. Perhaps tight end Connor Hamlett can expand his role in the passing game after catching 32 passes for 403 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore?

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4. Young nucleus maturing

Ryan Murphy, Scott Crichton
Jaime Valdez - USA TODAY Sports

Oregon State was an incredibly young team in 2012 that got a ton of contributions from young talent. Mannion was just a sophomore at quarterback and threw for 2,446 yards and 15 touchdowns and missed several games. Cooks was a playmaker in the passing game and also a sophomore. Storm Woods nearly rushed for 1,000 yards last season as a freshman behind a young offensive line that gelled as the season went on.

The defense also had its share of young leaders. Scott Crichton led the team in sacks with 9.0 as a sophomore while sophomore defensive backs Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman finished No. 3 and No. 4 on the team in tackles. Linebacker D.J. Welch was a disruptive force for the Beavers’ defense, finishing third on the team in tackles for loss and fifth on the team in total tackles and he too was just a sophomore.

There is a young nucleus of talent leading the Beavers right now that will only get better with another year of experience under their belts. That means good things for Oregon State and trouble for the rest of the Pac 12.

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3. Emerging running game

Storm Woods
Scott Olmos - USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest question marks for Oregon State going into the 2012 season was their running game. Even head coach Mike Riley wasn’t sure how it would shake out and considered a “running back by committee” approach even as late as fall camp. But then Storm Woods took control of the position and the running game is no longer a question.

As a freshman, Woods pushed his way into the No. 1 running back slot in the second game of the season, where he put up 96 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown in the Beavers’ upset over UCLA. He followed it up with 29 carries for 161 yards and a touchdown against the Arizona Wildcats, and the spot was his from then on.

He finished the year with 192 carries for 940 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 4.9 yards per attempt behind an offensive line that got better as the year went along. If he hadn’t missed a game due to injury, he would have likely been counted as one of the six Pac 12 running backs to hit the 1,000-yard mark. Expect Woods to blow past it this season as the main guy from day one in 2013.

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2. Strategic recruiting additions

Jordan Poyer
Douglas C. Pizac - USA TODAY Sports

Oregon State is going to make a ton of headlines with their recruiting classes, but they quietly find very good players that fill very specific needs for their team. The 2013 class is no exception, with just one recruit in the ESPN 300 but added several recruits from California and Texas and some under the radar four-star recruits that will help the team right away.

Leading their class is cornerback Dashon Hunt, their highest rated recruit. Hunt lacks great size, but he more than makes up for it with quickness and playmaking ability. He, along with four-star JUCO cornerback recruit Steven Nelson, will help ease the loss of all-conference corner Jordan Poyer, who led the secondary with seven interceptions in 2012.

They also added a four-star wide receiver in Hunter Jarmon who has the hands, speed and route-running ability to possibly make an impact in his first season and help replace the production of the graduated Wheaton. Riley stockpiled defensive tackles as well to maintain the Beavers stout run-defense up the middle with four-star JUCO recruit Kyle Peko and a pair of three-star tackles in Edwin Delva and Lyndon Tulimasealii.

Need more depth in the backfield to spell Woods? There’s four-star running back Lawrence Mattison for that. Want to add some bulk to the offensive line? Meet offensive tackle Sean Harlow, a one-time Washington Huskies commit, who brings a big frame and a mean streak to the line.

It isn’t flashy and it isn’t going to top anybody’s “Best recruiting classes” lists, but the Oregon State Beavers knew the kinds of players they needed and went out and got them.

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1. Mike Riley is magic

Mike Riley
Douglas C. Pizac - USA TODAY Sports

The biggest reason, however, for the Beavers’ success in any season is their head coach, Mike Riley. There’s nobody in college football that can take seemingly mismatched pieces or an overmatched roster and spin them into a legitimate contender quite like Riley can.

Pete Carroll had built the USC Trojans into an unstoppable dynasty in the mid-2000s…but he still lost his last two trips to Corvallis to Riley’s Beavers before he ran off to the NFL. Wisconsin came in last season with a physical offense and Montee Ball, who would go on to win the Doak Walker Award…but they couldn’t muster more than a late passing touchdown in Reser Stadium.

Riley knows how to get the very most out of his players and with a talented roster, he can push them to the very top of the Pac 12. He may not be “magic” exactly, but he is an excellent coach that’s going to make the most out of the talents on his team.

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