- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Who the heck is this Brandin Cooks guy, the Oregon State Beaver who is on track to become just the second NCAA player to eclipse 2,000 yards receiving in a single season?
"He's a fearless-type guy is what I noticed," Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. "He's not real big but he's physical. He can go up and get a football with two or three people around him, and consistently does that. Every film I watched, he did that a couple of times a game."
Cooks is fast. And tough.
"He has exceptional speed," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "He's tough. And [Sean Mannion] is the perfect quarterback to complement what Brandin does as a receiver. He's so accurate and is such a great thrower."
Cooks is explosive.
"I watched the explosive pass cut up [Monday] night," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "Wow. The quarterback is doing a great job sliding in the pocket and buying some time and throwing it deep and Cooks is just running by everybody. The key for us [on Saturday] is to try to keep him in front of us as best we can. Let him catch the ball in front of us and try to gang tackle."
Cooks is a high-character guy with a strong work ethic.
"Brandin is pretty much the same guy every day," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "He got to this point because of his talent and work ethic. He just comes to work every day. I haven't noticed any change in him from the time he arrived on campus. He's driven and he's also a great character guy."
And Cooks is chill. He entertained a couple of reporters on the phone on Tuesday, repeatedly deferring credit to his teammates, Mannion in particular, while lying on his back on the Beavers practice field, taking in a beautiful day in Corvallis (according to a photo texted afterwards to the Pac-12 blog).
So Cooks is a lot of things that add up to being good -- as in Biletnikoff Award good. But who gets the majority of credit for the nation's most potent passing attack, the receiver who leads the nation in receptions (10.9 per game), receiving yards per game (168.0) and touchdowns (12), or the QB who leads the nation in passing yards per game (427.4) and touchdown passes (29)?
"I'll give it straight to Sean," Cooks said. "He's the commander and chief of the offense. I'm just doing my job and he's putting the ball there."
That's a question ultimately for the college football nation to decide, as both have worked their way into the conversation for All-American honors as well as national awards, perhaps even the Heisman Trophy. That the college football nation should even care about Mannion-to-Cooks is a bit surprising, considering the Beavers lost their season-opener to Eastern Washington, an FCS team, though it's important to note that 49-46 debacle was about a defensive meltdown. Cook and Mannion were their typical brilliant selves that day.
Six consecutive wins later, however, and the Beavers plopped into the No. 25 spot in the BCS standings. They've been operating mostly under the radar throughout their winning streak, but now the schedule's degree of difficulty is ramping up substantially, starting with a visit from No. 6 Stanford on Saturday.
It's a big opportunity for the program to move up in the Pac-12 and national pecking order, and for Mannion-to-Cooks to showcase its stuff to the college football nation.
"You can only keep us under the radar for so long if we keep doing what we're doing," Cooks said. "That's the beautiful thing about this game. College football can change in a minute."
Change is good, and Cooks has undergone some since he arrived at Oregon State as a speedy, sure-handed but undersized pass-catcher from Stockton, Calif. As a true freshman, he caught 31 passes for 391 yards, but with just 162 pounds on his 5-foot-10 frame, he wasn't much of a physical presence.
He was up to 179 pounds last year while catching 67 passes for 1,151 yards as Robin to Markus Wheaton's Batman. This fall, he's now a yoked 186 pounds. He hasn't lost any speed, and he's complemented that with an ability to win most mano-a-mano battles with handsy cornerbacks trying to disrupt his routes and rhythm.
Cornerbacks still try to get into Cooks' head. That is the cornerback way. They like to tell Cooks that he's not going to do that stuff he has done to everyone else to them.
"I get it sometimes. They get hyped up," Cooks said. "But it kind of slows down as the game gets going, when our team is gashing them. That's our trash talking for them."
It helps Cooks that the Beavers have a pretty good supporting cast of pass-catchers around him, which makes defenses pay for doubling him up, using bracket coverages or rolling their zone his way. No. 2 receiver Richard Mullaney has caught 32 passes for 538 yards with a stout 16.8 yards per reception, and 25 of his catches have produced either a first down or touchdown. Five other Beavers have at least 16 receptions.
But Cooks is clearly the lead dog. The junior already is fourth on the school's career receiving list with 2,718 yards. He needs just 276 yards to move past Wheaton into third place. His next TD reception will give him 21 for his career, breaking the school record shared by James Newson (2000-03) and Mike Hass (2002-05).
Cooks knows he hasn't yet played a defense close to the quality of Stanford's. The Cardinal last week shut down the Bruins high-flying passing attack.
"Their whole defense is a great defense," Cooks said. "You see minimal mistakes."
Who the heck is Brandin Cooks? He gets an opportunity to introduce himself to a national audience against the Cardinal.