It's a sportswriting cliché to take a single game, superimpose a racing metaphor on it and then assert a team is "turning the corner." The cliché part is bad enough. The near-certainty of a premature declaration is far more insidious.
On Friday, the Pac-12 blog wrote this: "Cougars, Beavers on opposite paths."
It was genius. See how it remains true on Sunday!
Only, of course, now the positions have reversed. Oregon State is turning onto a more pleasant road -- perhaps Robert Frost's "one less traveled by"? -- after a 44-21 pounding of Washington State in Seattle. And the Cougars clearly took a wrong turn on their way to Easy Street.
They may reverse again, of course. That's sports. But three consecutive losses have (again) provoked discussion about Cougars coach Paul Wulff's job status, while 376 yards and four touchdowns from Oregon State QB Sean Mannion probably have Beavers fans raising an optimistic eyebrow.
The Cougars have now lost a pair of must-win games that appeared winnable: at UCLA and against Oregon State. The only game ahead that appears to be a favorable matchup is Utah's visit to Pullman. And four wins probably won't be enough for Wulff. He's going to need an upset. Or two.
And what appeared to be a boon -- the quick healing of QB Jeff Tuel while backup Marshall Lobbestael played well in his stead -- now seems like a distraction. Tuel hasn't been sharp since returning and was knocked out of the game with a left shoulder injury of uncertain severity.
So who starts at QB at Oregon. And, really, does it matter?
As for Oregon State, it dominated both lines of scrimmage, despite missing defensive tackle Castro Masaniai and linebackers Cameron Collins and Feti Unga.
The Beavers scored on eight of nine possessions and rolled up 551 yards. RB Malcolm Agnew gave the Beavers a running game they've been lacking -- 103 of their 175 yards rushing -- and Mannion is doing more and more to justify his elevation over 2010 starter Ryan Katz.
Oregon State visits Utah on Saturday. Then the schedule's degree of difficulty ramps up considerably (Stanford, California, Washington, Oregon). The 2-5 Beavers' chances of rallying for a bowl berth are extremely remote.
But they are growing into this distinction: When matched with other desperate teams, they prevail.
On Oct. 8, they beat Arizona 37-27, and Wildcats coach Mike Stoops was fired the following Monday.
That's not going to happen with Wulff. But it's fair to say Saturday's game might be fingered in a few weeks as the moment when his tenure took a final turn.