- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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The interview was going well. Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks seemed to be in good spirits. The questions were mostly soft-toss.
Then: Alamo Bowl. Texas. What the heck?
The pause was pregnant. As in "Rosemary's Baby" pregnant. Yes, we had to go there. No, the Beavers 31-27 grab-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory performance against an inferior Texas squad isn't a fond memory in Corvallis.
"Yeah, that was a tough loss," Cooks said. "To be up the amount we were up and give that lead away, that was real hard. There was a lot of stuff going on in that game. We couldn't get the ball off. Cody [Vaz] is getting hit every time. We just weren't clicking like we should have. Storm [Woods] was running well, but he got messed up in that second half and it died down."
Cooks then said the bad memory helped fuel offseason workouts. With 17 starters back, the 2013 Beavers should have a good shot at redemption.
But Cooks and company, who will begin spring practices on April 1, are looking for more than redemption.
"First of all, we don't want to go back to the Alamo Bowl," he said. "It was great, but our eyes are set on a BCS bowl."
That means the Beavers feel they are ready to take down Oregon (and Stanford), which hasn't happened since 2007.
Said Cooks, "Oh, yeah."
If Oregon State is going to win the Pac-12's North Division, know that Cooks will play a key role. He broke out as a sophomore with 1,151 yards receiving -- his 88.5 yards per game ranked fifth in a conference deep at the position -- and his eye-popping 17.2 yards per catch led the conference and was No. 2 in the nation among 1,000-yard receivers.
With the departure of Markus Wheaton to the NFL, the speedy Cooks will be the go-to guy in the Beavers passing game.
Of course, the big question this spring is quarterback. The Beavers have two with starting experience: Junior Sean Mannion and senior Cody Vaz. That conceivably could feel like a good thing, but not many Beavers fans view it that way.
Mannion took over the starting job early in the woeful 2011 campaign, displacing then returning starter Ryan Katz. He led the Beavers to a 5-0 start and national ranking last year, but was forced to the sidelines by a minor knee injury. Enter Vaz, who played great in a win against BYU and OK in a win against Utah.
Mannion returned to face Washington, perhaps too early. Suffice it to say, he didn't play well, throwing four interceptions before getting yanked for Vaz.
And so the quarterback carousel began. Vaz, Mannion, Vaz. Each has played well. And each has looked terrible.
Cooks plays good soldier when asked about the back-and-forth, which couldn't have been good for the offense's rhythm.
"It wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be," he said. "Cody stepped up. Sean stepped up. To go back and forth like we did last year, I thought we'd run into major problems. But both of those guys came in, [and] it didn't really change between the receivers and the quarterback. As a receiver, you'd like to have one set quarterback. Coaches are working on that. I'm pretty sure they'll get that down this year. That was a big controversy last year. But it wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be."
Cooks also isn't going to play favorites. He doesn't go too deep when asked about the differences between Vaz and Mannion
"That's a good question," he said. "As I run routes and the ball is coming to me, it's coming to me in basically similar ways. I feel like they are pretty much the same. The difference is Sean has a few inches over Cody [6-foot-5 versus 6-foot-1]. He can see over that line. But both of those guys deliver the ball in the same way and have the same playing style, to be honest."
It's worth noting that Cooks put up outstanding numbers even with the quarterback carousel. Still, you'd have to wonder what he could do as the feature guy if the Beavers were stable and consistent at the position. That seems like the best path to challenging the Ducks (and Stanford) in the North.
Of course, there's another tough question Cooks must face as he becomes the Beavers go-to guy: Who'd win a race between him and Wheaton, who notoriously beat Oregon speedster De'Anthony Thomas in a 100 meters race?
Said Cooks, "That's a hard one. I'd take that first 50. If we were to run a 100, he'd probably get me at the end."
3dChantel Jennings and Ted Miller