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Monday, August 10, 2009
Best case-worst case: Oregon State

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Seventh in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Up next: Oregon State

Best case

After dispatching Portland State, Oregon State begins preparations for a visit to UNLV.

Following indifferent practices early in the week, coach Mike Riley and coordinators Mark Banker and Danny Langsdorf nearly break down in tears trying to explain to their players that the Rebels are a very dangerous team.

The Beavers don't listen. They trail by five with less than a minute left with the ball on their 28. No time outs.

But just when it looks like the Beavers are going to commit another early-season braincramp, James Rodgers, on third-and-10, takes a screen pass from Sean Canfield and zigzags 185 yards -- it only counts for 72 in the official books -- for the game-winning score.

"Golly," Riley says. "Whew."

The Beavers return to Reser Stadium the next weekend knowing they dodged a cream-pie-in-the-face, and tear apart a rebuilding Cincinnati defense in a 45-20 win. Jacquizz Rodgers rushes for 186 yards and Canfield throws two touchdown passes to James Rodgers and a third Darrell Catchings.

"I think that Rodgers kid should be a Heisman Trophy candidate," Bearcats coach Brian Kelly said.

Which one? "The short one," Kelly replied.

The Beavers outlast Arizona in overtime, nip Arizona State 28-27 when Sun Devils kicker Thomas Weber misses a 55-yard field goal for the upset and overcome 155 yards rushing from Stanford running back Toby Gerhart in a 30-24 victory.

"We're learning to win the close ones," said Riley, who's 12th-ranked team heads to No. 10 USC amid considerable hype focused on the Beavers massive upset in 2008.

The Trojans bottle up Jacquizz Rodgers, who gashed them a year ago, but the Beavers defense keeps things tight until late in the third quarter.

Then USC, however, asserts itself. First, Damian Williams gets behind the Beavers secondary for a 69-yard touchdown. Next, Taylor Mays returns a Canfield interception 38 yards for a score. USC wins 35-17.

The Beavers bounce back with a 24-17 win over UCLA, setting up a marquee showdown with No. 3 California.

California takes a 27-21 lead on a 42-yard run from Jahvid Best with 1:49 remaining. The Beavers get the ball back on their 20 with two time outs. Canfield completions to Catchings, James Rodgers and tight end Howard Croom give them a first down on the Cal 40. A surprise draw play for Jacquizz Rodgers gains 25 to the Bears 15, and the Beavers call time out with 39 seconds left.

Canfield sees Jordon Bishop get a step on the coverage and hurls a fade to the corner of the end zone. But cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson recovers and grabs the ball away from the redshirt freshman, icing the Bears win.

The Beavers take out their frustrations on Washington and Washington State. That sets up a Civil War with a Holiday Bowl berth as the stakes, with 10th-ranked Oregon and 12th-ranked Oregon State both sitting at 9-2 overall and 6-2 in the Pac-10.

A year before, the Beavers defense crumbled at home against the Ducks spread-option. This time, the Beavers return the favor, with the Rodgers brothers combining for nearly 400 yards of total offense in a 41-24 victory.

Oregon State then accepts a Holiday Bowl invitation opposite No. 9 Texas. The contrast between the humble Beavers and the powerful Longhorns is the theme of the week.

Until game time, when the Longhorns realize they don't have two guys who can block tackle Stephen Paea, who sacks Colt McCoy three times -- the third a blindside hit early in the fourth quarter that knocks McCoy unconscious.

The Beavers roll 35-20 and end up one of three Pac-10 teams ranked in the final top-10 of both polls.

Worst

The sun rises in the East and Oregon State starts 2-3 annually.

The Beavers beat Portland State to open, but the retooled secondary can't contain UNLV receivers Ryan Wolf and Phillip Payne in a 33-30 upset defeat. They bounce back in a win over Cincinnati, but the offense sputters in losses to Arizona and Arizona State.

Coach Mike Riley opts to bench Sean Canfield in favor of Lyle Moevao, who struggled during preseason practices to get his shoulder back to full-strength after off-season surgery.

Moevao leads the Beavers to a thrilling overtime win over Stanford, but USC sacks him three times and intercepts him twice in a 41-17 loss.

Moevao starts poorly against UCLA, and Canfield takes over after halftime, leading the Beavers to a 24-20 win.

Riley, who's name is next to "players' coach" in the dictionary -- really, look it up -- finds his locker room divided for the first time in his coaching career.

"It's frustrating -- honestly, it's like flipping a coin," he says. "We've got two good young men who are both good quarterbacks but neither has been able to lead the offense consistently. We'll just evaluate them in practice and pick a guy Thursday."

Moevao earns the start again at Cal, but the offense isn't the problem. Heisman Trophy candidate Jahvid Best is. Best rushes for 194 yards and three scores as the No. 3 Bears roll 41-24.

Moevao leads a tight win over Washington and a blowout victory over Washington State, which gives the Beavers a sixth win and earns them bowl eligibility.

The Civil War doesn't turn out as ugly as 2008, but surging sixth-ranked Oregon makes a push for the conference to send two teams to BCS bowls with a 40-24 win.

The Beavers whip Utah 38-17 in the Poinsettia Bowl, with No. 3 quarterback Ryan Katz throwing a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

"We're set up well for next year," Riley notes.

But then Mark Banker becomes the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks, and coach Mike Cavanaugh becomes the offensive line coach for the New York Giants.

"Drat," Riley adds.