Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Most important game: Oregon State
By Kevin Gemmell
Every game counts. But some games count more. Or tell us more.
We're going through the Pac-12 and picking out one game that seems most important -- or potentially most revealing -- for each team from our vantage point today.
And then we'll let you vote from a list of potential options.
We're going in reverse alphabetical order.
Most important game: Nov. 29 at Oregon
Why it's important: After a slight dip in their stock, the Beavers roared back to life last year and for a time were a top-10 team. Projected by many to finish at the bottom of the North last season, Oregon State hip-hip-hoorayed its way to a 6-0 start -- its best in 105 years.
Then the back end of the schedule came around -- specifically, the heavy hitters in the North. And the Beavers went just 3-4 over their final seven, including losses at Washington, at Stanford and home to Oregon.
Guns N' Roses might beg to differ with this selection, but Oregon State needs your Civil War. The Beavers have lost five in a row to the Ducks, with the last win coming in double overtime in 2007. Oregon State's longest losing streak in the series history is eight games (1975-1982). It isn't there yet -- but each loss inches Oregon State closer. This is the Beavers' second longest losing streak of the series. And they need to break the cycle.
But simply needing doesn't necessarily mean getting. If the Beavers want to be a player in the North -- which I think most will agree is one of the toughest, if not the toughest, division in college football, they are going to have to play better down the stretch in 2013 than they did in 2012. Because the schedule is once again back loaded.
Oregon State's first seven opponents of 2013 were 35-52 in 2012 (.400) and only two teams had winning records -- FCS Eastern Washington (11-3) and tri-Mountain West champ San Diego State (9-4). Everyone else was sub-.500.
It's final five opponents in 2013, however, were all .500 or better in 2012 with a combined mark of 46-20 (.700). Plus USC and Washington figure to be better than 7-6.
The Beavers have a very strong shot at starting the season 7-0. And anything less than 6-1 would probably be considered a disappointing first half. But then it's Stanford and USC at home, at ASU, home against Washington and at Oregon looming in the finale.
People will buy Oregon State early. As the wins add up and the Beavers climb higher in the rankings -- maybe they even crack the top 10 again -- there will be an increased level of attention. And scrutiny. Not unlike last year. And Oregon State needs to show it has staying power down the stretch to gain national legitimacy.
With the exception of the nip-and-tuck 37-33 loss to Oregon in 2009, the remaining four losses during the current streak have been decidedly one-sided. In those four losses, the Beavers surrendered an average of 606 yards per game, turned the ball over 17 times and were outscored 50-26.
There's no question Oregon State made progress as a team last year. It toughened up significantly on the lines and developed a power running game -- something that had been noticeably lacking when they averaged just 86.9 yards per game in 2011. Last year that number spiked to 124.5 yards per game. Not great (10th in the league), but significantly better. The offensive balance was a little more noticeable.
But injuries and inefficiency -- plus a tougher schedule -- caused them to falter in the second half. Sure, there is a revenge factor against Stanford, Washington and USC. The ASU game should be outstanding. But no game is more important than Oregon -- for the obvious regional and historic factors, but also because it will be a true measuring stick for the maturity of the program.
If the Beavers are able to sustain a high level of play into the second half of the season, this game could have significant ramifications on a league and national scale. Or, it could just be a reminder that while Oregon State is back, the Beavers aren't really back. Not until they can beat Oregon.