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Thursday, December 26, 2013
Bowl win nice, but Oregon St. wants more

By Ted Miller

It was a glass half full/half empty season for Oregon State.

The Beavers opened with a loss to an FCS foe for the second time in three seasons (empty). They won six in a row (full). They lost five in a row (empty). They won a bowl game and finished with a winning record for a second consecutive season (full).

But 7-6 doesn't feel that great for any Beaver, particularly when it means looking up in the North Division standings -- again -- and seeing Oregon. And getting eclipsed by Washington, a team that laid an ugly and shocking 69-27 whipping on a flat Oregon State team in front of a decidedly grumpy home crowd the second-to-last weekend of the regular season.

Brandin Cooks
Oregon State will need to replace plenty of pass-catching production if leading receiver Brandin Cooks leaves early for the NFL.
It might help that the Ducks slipped a little, not ending up in a BCS bowl game for the first time since 2008 (full). But so did Oregon State after going 9-4 in 2012 (empty).

The Beavers were too one-dimensional on offense and not terribly good at anything on defense. Against the easy early schedule, they won with QB Sean Mannion throwing the ball all over the place and the defense getting an occasional stop at a key moment. Against the rugged late schedule, the going was far tougher.

The good news was a late-season rediscovery of a running game -- see 426 yards on the ground in the final two games. The bad news is, well, why did it take so long to run the ball well and give the offense some balance?

Ending the season with a bowl win is a positive, but it's also fair to say a vocal contingent of Oregon State fans are impatient with not getting more. Coach Mike Riley will be under some pressure to exceed seven wins in 2014, and his team will head into next fall with a handful of vexing questions.

The first issues should be resolved fairly quickly: Who's leaving for the NFL draft early and who's staying? It seems fairly likely that receiver Brandin Cooks and defensive end Scott Crichton, both juniors, will enter the draft. Both have little else to prove at the college level and are likely early selections. But you never know. We've typed that about other players and they opted to return.

Mannion also might consider his options. At midseason, he was playing like a guy NFL teams would covet. But he threw 12 of his 15 interceptions over the final five games and probably could benefit from another year of college seasoning.

Of course, life for a Beavers quarterback will be more difficult without Cooks. The next five leading receivers after Cooks return next fall, but two are running backs and none approach Cooks' physical talent. For the first time in three years, the Beavers won't have a lead receiver coming back.

While the top two running backs, Storm Woods and Terron Ward, will return, the offense will have three holes on the line.

The defense could welcome back as many as many as eight starters, not including Crichton and linebacker Michael Doctor, who redshirted after a foot injury ended his season in early September. But, obviously, that unit needs to get better, with the defensive line being particularly worrisome.

Further, moving up in the North won't be easy, even if the division might not be as strong next fall. It's not just Stanford and Oregon owning the top, either. Washington State is probably thinking it might be able to move past the Beavers in 2014.

Oregon State gets to walk away from this season feeling, well, OK. Recall that last year's nice 9-3 regular season was somewhat downgraded by a bowl game collapse against an inferior Texas team.

It always feels good to win the last game of the season. It makes the initial turn into the offseason a little more scenic.

But Beavers fans will want more in 2014, and there are enough questions on the depth chart to make an improved outcome far from certain.