Oregon State Beavers 2016 season preview

We continue our team-by-team preview in the Pac-12. Up next, the Oregon State Beavers.

2015 record: 2-10, 0-9 (Pac-12)

2016 FPI preseason rank: 78

2016 FPI win projection: 3.5-8.6

Key losses: DL Kyle Peko, LB Rommel Mageo (transfer), RB Storm Barrs-Woods, OLB/DL Jaswha James, OL Isaac Seumalo

Key returnees: WR Jordan Villamin, WR Victor Bolden, RB Ryan Nall, CB Treston Decoud

Most important player: QB Darell Garretson. The Utah State transfer was named the starter following the Beavers’ spring game and the Beavers know far too well from last season how quickly everything goes without good quarterback play. A lot of Oregon State’s success this year will rely on Garretson running the offense efficiently and with few turnovers.

Impact newcomer: Nose tackle Elu Aydon. After a disappointing season for the Beavers defensive line, changes needed to be made. Coach Gary Andersen took on the unit and there seems to be an invigorated sense of hope in that group. Aydon, who followed Andersen from Wisconsin and redshirted last year, could be a huge part -- both literally and figuratively -- of that group’s growth this season. Coaches seem to be impressed with his athletic ability and his 6-foot-3, 339-pound frame doesn’t hurt either.

Breakout player: WR/RB Paul Lucas. Last season Lucas was one of four true freshmen to see the field for the Beavers and even though a lot of Oregon State fans know him from those appearances, he hasn’t been known at a conference-wide level yet. Expect that to change this year as Oregon State starts using him in many different ways. He was listed at four different positions on offense on the Beavers’ fall camp depth chart (T-receiver, Y-receiver, running back, R-back) and as the game continues to slow down for him, he’ll only be a stronger, more consistent weapon.

Position unit of strength: Pass catchers. The Beavers have a lot of options here for Garretson. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, Villamin is a big, tough-to-guard target. Seth Collins has returned to the program as a wide receiver. Hunter Jarmon, Timmy Hernandez and Lucas all have shown flashes for this offense. The 6-foot-4, 244-pound Noah Togiai showed off his hands in the spring game.

Position unit of weakness: Secondary. Just last week the Beavers moved running back Kyle White to corner, which doesn’t exactly scream confidence in the unit. Decoud has good size, Dwayne Williams had his flashes this spring and there are other players like Jay Irvine who have shown good potential. But it’s just not enough to go on quite yet.

Biggest remaining question mark: Has this group grown enough to pick up its first conference win under Andersen? It’s no secret that the Beavers are behind the rest of the Pac-12. With a first year starting quarterback, some new coaches on staff and plenty of inexperience to go around, the question is how much they could’ve actually done this offseason in their attempts to move up the pecking order on the West coast? Are they going to be better? And how much better? Because Colorado, which looks to be the team that’s closest to Oregon State, also has improved so nothing will come easy to the Beavers.

Most important game: Colorado, Oct. 1. The Beavers start off their conference schedule with their most winnable game. They have an opportunity to return the favor the Buffs left them last season, but it won’t be an easy task. Oregon State is on the road against a team that returns 18 starters, but if it can pick up a win -- and some momentum and confidence -- games against Cal (Oct. 8) and Arizona (Nov. 19) don’t look as daunting.

Best-case scenario in 2016: 4-8. The Beavers pick up two nonconference wins over Minnesota (yeah, a Power 5 nonconference win!) and Idaho State. They move into the Pac-12 schedule with conference and pick up two more wins over Colorado and Arizona.

Worst-case scenario in 2016: 1-11. Oregon State beats Idaho State in week 2 and stumbles through another frustrating, Pac-12 winless season.

Prediction: 3-9. Andersen knows how to coach up teams and against Oregon last season, the Beavers showed some fight. They might be a bit like Colorado was last season -- playing a lot of teams close but ultimately unable to get over the hump. However, with a more veteran-like quarterback in Garretson, it seems plausible that the Beavers walk away with three wins this season and pick up their first Pac-12 victory of the Andersen era.