Perhaps Oregon State bit off more than it could chew, scheduling a pair of top-10 teams in its nonconference schedule. Or maybe preseason expectations were just too high. In any event, it's fair to say staying home this bowl season -- for the first time since 2005 -- is a major disappointment in Corvallis.
It started in the offseason when two defensive starters -- middle linebacker David Pa'aluhi and end Matt LaGrone -- quit the team. There weren't A-list players to replace them, and the ensuing promotions hurt depth. The Beavers hoped to steal at least one from TCU or Boise State, but they had to settle for fairly competitive games and a 1-2 start, the win coming over Louisville.
Still, after beating Arizona State and notching an upset win at Arizona, coach Mike Riley said he thought the tough schedule help his team get ready for Pac-10 play. But the win over the Wildcats was costly: The Beavers lost All-American receiver James Rodgers to a season-ending knee injury. The season would never be the same.
The Beavers lost in double overtime at Washington, bounced back by pounding California but then got embarrassed by consecutive losses to UCLA and then -- the nadir -- to Washington State, which ended the Cougars 16-game losing streak. Those two losses are why the Beavers didn't earn a bowl berth as much as the tough early schedule.
The Beavers showed resilience by dominating USC 36-7, and they only needed to win one of their final two games to become bowl eligible. The problem was those two games were against Stanford and Oregon. It wasn't to be.
Offensive MVP: Running back Jacquizz Rodgers didn't get much help from a struggling offensive line, but he was good enough to still post a good season practically on his own. He rushed for 1,097 yards with 14 touchdowns, averaging 4.7 yards per carry, and he caught 39 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensive MVP: Defensive tackle Stephen Paea started slowly, but he finished strong. And, really, there's no question who the best defensive tackle in the Pac-10 is. Just ask opposing offensive linemen. Paea led the Beavers with 10 tackles for a loss and six sacks. He also had 42 total tackles -- despite constant double-teams -- and four forced fumbles.
Turning point: If the Beavers had beaten Washington State, they would have finished 6-6 and earned a bowl berth. That loss at home on Nov. 13 changed the season for the worse.
What’s next: The Beavers have a lot of good players coming back at the offensive skill positions, particularly if -- as expected -- both Rodgers brothers come back. Quarterback Ryan Katz should be better after a year of seasoning. But the key in 2011 will be both lines. Neither played terribly well this season and both lose key starters. The schedule next year is easier but not by much: a visit to Wisconsin and a home game with BYU (a third date is TBA). Still, the Beavers look like they will be a factor in the Pac-12 North in 2011.