RB McCants will lead Oregon State at Stanford

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

A three-headed Beaver might sound more comical than frightening, but the biggest head might not be something a defender would want to laugh at.

That's because Oregon State running back Ryan McCants, at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, doesn't figure to amuse many defenses this year.

Folks were whispering about the now-redshirt freshman almost immediately after he arrived last fall, and the media guide isn't shy about sharing those high hopes: "...could be the next great Beaver back," it says.

That list includes, of course, Yvenson Bernard, Ken Simonton and Steven Jackson; and McCants' bruising ways most suggest Jackson.

Yet McCants, who's dropped 10 pounds since the spring, doesn't want you to just see his imposing size.

"I probably have a little more quickness than people might think for a guy my size," he said.

But Stanford will need to prepare for more than McCants when the Beavers come calling Thursday night. OSU has a deep backfield, with true freshman Jacquizz Rodgers and junior-college transfer Jeremy Francis also presenting distinct skill sets.

McCants on Rodgers, the younger brother of sophomore receiver James Rodgers: "He'll break your ankles. He's real shifty. Watching him run, you wouldn't think he could lower his shoulder, but I've watched him run the ball inside. He's tough, too. He's just not all shake."

And McCants on the 218-pound Francis: "He probably combines me and Jacquizz. He can take the ball outside -- he's fast enough to turn the corner. He can make you miss and he's not scared to lower his shoulder as well. He's the best of both worlds."

So the Beavers backfield looks stout. But running backs, however skilled, need holes.

While there appear to be many questions on the offensive line -- most particularly the absence of road-grading guard Jeremy Perry, who's still nursing a bum knee -- McCants said he isn't worried.

"We'd love to have [Perry] back but I think the guys we have will do well," McCants said. "They've showed me that they work hard. They've been busting their tails this whole offseason and they have impressed me."

McCants, a native of Corona, Calif., is somewhat viewed as a recruit who flew under the radar and savvy Beavers coaches scooped up. Not completely true. Consider a list of scholarship offers that included Nebraska, Colorado, Arizona State and Arizona. He, in fact, chose Oregon State as his last visit over UCLA.

"[The Beavers] weren't completely on my radar when I first started taking trips," said McCants, who added that he liked the way Oregon State practiced and the relationships among the players and coaches.

That point is necessary because of this: McCants passes the sight test.

It's hard to imagine a 185-pound cornerback being pleased while watching McCants break into the secondary.

Does he often see fear in a defensive back's eyes?

"My vision isn't that good," he said. "I can't see into their eyes. I'm more looking at their feet, seeing how they are approaching me."

Another big question for Oregon State: The rebuilding front seven on defense. McCants has seen a lot of this crew during the spring and preseason, and he said not to worry.

"They're looking good," he said. "They're fast and they've got some run stoppers in there."

Of course, McCants also spoke highly of the Stanford defense, which welcomes back nine starters from a unit that showed promise in 2007.

Thursday's game might turn on how well McCants and company handle that veteran Cardinal defense.