Oregon State Beavers|
2000 record: 11-1 (7-1).
Coach: Dennis Erickson (3rd year, 18-6).
Starters returning 5 offense, 5 defense, 1 kicker.
Outlook: Many fans in Corvallis may still be on Cloud 9 after last season, but if any players are still up there, they had better get down real fast. It's a whole new season with brand new challenges for the Beavers. The offensive backfield is as strong as ever with QB Jonathan Smith and Heisman hopeful RB Ken Simonton, but there are two areas of concern to be addressed. One is at receiver, where OSU lost one of the best trios of wideouts in the country. At least one person must step up here to keep the pressure off Smith and Simonton. The other potential trouble spot is at defensive end, where LaDairis Jackson and DeLawrence Grant were dominant a year ago. Without a new face causing similar heat in the opposing backfields, the OSU defense will have a hard time making as many big plays it made in 2000.
Keep an eye on: RB Patrick McCall. Most defenses get consumed with stopping Simonton and tend to relax when he is not on the field. Bring in McCall, who appears to be just as talented, and you now have a letdown on defense to go with a suped-up offense. This is how McCall rushed for almost 700 yards a year ago. He thrives on mismatches and loves to get into the open field. If OSU can't generate as many big plays from the passing game this season, expect to see McCall get more touches.
Key game: Nov. 3 at USC. Forget the conference opener against UCLA. If last year was any indication, Oregon State finishes the season strong, which means the USC game should be a major dogfight. If that win slips away from the Beavers, the following week's matchup with Washington looms large.
It's a good year if... The Beavers go bowling. Last year seemed perfect -- almost too perfect. There was that fateful alignment of senior leadership for one magic season that just seemed to scream "one-hit wonder." Instinct says the Beavers will disappear just as quickly as they emerged, but Dennis Erickson has a much different plan with a different ending. A third straight bowl appearance would legitimize his program in the eyes of many non-believers.
Brad Edwards is a college football researcher at ESPN.