Can Oregon State win the Pac-12 championship? These 10 things must happen

8-9 minutes 8/27/2023 Oregon State opens the 2023 football season as a bona fide contender for the Pac-12 championship. The Beavers, No. 18 in both preseason polls, have the roster and schedule to make it happen.

But only if they accomplish these 10 things along the way: 1. Sweep September Because it’s a relative newcomer to title chases and the CFP discussion, Oregon State has less margin for error. OSU’s first loss probably eliminates the Beavers from the CFP race, unless there’s nationwide carnage.

Losing an early Pac-12 game is damaging because the Beavers finish the season with Washington and Oregon. Ripping through September with five consecutive wins is doable. On paper, Oregon State should be a double-digit favorite over non-conference foes San Jose State, UC Davis and San Diego State.

The Beavers open the conference season against Washington State in Pullman, a place that hasn’t been kind to OSU in recent years. If Oregon State is as good as projected, it survives and advances to a Friday night showdown against Utah. A win over the Utes and a 5-0 record eliminates any doubt that Oregon State is in the race for the long haul.

2. DJ Uiagalelei is the Michael Penix of 2022 Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: in 2022, Oregon State solved every starting position but quarterback (which is kind of unfair to Ben Gulbranson, but we digress). OSU went to work to upgrade the position during the offseason, signing Clemson transfer DJ Uiagalelei, a former 5-star high school prospect.

Like Uiagalelei, Michael Penix Jr. displayed talent during a four-year career at Indiana. But injuries derailed much of Penix’s production, eventually sending him to the transfer portal and a change of scenery at Washington.

Penix was hardly billed as the next great thing at UW, as he had to battle through 2022 preseason camp just to win the starting job. Sound familiar? In Penix’s case, his stock soared as soon afterward, as he was on the fringe of a Heisman Trophy campaign in leading Washington to an 11-2 season. What if Uiagalelei, whose talent is undeniable, similarly resurrects his career at Oregon State? The offensive line and running game are good, the defense promising.

If Uiagalelei adds the missing piece of a dynamic passing game to the Beavers’ attack, OSU will be a tough out every Saturday (or Friday). 3. Running game equals 2022 As much as Oregon State wants to add a dynamic passing game to its attack this season, the core of the offense is the running game.

It was as good as there was in the Pac-12 in 2022. Just ask the Oregon Ducks. The Beavers can continue to mash opposing defenses.

The bulk of last year’s offensive line returns, including both starting tackles. Running back Damien Martinez was first-team all-conference as a freshman. He now has a year of developing college muscles.

The backups are solid and capable of starting, if needed, in senior Deshaun Fenwick and sophomore Isaiah Newell. 4. Offensive line continues its good health OSU’s offensive line has flourished under coach Jim Michalczik during the past five years.

The guy clearly knows how to develop linemen. But one underrated factor in Oregon State’s consistent offensive line production is good health. During the past three years, the Beavers haven’t had many injuries among their starting unit.

Last season, four of the five offensive linemen started all 13 games. The same was true in 2021. OSU has several promising young offensive linemen waiting their turn.

But there’s a reason certain players start. The Beavers want those guys on the field. 5.

Tight ends play big There’s a case to be made that Oregon State’s tight ends might be the team’s strongest position group. It’s difficult to separate the top three in Jack Velling, Jake Overman and Jermaine Terry II. Overman and Terry are capable blockers and Velling is getting better.

During camp, they collectively showed an ability to get downfield and make plays in the passing game. Senior Riley Sharp, who played his entire career at outside linebacker, has looked the part of a tight end in his move to offense this season. If Oregon State can get 60 to 80 receptions from the tight ends this season, it could elevate the Beavers’ offense from average to very good.

6. Cornerback play good enough It’s unrealistic to expect a seamless transition this season at cornerback, after losing Rejzohn Wright, Alex Austin and Jaydon Grant to the NFL. But during coach Jonathan Smith’s six-year tenure, there’s been an upgrade of corner talent.

Jaden Robinson has six years in the Beavers’ system. Several first-year players – freshmen and transfers – look promising. They don’t need to play at Wright and Austin’s level.

They should get help from a formidable Beavers defensive front that should take time away from the opposing quarterback. But they can’t give up a half dozen crippling pass plays a game. Keep those to a minimum, and grow into the role, and OSU should be fine.

7. Easton Mascarenas-Arnold next ILB star Oregon State’s defense has thrived with inside linebackers who make tackles in droves. Mascarenas-Arnold is the next man up.

The junior has shown plenty of promise, playing behind Avery Roberts, Omar Speights and Kyrei Fisher-Morris. Now it’s his turn. OSU needs Mascarenas-Arnold to be a playmaker of Roberts and Speights’ ilk.

There are a lot of questions, mostly regarding inexperience, at inside linebacker. Mascarenas-Arnold can ease some of those concerns if he’s able to step up and star. 8.

Ignoring the hype It’s been a while since Oregon State has had a season with stakes like this. The country is going to fall in love with the Beavers if they get off to a great start. The school that the Power 5s didn’t want is going out with a bang.

With the admiration comes expectations. Smith’s teams have shown resiliency during his tenure in bouncing back from disappointment, and last season, finding ways to win during a couple of impossible situations. It’s unknown as to whether Oregon State can satisfy what could be an overflowing bandwagon.

The Beavers haven’t been in this role for more than a decade. 9. Special teams wins a game Not every game is going to be a stroll to the finish.

In fact, most are likely to be decided in the fourth quarter, several in the final minutes. Somewhere along the schedule, offense and defense isn’t going to be good enough for Oregon State. It’s going to need special teams to make the difference.

Maybe it’s Anthony Gould or Silas Bolden with a big kick return, or Everett Hayes/Atticus Sappington kicking a field goal inside the game’s final minute. Conversely, perhaps it’s Oregon State’s field goal defense that saves a game with a block or a rushed kick. During a championship run, there’s a game or two decided by special teams.

10. Beat either Oregon or Washington If Oregon State gets through September and October in good shape, the Beavers’ Pac-12 championship game hopes then come down to the final two games. Even if everything works perfectly through 10 games and OSU is 10-0, it’s unlikely the Beavers can get to the Pac-12 title game without winning one of their final two games.

Oregon State needs a win over Washington on Nov. 18 or Oregon on Nov. 24 to advance to Las Vegas.

Teams don’t qualify for the Pac-12 championship game by limping to the finish. .

By Nick Daschel | The Oregonian/OregonLive
Filed 08.28.2023

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