It won't be very long until the Wisconsin Badgers run into a familiar team on their 2012 schedule. The Badgers are scheduled to take on the Oregon State Beavers in the second week of the season, completing the home-and-home series that started in 2011.
But this year, the Badgers will fly west to Corvallis, Ore., where they'll take on the Beavers at Reser Stadium. Led by head coach Mike Riley, the Beavers will almost certainly be motivated for their rematch with the Badgers, who shut out the Beavers 35-0 in Camp Randall last year. It'll be the first road test for presumed Badgers starting quarterback Danny O'Brien, and we'll know early on in the season how well the former Maryland quarterback has gelled with his new team.
To get a good idea of how the Beavers are shaping up for 2012, BadgerBlitz.com went straight to an expert on Oregon State football. Angie Machado publishes BeaverBlitz.com as part of the Rivals.com network, and was kind enough to answer a few questions about the state of the Oregon State program.
Know Thy Foe: Oregon State
What kind of shape are the Beavers in as they head into 2012? What's changed for Oregon State since these two teams last met in Camp Randall?
The Beavers are way healthier than when they travelled to Camp Randall last season. The Beavers were brutalized by injuries in 2011 and frankly they were thin in many positions during spring camp of this year as well. Last season the Beavers started with 2010's starting quarterback Ryan Katz, but quickly replaced him with redshirt freshman Sean Mannion who finished out the season as the starting QB. The Badgers will see a more confident and poised passer when they travel to Corvallis this season.
What's a reasonable expectation for the Beavers' offense this year? What are the unit's biggest strengths and weaknesses? Players to watch?
The biggest question mark surrounding the Beavers offense is the offensive line. Last season the Beavers pieced together a unit, but the effectiveness just wasn't there. There was no consistency in the pass protection and run blocking was poor. This season Oregon State will rely on youth to jump start the offense as four-star recruit Isaac Seumalo and former UCLA bounce back Stan Hasiak join the squad.
Questions still remain about how effective the group will be once they begin playing together and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh will be called upon to work some magic in getting the unit to gel as quickly as possible. Those close to the program are optimistic however.
The biggest strength of the offense has to be the wide receivers. Starters Markus Wheaton and Jordan Bishop will be joined by true sophomore Brandin Cooks who saw significant minutes as a true freshman last season. Several back-ups have also seen game action and will be ready to contribute.
Coach Mike Riley typically likes to utilize one running back, however last season no one stepped up to grab the position so a committee type approach was used. Last season true freshmen Malcolm Agnew and Terron Ward both had glimpses, but a poor line play and fumblitis plagued the group as a whole. No clear-cut player emerged this spring; however look for redshirt freshman Storm Woods to possibly win the spot this fall. He was named scout team player of the year and showed that he could block and receive out of the backfield this spring.
Same question, but for the defense this time.
The defensive line, more specifically defensive tackles continue to be a problem for the Beavers. The will be helped by the return of 300+ pound Castro Masaniai who sat last season with a broken leg, however depth is a constant question as Coach Seumalo likes to rotate four guys at tackle pretty frequently.
At linebacker, the Beavers should be more athletic and have more team speed than last year, however that comes at the expense of game experience. Michael Doctor and Donell Welch look to be the starters on the outside, while Feti Unga will tie up the middle. Unga and Doctor have played a lot for the Beavers, with Unga being a returning starter.
The starters in the secondary are very athletic, led by senior Jordan Poyer at corner. The biggest issue with the unit is depth as no one really stepped up to be a true back up at corner. Oregon State is also breaking in a new cornerback coach in Rod Perry who returned to the college game after spending nearly two decades in the NFL as a player and coach.
Can you give me a best-case and worst-case scenario for the Beavers in 2012? Which do you think is the more likely outcome?
This is a program searching for an identity and badly needing wins. After two consecutive losing seasons, fans are getting antsy and expectations are high for Riley who now is the 'Dean' of PAC 12 coaches. Poor recruiting classes and bad luck have not helped build depth at several key positions.
That said, there is optimism from the staff that they will be able to right the ship. Best-case scenario is an 8-4 season and a trip to a mid-level bowl game. Worst-case scenario is another losing year, which would probably mean that Riley would be forced to make some changes to the coordinators. I actually see the outcome somewhere in the middle at this point in time. Of course I may have a better idea once fall camp gets underway as many of the key positions are looking to newcomers to play an impact.
It's still really early, but do you have a prediction for this game? Do you think it'll look more like the 2011 contest, or will the Beavers put up a good fight in Corvallis?
I think the Beavers put up a good fight in Corvallis. Traditionally they play tough at home; just ask USC. It is an early season game, but the home crowd will be ready and I expect the Beavers to come out fighting. Beaver fans seem optimistic as well since Wisconsin will be breaking in so many new coaches. It will definitely be a great atmosphere for a college football game.
Thanks again to Angie Machado for her help. For more news about the Oregon State Beavers, check out BeaverBlitz.com, part of the Rivals.com network.