Oregon State football quietly is on the rise

AP Photo/Andy Nelson

Oregon State football quietly is on the rise

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Oregon State football quietly is on the rise

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The PAC-12 is in the midst of a relatively predictable season with USC at 7-1 in conference play, followed by Oregon and Utah both at 6-1. UCLA, who lost at Oregon 45-30 also lost to the Arizona Wildcats at home 34-28.

So, why is this important? Just ask the fans in Corvallis.

The Oregon State Beavers are a team rising in the Pacific Northwest, and are currently sitting at #23 in the latest College Football Playoffs rankings. At 4-3 in the conference and 7-3 overall, the Beavs are on the verge of breaking through to a top-five position if they can beat a failing Arizona State Sun Devils team in Tempe, UCLA loses in the Rose Bowl to USC. Add to that either Utah or the Ducks sliding backwards one game after their Saturday showdown, and the Civil War in Corvallis becomes the biggest game since 2013.

The Beavers have had a bad stretch of football dating back to 2013. At the end of that season, Oregon State finished just outside the top 25 Coaches Poll, finishing with the highest number of votes among those outside the top 25. Their last national ranking was Oct. 2013, when the Beavers were No. 25 after a 49-17 win over the California Golden Bears in Berkeley, CA week nine. They would finish that season 7-6 overall and 4-5 in the conference, earning a trip to the Hawaii Bowl where they beat Boise State on New Year’s Eve, 38-23. Of note were the team captains featuring future NFL players Brandin Cooks, Rashaad Reynolds, and Sean Mannion.

When the 2013 season ended, the floor fell out. Oregon State would have seven seasons where they posted consecutive records of 5-7, 2-10, 4-8, 1-11, 2-10, 5-7, 2-5 (COVID). However, the fortunes in Corvallis began to change in 2021 when they finished 7-6 overall and 5-4 in the PAC-12. That season saw them finish third in the North Division behind Oregon and Washington State. They would play in the LA Bowl and lose to Utah State 24-13. It served as a launching pad for a team who has been a perennial doormat in the PAC-12, and has set the table for some potential breakout moments with two games left in the 2022 season. 

Head coach Jonathan Smith has been the architect to make the long turn back from obscurity. In his first head coaching assignment, he returned to Corvallis. Smith knows the school well. He was a four-year starter for the Beavers at quarterback and had two big name wide receivers. As a junior in 2000, he would lead Oregon State to their greatest season in school history finishing 11–1, a school record for wins, and won a share of their first conference title in 36 years, finishing the season ranked fourth in the country.

Those two big name WR’s receivers? A couple of Cincinnati Bengals alums, Chad Johnson and T. J. Houshmandzadeh. Smith was the MVP of the Fiesta Bowl later that bowl season. While that team was a special one, Smith found a little gold in his starting quarterback the past five games of 2022. Ben Gulbranson has been solid as a midseason replacement for the injured Chance Nolan. Gulbranson has thrown for 817 yards, seven touchdowns with an interception. In his past two games, Gulbranson has thrown for two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Since returning to his alma mater, Smith has put together a pretty good group of assistants, including defensive coordinator Trent Bray who has been nominated for the Brooke’s Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach. 

The coaching staff has been tremendous in recruiting talent to Corvallis. While they have been steady nationally, in the PAC-12 where the season story is written. The Beavers have had classes ranked 12th in 2018 and 2019, ninth in 2020, 12th in 2021, and eighth for 2022. As far as conference rankings go, Oregon State finished eighth overall with 1050 points, ahead of UCLA (1017), Washington State (885), Washington (665), & Arizona State (570). Thereby trail the “big boys” including USC, rival Oregon, and Utah. If this is an indication of the next two-to-three seasons, the Beavers will make that move up the conference with a solid foundation and a higher profile to sell after USC and UCLA move on to the Big Ten.

Of course, finishing this season strong will be the perfect bow in a year where you could sense a better team was coming due. If they can win at ASU on Saturday, that momentum could spell trouble for the Oregon Ducks when they travel to Corvallis for a Civil War like fans in the PAC-12 haven’t seen for awhile.

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