COMMENTARY: Who we thought they were

TRUE, IT WOULD HAVE been hard to predict the exact order it went down. But look at the schedule, take a moment of reflection and ask yourself this question: "Are you really that surprised Oregon State is 4-4 at this point in the season?"

The answer should be: No. And if OSU had scheduled the way most of the big boys do, they'd be 6-2 right now. But we'll get to that last part later.

Even the most orange-tinted-glasses-adorned Oregon State fan prior to the season would concede that playing two of three non-conference games, on the road, against Top 5 caliber opponents was not a recipe for success – certainly not with a first year starting quarterback and a less than dominant defense.

And yet, here we are, with some in Beaver Nation wringing their collective hands, wondering if OSU can win even a single game of the last four, fretting the Beavs might even sputter and stumble their way to a loss against Washington State this weekend.

Come on now.

THE TCU AND BOISE STATE losses were as predictable as November weather in the Willamette Valley. The pleasant surprise there was the poise and production of a young signal caller, sophomore Ryan Katz, and the fight the Beavers showed in both defeats.

Given OSU's recent history of nationally-televised, early season games on the road, the TCU and Boise State losses were at least palatable, even for those who refuse to accept the mere concept of a moral victory.

Back in August, borne of the chronic, annual optimism that seizes all college football fans, an objective witness would have conceded a few things about the Beavers:

  • A new starter under center is probably going to cost you at least a game.

  • A suspect offensive line populated by former (and current) walk-ons is not going to dominate the line of scrimmage.

  • Losing arguably the best player on defense without warning, the starting middle linebacker, was going to have a significant impact.

  • Another starting linebacker struggling to return from injury in time for the season -- that too was going to be felt.

  • A defensive front that abruptly lost the starting defensive end, one counted most upon to be the pass rushing specialist, didn't augur well – especially since the year before, the line had considerable trouble generating pressure and getting sacks.

    So why are so many, so surprised?

    THERE'S AN OLD adage in college football –You're never as good as you think you are with a win..with a loss, you're never as bad as you think you are. Mike Riley knows this, it's part of why you never see him get too up or down.

    The bright spot is that aside from BSU, the three losses could just have easily gone the other way. A miscommunication on a snap here, a 2-point conversion pass barely eluding a sure handed tight end there. Sprinkle in a fraction of a second added back onto the game clock...brutal. The little things, the bounces that didn't go OSU's way, are the difference between 7-1 and 4-4.

    That, in and of itself, is amazing. And it also provides the proper context to view these last four games coming up.

    The train isn't coming off the rails. In reality, this is the same team that upset a very good Arizona team on the road while firing on all cylinders. This is still the same team that hasn't lost a game at home. And it is a young team. It's occasionally tough to watch.

    Calls to change offensive systems, defensive systems, firing coordinators – that's reactionary, kneejerk and flat out wrong. Mike Riley's staff has a proven track record, and they've guided a lowly-regarded OSU team to the brink of a Rose Bowl berth with one game left each of the last two seasons.

    Patience. Take a breath. Exhale. Rub your earlobe and say "wooo..saaahhh". This is, somewhat, of a rebuilding year. And that happens, at some point, to every team in America, doesn't matter who you are, doesn't matter if fans can't accept it.

    NOW, THERE IS one caveat here. The 4-4 mark this season, it is exacerbated by the fact the Beavers continue to play Top 10 opponents on the road in non-conference play. And I do offer a solemn promise that if Bob De Carolis inks a deal to go to Alabama next year, I will have no choice but to stage a one-man protest outside his office and shake my fist at his window until security asks me to leave.

    Because, and while purists will hate the idea, it is time to do what the LSU's of the world do.

    No, Oregon State won't be able to regularly schedule 8-of-12 games at home like LSU (and others generally considered to be powerhouse programs) do.

    But OSU can schedule more non-conference gimmee-type of games. They have to, if they want to keep the playing field level with their Pac-12 and BCS competition.

    If they had scheduled as such this year, OSU would right now be 6-2. And the mindset of Beaver Nation would be completely different right now. And, heading into Week 9, there would have been no reason to have ever written this commentary.

    Get well, James Rodgers. Comments? Top secret spread-option killing defenses? Physical therapy recommendations for the myriad OSU fans nursing broken ankles sustained flinging themselves from the bandwagon? Hit me: orangeattack@beaverfootball.com


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