COMMENTARY: A challenging coaching job ahead

OREGON STATE IS tied for the fewest number of returning starters in the Pac-12 this season, according to the official conference media guide. That's usually not good news. But there have been exceptions, including just last year.

Last year, ASU had a woeful seven starters return, with but four on defense. And yet ASU's defense was the talk of the Pac-10, and it still is headed into 2011. Yes, ASU stayed home for the holidays last year, too. But they were a play or two away in four games from turning a 6-6 season into a 10-2 campaign.

So it can be done. The number of returning starters doesn't mean as much if the development behind them is hitting on all cylinders.

Every talking head in the media will, when discussing OSU in the coming month before the season, talk at length about losing Quizz. But OSU's offense isn't where the real concern lies.

OSU returns seven starters on offense, including a very underrated quarterback in Ryan Katz. Granted, Oregon State has to find a running back who can at least provide a credible threat and they haven't proven they're there yet.

But in the end, if they're healthy, and can stay reasonably so, the offense has a number of playmakers who can put up enough points on any given Saturday.

The million dollar question is if the Beavs can make enough stops.

Defensively, the Beavers have just four starters back. They lose a once-in-a-decade player in DT Stephen Paea. The pessimistic view is that there are seven new starters who weren't good enough to beat out the starters on a 2010 defense that rated No. 86 (out of 120) in total defense last year.

Some other stats also paint a bleak picture. The Beavs allowed a conversion on third down 46.59 percent of the time last year, ranking 108th among FBS teams. OSU also gave up the yards on first down, ranking No. 99.

The good news is the Beavs are faster. The secondary looks to be solid. But d-line coach Joe Seumalo and DC/linebackers coach Mark Banker will have their work cut out for them.

If OSU doesn't make more hay in the front seven, it won't matter how good the defensive backs are. And with the MLB situation still unresolved, there are legitimate concerns over how good OSU will be in the box.

OSU is undersized up front on defense, but they are quick. Opponents are likely going to try and wear down the Beavers, and run the ball as much as they can. Seumalo will need to keep guys fresh, but does OSU have the depth in place to freely rotate?

What likely needs to happen? A combination of things need to go OSU's way if they're going to win the battle on defense. OSU needs a few players to have that light bulb moment, where they turn the corner and step their game up. Banker, Seumalo and the rest of the OSU coaches need to do some of their best work, and get the most out of each guy. The Beavs, more than most perhaps, need to stay healthy.

Add it all up, and it might be asking a lot. But Mike Riley has proven adept at exceeding expectations and confounding the prognosticators. He'll have to do it one more time, especially on D, if Oregon State is going to take Beaver fans on a thrill ride in 2011.

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