Why OSU is on cusp of remarkable turnaround

CORVALLIS - Saturday marks the last regular season game for the 2012 Oregon State Beavers and it's time to look at the bottom line – the win-loss record. The Beavers on Saturday after the Nicholls State game will, unless disaster strikes, go from a 3-9 mark last season to a 9-3 record in 2012. So how in the heck did they affect such a striking turnaround?

Where did this team come from? Some fans and pundits will lament the 2012 Beavs didn't reach the Rose Bowl but I'll take a different view. That OSU even reached a point in their season where hopes were high enough to mention the words "Rose" and "Bowl" in the same sentence is incredible.

The fact that the Beavers sit at No.15 nationally with the almost certain likelihood of going 9-3 on the season is a complete 180 from last year. You remember last year…you didn't like last year very much.

Last season, the Beaver football team couldn't buy a break. Their three wins came against teams that were not having particularly hot seasons themselves – Arizona (4-8), Washington State (4-8), and Washington (7-6). There were injuries, whispers of Riley's removal – and then shouts for Riley's removal. It was a rugged follow up to a 5-7 season in 2010. Headed into this season, the Beavs were basically left for dead by most anyone and everyone -- Colorado seemed to have more positive press back in fall camp.

Instead, Riley and Co. surprised the hell out of everyone and dropped every team they faced over those first six weeks. Two of their three losses were to teams now ranked in the Top 10 (No.8 Stanford, No.5 Oregon). All this while possessing a schedule that many claimed to be one of the toughest in the NCAA heading into the first week of the season.

What was it that changed?

IT WAS THE defense. Young guys grew up. Players that were thrown into the fray last season benefitted from the experience early, and this is especially true of Dylan Wynn and Scott Crichton. Both have improved markedly, and their speed mixed with the strength in the middle from Andrew Seumalo and Castro Masaniai (injured for most of 2011 season with a broken fibula) was an undeniable powerhouse. It made for one of the better rush defenses in the league prior to slipping against Stanford.

The added capacity in the middle to stop the run also freed up the secondary to do their job this season. Last year, Anthony Watkins and Jordan Poyer spent a lot of their time compensating closer to the line for a wonky rush defense, thusly letting go a total of 2,573 and 28 touchdowns through the air.

In 2012, the points through the air looks a lot different. Granted the secondary has let go nearly an equal amount of yardage – but opposing receivers crossed the pylons a mere 12 times this season. Ryan Murphy has really come into his own with 60 tackles, 2.5 TFL and two interceptions. Meanwhile, Tyrequek Zimmerman put in some excellent work as a sophomore, filling the void left by Anthony Watkins, who sat out the early part of the season with a hip flexor injury.

Rashaad Reynolds was a dynamo all season long, and Poyer had his six picks.

THE BEAVER DEFENSE has held opponents to over 700 yards less in total rushing yardage to their numbers from last season. Michael Doctor, Feti Unga and D.J. Alexander are the driving force behind those numbers – and also the addition of graduate assistant Trent Bray as coach of the 'backer platoon.

I find it hard to believe that there is fan talk of wanting a change at defensive coordinator when Mark Banker's run stoppers performed so well this season.

And give the offense credit, they faced a slew of rough defenses to handle this season and they took them in stride. Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz, that whole QB debacle was unfortunate. It's near the end of the "dam" season and Mike Riley switching things up was both out of character and it didn't help matters. It hampered the ability of the offense to be consistently efficient. It was arguably the catalyst to the Beavs losing against Washington, and subsequently Stanford.

Yet QB struggles and young running backs aside – OSU has managed to put up fairly good offensive numbers. They have at least produced enough to win games, and from this chair they have the best wide receiver duo in the Pac12. And stay alert - we got a few sneak peeks in 2012 at Richard Mullaney, who will be the next great OSU wideout Eight wins thus far, with a ninth on the way, largely due to the wide receiver's ability to make plays.

Was anybody saying this last season? No, they were hoping for something, anything to give them a reason to remain positive.

Yet some fans will continue to wring their hands over a soon to be 9-3 team that lost their chance to trip to Pasadena? Rose Bowl stature aside, have you ever been to Pasadena? It's really not all that special.

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