Mid-season report: Beavs in driver's seat

CORVALLIS - The Beavers enter the season's second half tied at the top in the Pac-12 North. How has Oregon State done it through six games – and can they continue along the same upward glide path? BF.C takes a look at what we've learned about the Beavs and the Pac-12 at the midway point…

First, Oregon State has gone 5-1 primarily because of four things – an elite quarterback, a crazy-good receiver, an offensive line that has excelled in pass protection and a simple but key component – an ever-growing confidence.

OSU is sitting pretty right now. Junior QB Sean Mannion ranks atop the Pac-12 and the nation in multiple categories, including passing yards and touchdowns thrown. Junior receiver Brandin Cooks posting video game numbers with 944 yards and 11 touchdowns through six games. The Beaver D, once sieve-like, has strung together their two best games of the season the last two times out.

Some may say that OSU's 5-1 mark and the incredible stats are because they have yet to face a good team that presents a challenge. Hogwash. Every team has presented a challenge. And with the exception of the season opener, those challenges have been met and hurdled by the Beavs. And if you're going to use that argument, it applies to varying degrees most every one of the Pac-12 frontrunners.

This weekend's tilt in Berkeley is a game that Oregon State should win lest fire and brimstone rain down from the sky – or if they have the dreaded let down that all college football teams experience. The good teams are able to overcome their let down games and still come out on top. But can Oregon State lose this one? I can't see it.

Cal is rebuilding and their defense has shown no signs they can stop an average one, let alone something like the Beavs have going right now.

THE BEAVER D, meanwhile has been slowly finding their groove. Their secondary leads the Pac-12 in interceptions with 12, four of which came in the final quarter of their road win in Pullman. If you take a look around, the rest of the conference is not so lucky.

Taking a Look Around
Stanford just fell to Utah, dropping from No.5 in the nation to No.13. They will face No. 9 UCLA this Saturday, a matchup that one way or the other will impact the Cardinal prior to facing the Beavers in Corvallis on Oct. 26. It is a game that, without question, the Beavs can win.

The other Pac-12 North'ers posting a threat to Oregon State have shown limitations of late – Washington has lost two straight to very tough teams (Stanford, Oregon). Beware the letdown game this week for UW, when they meet Arizona. QB Keith Price and RB Bishop Sankey have not complemented one another in their last two games, and UW has been nearly one dimensional.

Washington State was thought by some to be rising in the conference -- prior to being torched in the fourth quarter by the orange and black. No longer. Oregon, from this chair, is all that's likely left in the North to potentially keep the Beavs from taking the title.

In the South, it's UCLA, and only second-place ASU has a winning mark in the Pac-12. The South isn't as strong as the North this year, and there could be some "upsets" along the way.

What It Means
Oregon State has won its last two games by a collective score of 96-41, games in which a close contest was forecast.

Better yet, it represents a change for OSU. Mike Riley is beginning to play more aggressive, cutthroat football. They are playing to win big, not just scrape by.

Riley and his staff have adamantly stressed two things throughout the 2013 season – confidence and winning games to build more confidence. Right now, the Beavers are very confident, while the next few teams they are set to face have had their swagger muted, their poise shaken.

OSU has been rising, slowly but surely, while other teams are showing fractures against a conference where more parity exists than it used to. Oregon State is about to hit the meat of their schedule. After the game at Cal, OSU will see home games against Stanford and USC, followed by a bye week leading into a road game at ASU, followed by Washington at home and then the big one, the Civil War, held at Autzen Stadium.

Can the Beavers stay on the road they have paved so far? They could be considered the underdog in at least three of their next six games, but the underdog mentality has served OSU well thus far in 2013.

And as long as other teams consider the Beavers an underwhelming program, OSU will continue to surpass the expectations – but first they have to beat Cal, and to look good doing it.

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