Fresno State Shouldn't Be Taken Lightly

It was late August 2001, nearly nine months since a figurative nation of Oregon State Beavers unleashed 28-years of frustration and embarrassment on college football's greatest empire. Sports Illustrated, citing a 11-1 record, stunning victory over Notre Dame and a slew of returning talent, had recently tabbed Ken Simonton as a sure-bet Heisman Trophy finalist and picked his team as the preseason favorite to win the national championship.

I had recently been chosen as sports editor of The Daily Barometer, and was literally giddy that I would be covering a team capable of garnering so much attention. This is my pipeline to the big-time I thought – by season's end I'd be replacing Ivan Maisel as SI's college football writer. 

Me and my Beavs were movin on up. 

Myself and two others secured a mini-van for the first weekend of September from the Oregon State University motor pool and headed straight for the heart of California, the city of Fresno to be exact, ready to document OSU's first victory on their march toward glory.

Sports Illustrated tabbed Oregon State as the No. 1 team in the nation in August of 2001.

By the time we got there, about 27-hours before kickoff on a Saturday afternoon, the temperature had reached 104 degrees. Our hotel room was awful and our impression of Fresno much, much worse. 

Curious to read what the papers had been saying I grabbed a copy of both Saturday and Sunday's edition of the Fresno Bee. I distinctly remember labeling their sports reporters as homers and picking apart two columns that bordered on ridiculous. One said OSU had no chance of winning in Bulldog Stadium. It cited inadequate locker room facilities, a "gauntlet" of a walk that included a lengthy stroll through a corridor of porta-poties, and rabid Fresno State fans ready to make the Beavers (players and fans) feel more unwelcome there then anywhere they'd been before.  

Pac-10 teams, the columnist said, weren't used to dealing with such elements. It would rattle them, distract them and ultimately lead to their downfall.  

I said he was wrong – he was right on the money. The Beavers were rattled, distracted and uncomfortable all right. They were also beaten convincingly and by a better team to boot. Simonton rushed for nary a yard. Jonathan Smith played the game on his back. The defense was shredded by a whiz-kid quarterback named David Carr. The season of untold fortune was lost in an instant – and I had a 14-hour drive back to Corvallis, with another night in Fresno left to swallow. 

If this was the big-time then the big-time sucked. 

That year I made an ass out of myself on a weekly basis predicting a return to greatness . I was labeled a homer and rightfully so. The Beavers lost six games and didn't qualify to play in the post season. I said they'd win all 11. I also learned a heck of a lot about football.  

So pardon me if I fear the Bulldogs. Fear in its truest sense is just another word for respect anyway. That team has a good coach, a group of talented players and a lethal home-field advantage. If the Beavers don't play that game like the entire season is on the line then they're in trouble.

The Beavers will have to play at the top of their game to defeat the Bulldogs in Fresno.

To not leave 100 percent on the field that Friday night would say a lot about this Oregon State team and none of them are good. It would say they didn't play with the passion of a champion. It would say they didn't respect they're opponent and it would say they're not yet ready to win Pac-10 road games, because winning inside Bulldog Stadium is easily as difficult as winning on the road in most Pac-10 stadiums. 

Put all those things together and you've got another sort-of successful season. Seven or eight wins, a lackluster bowl game and another season of ho-hum. Those results might build a bigger Reser Stadium and bring in another good recruiting class, but it won't do justice to what this Oregon State team may be capable of.  

First place in the Pac-10 and a Rose Bowl appearance isn't out of reach. A 10-win season, the Sun Bowl, Holiday Bowl or better a virtual lock if the wins and losses fall as they should.  

Oregon State starts its football season August 28 at Reser Stadium, but circle September 5, 2003 in big red pen on your calendar. That's when we find out all we probably need to know about these Beavers. 
 

Ryan Gabriel can be reached at ryan.gabriel@beaverfootball.com


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