SOME ARE CALLING Oregon State's 2010 out of conference schedule an unnecessary risk. Others are calling it downright crazy. And they have a point. It's well established that the best strategy to the biggest and best bowl game is to the take advice from former Oregon State coach Dennis Erickson: Play the directional teams early. You know, the schools with a lot of geographic references in their titles.
The path to a BCS bowl is an undefeated or single loss season -- in the eyes of college football a win is a win and bowl committees look at the record, not so much the teams you beat. This strategy was in high gear late last year in the SEC when national championship front runners Alabama and Florida created a forgettable college football weekend, strapping it on at home against creampuff powerhouses Tennessee-Chattanooga and Southern Florida International. The combined margin of victory for the Gators and Crimson Tide that weekend was 98-3.
Later, when Alabama was crowned national champion, no one mentioned the Tennessee-Chattanooga win. It didn't really matter, Alabama beat Texas end of story. At that moment and throughout the 2009 college football season the strategy was validated, don't play a tough out of conference schedule if you want to be invited to the big bowl games.
THE NEW OSU SCHEDULE does seem like a big risk, and in particular for the Beavers who have earned a reputation as perhaps the slowest starting team in the nation. Didn't Athletic Director Bob De Carolis learn from what happened in 2008 at Penn State's Beaver Stadium? Sitting there in a sea of white while getting clobbered by PSU, I can remember asking, "Say Bob, why didn't we play those Idaho State Bengals?"
Having two years distance to look back on that day, I can confidently say I was wrong, mistaken and even foolish for thinking that playing a smaller school at Reser is better than going on the road to play a notable team. Seeing the Beavers play the best teams in great stadiums is an honor as a fan. Cowboy Stadium in Irving Texas is going to be a great event, thinking about the Beavers playing in Texas against TCU… all I can say is, "Bring it on, let's just see how the Beavers will compete."
And it's simple fan math to see why this is a great opportunity for the Beaver Nation. Take the previous version of the schedule, where the Beavs were hosting Eastern Washington and Louisville and had a road game at Boise State. Now subtract Eastern Washington and add TCU, what does this equal? The Beavers go from an early season afterthought to the center stage of college football. Regardless of the outcome, it's a better deal for OSU.
What's in it for the Beavers and fans, outside of the national attention and money? Glad you asked. There are three tangible benefits from the change of schedule.
Team Building and knowing the enemy
Nothing builds team chemistry like a common enemy, and that could not be truer than for the Beavers in 2010. This year's enemy goes beyond TCU, Louisville, Boise State -- and even the Pac-10 conference games..
The enemy is eliminating the Beavers' legacy as one of college football's most notorious slow starters.
Look for the 2010 team to come together under the pending national scrutiny and become more competitive earlier. Remember, this is the same core team who captured the program's first road win over the Sun Devils in 40 years -- overcoming what other Beaver teams for decades could not.
The ability to win early over tough teams is the next step for these guys, and they know it.
As one fan put it, "I'm daring to dream about what kind of a season this could be if we win in Dallas and in Boise."
This has to be the team's mantra for 2010.
Creating Urgency and a Purpose Around the Football Program
A very tough non-conference slate is going to force the slow starting Beavers to shake things up. With the change I firmly believe are going to see the leadership and talent of the Rodger bothers, Stephen Paea being a role model, the returning starters showing plenty of heart and the talent of the new players shining earlier. Mike Riley and the coaches have a chance to lead the 2010 team to a place where they become competitive at the highest levels earlier and then throughout the season.
The schedule will impact the spring and fall camps with new levels of intensity and purpose. Prior to adding TCU, the Beavs' first two games were home against Eastern Washington and a Louisville. The Cardinals are coming off a 4-8 season, 1-6 in conference. In other words, as originally drafted in the schedule, the first two home games were not going to provide any extra motivation for players and coaches to change the trend of slow starts.
In contrast, since the TCU game was announced, I have to believe every Beaver player and coach has changed their expectations and approach to the opening of the season, in preparation for the trip to Texas. I submit this urgency will create a new level of purpose in the offseason and in spring ball and fall camp.
Every drill, workout and film session will be accompanied by the constant pressure of starting the season playing two 2009 BCS teams on the road.
This should also impact the urgency for coaches to select starting players. Riley and his assistants are going to have to define and commit to the "ones" and name the starters earlier. This is in stark contrast to the previous schedule, where the first two game leading up to Boise State could have been used to further develop and decide who would be the starters at BSU. Starting decisions, especially around the quarterback, are going to be made sooner and with more conviction.
Confidence and Swagger for the Pac-10
The non-conference slate, win or lose, will create some significant confidence for the Beavers by the time conference play kicks off. While the other Pac-10 teams look back on their opening games against the likes of Toledo, Northern Arizona, Sacramento State, Citadel , Montana State, UC Davis and Portland State, the Beavers will have cut their teeth with two road games against BCS bowl teams.
It won't be that long until it's time to tighten up the race car harness, because the throttle will be wide open when the season starts for the Beavers in 2010. It's time to get your tickets lined up and get your seat for the Beavs out of conference drag race start, followed immediately by Pac-10's 500-mile endurance race.
September is only months away but it begins today with the opening of spring ball. And keep your attention on the bottom of the racing light tree. It turns green in Dallas, and then it's full throttle until the checkered flag is waving for us all in Pasadena.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kevin Stuck is a 1983 graduate of Oregon State. After spending his youth in Astoria and college days in Corvallis, he now resides in San Diego County with his wife Amy and two youngest sons. His eldest son, much to the enjoyment of the lifetime Beaver supporter, is currently attending Oregon State.