As we get closer to the beginning of the 2015 college football season, it’s time to start locally and examine just where we expect the Oregon State Beavers to finish this fall. Coming off a down year with a new coach at the helm, anything is possible for the Beavers this season, but the strength of the schedule—and the strange imbalance of home games—is going to hurt Oregon State’s overall shot at making a bowl game for the third time in four years.
The Pac-12 itself is very strong, and the extra conference game hurts the teams in the league, because they can’t schedule an extra “cupcake” game which is often the difference between a bowl invitation and a holiday at home. The Beavers already have two out-of-conference “cupcakes” on their schedule, and if they’d been able to add another instead of playing UCLA, for example, it would make a big difference at the end of the year.
Those are the breaks, however, and Oregon State has its work cut out for it in 2015. Here’s a game-by-game breakdown of the season ahead and our predictions for the Beavers’ overall record. We will follow this column up with a Pac-12 preview on Wednesday and a national preview on Friday. After all, the season’s kickoff is only 10 days away, and Oregon State starts its season in just 11 days.
- Game 1—September 4 against Weber State: This Big Sky opponent is a true cupcake. The Wildcats went 2-10 last year, and they haven’t made the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs since 2009. Look for the Beavers to open the Gary Andersen Era with a big win in front of the home fans at Reser Stadium. (W)
- Game 2—September 12 at Michigan: This game will be the Wolverines’ home opener in 2015, as well as Jim Harbaugh’s first game in Ann Arbor. That’s a tough situation for the Beavers. On paper, Michigan has better talent, but Andersen isn’t going to be out-coached by Harbaugh. Michigan usually gets borderline calls at home from the officials, so look for the Wolverines to win a close one. However, we wouldn’t be surprised here at all to see Oregon State pull off the upset, and if it does, that could mean a special season is ahead for Beaver Nation. (L)
- Game 3—September 19 against San Jose State: The Spartans were just 3-9 last year, playing in the Mountain West, and while they’re not as weak as Weber State, they still qualify as a cupcake for Oregon State this season. If the Beavers win in Ann Arbor, they may struggle in the first half here before pulling away late. If they lose in Ann Arbor, this is going to be an ugly blowout for Oregon State. (W)
- Game 4—September 25 against Stanford Cardinal: The Beavers haven’t won in this rivalry series since 2009, and most of the games since then haven’t been close. Stanford is a potential Top 10 team again, and that means trouble for the Beavers, even at home. Again, if the Michigan game goes its way, perhaps Oregon State pulls off the upset here. Chances are, however, the Cardinal extend their dominance over the Beavers for one more season. (L)
- Game 5—October 10 at Arizona: After a bye week, the Beavers travel to Tucson. The Wildcats are tough to defend against, and they have the potential to be a Top 25 team this year. On the road, it’s too much to expect Oregon State to compete with them, even with the extra week of preparation. (L)
- Game 6—October 17 at Washington State: The Cougars were picked by the media to finish above the Beavers in the Pac-12 North division, but if Oregon State wants to make a bowl in 2015, this is a must-win game on the schedule. On a neutral field, the Beavers get the slight nod. In Pullman, it’s a coin flip. Let’s give it to Oregon State, because somehow, Mike Leach will find a way to Coug it, right? (W)
- Game 7—October 24 against Colorado: It’s a nice break to get the Buffaloes at home instead of the USC Trojans, that’s for sure. Between Washington State and Colorado, this is a huge sequence for the Beavers. Oregon State handles Colorado at Reser, of course, and it would be good for the Beavers to be 4-3 or 5-2 right now if they want to get the bowl invitation. (W)
- Game 8—October 31 at Utah: Like Arizona, the Utes have Top 25 potential, and with this game on the road, Oregon State will probably come up short. Utah won a lot of close games last year, and sometimes, that “luck” tends to reverse itself the following season. However, the Utes are well coached and at home for this one. (L)
- Game 9—November 7 against UCLA: Some experts (Football Outsiders, for example) have the Bruins in their Top 5 this year. That bodes ill for the Beavers as they play just their second home game since the first month of the season. This schedule doesn’t help Oregon State; hence, the emphasis on that WSU/Colorado combo in October. (L)
- Game 10—November 14 at California: This is another turning-point game for the Beavers. Lose this one, and the bowl season may be lost. Cal is improving, especially on defense, and beating the Bears on the road will be tough for Oregon State. Some of this depends on how Cal’s season is going, too, of course, but the Beavers will come up short in Berkeley. (L)
- Game 11—November 21 against Washington: Because the game is at Reser, Oregon State has a puncher’s chance here. However, the Huskies have more talent, and that seems to be the case is almost every Pac-12 game this year for the Beavers. (L)
- Game 12—November 27 at Oregon: Short week and a short road trip for the Civil War, and it will be a disappointing end to the season for the Beavers. They won’t get to play spoiler here, as the Ducks still are just too good to lose this one late in the season. (L)
With three of their six home games in September, the Beavers face a schedule that is backloaded with challenges. Plus, a Pac-12 team should be scheduling an extra home game here to compensate for the league’s nine-game slate. With the road game at Michigan, Oregon State loses that extra home date. This is the kind of scheduling issue which will need to fix itself down the line if Andersen wants to win big in Corvallis.
A 4-8 record with a five-game slide to end the season isn’t good, of course, and maybe Andersen has major magic up his sleeves. That would be a pleasant surprise. If the Michigan and Cal games swing the other way, maybe Oregon State goes 6-6 and gets an exemption for a bowl invite despite just five wins against Football Bowl Subdivision foes.
However, right now, Beavers fans should expect another rebuilding year, and in 2016, look for Oregon State to make big strides in the Pac-12 and beyond. Andersen is that good of a coach, so he just needs some time to make this program strong again.