By almost any measurable football metric, the Oregon State Beavers aren’t as good as their opponent today, the California Golden Bears. As the two teams prepare to play today at 7:30 p.m. in Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium, the 5-4 Cal squad knows it can become bowl eligible for the first time since 2011 with a win. Meanwhile, the 2-7 OSU group just wants to win a game and break a six-game losing streak.
The only two wins the Beavers have this season are over small-school teams Weber State and San Jose State. They are 0-7 against power conference teams in 2015, including 0-6 in Pac-12 play. Oregon State has had quarterback problems all season which have resulted in just 15.5 points per game, the 121st-ranked offense in the 128-team Football Bowl Subdivision.
Cal has no such problems at QB, where Jared Goff is projected as a top draft pick next spring for the NFL. The Bears score 31.4 points per game, ranked 34th in FBS. The Bears’ weakness in recent years has been the defense; however, it’s improved to the point being serviceable in 2015: Cal’s defense is ranked 73rd this season (25.8 points per game). Oregon State’s defense has a lot of potential, but it’s spent too much time on the field thanks to the team’s offensive woes. The Beavers are ranked 93rd on defense in terms of points allowed (28.6 ppg).
Both teams have played tough schedules, thanks to the quality of the Pac-12 Conference this year, with the Bears having a slight edge in toughness (11th-hardest schedule to the Beavers’ 21st hardest). With the game being played in Berkeley, that’s just one more advantage for Cal today.
With the updated news that QB Seth Collins is now out for the rest of the year with that random knee injury, the keys to the offense will remain the hands of Nick Mitchell—and that’s not a good piece of news for the Beavers. All across the board, his numbers aren’t as good as Collins’ numbers, and by any measurement, Mitchell isn’t really even an average QB. His completion percentage (47.4 percent) and TD:INT ratio (1:4) are terrible, and Mitchell doesn’t run the ball well at all (just 19 yards on the season).
This makes it very easy for opposing defenses to put nine guys in the box and stuff the Beavers’ talented running backs. That’s where Collins’ ability to run and throw much better than Mitchell helped the Oregon State team on both sides of the ball, and his loss to injury really dooms this offense to frighteningly bad levels for the rest of the season. UCLA’s defense had given up almost 36 points a game to five other Pac-12 teams, but the Bruins were able to shut out the Beavers last week.
Cal’s defense may be slightly worse than UCLA’s, but that should be enough to handle Mitchell and Co. today. Head Coach Gary Andersen would be wise to give backup QB Marcus McMaryion a few series, too, just to see if he’s any better than Mitchell. It can’t hurt the Beavers’ chances, after all.
The Oregon State defense was shredded for 674 yards last week at home, and it could be just as bad this week on the road. Cal’s strength is its offense, and the Bears are going to motivated and ready in front of the home crowd to clinch a bowl berth. Unless Mitchell suddenly turns over a new and super-shiny leaf, the Beavers offense is going to have a lot of three-and-out sequences—putting pressure on the OSU defense to stop Goff and Co.
Good luck with that: The Bears have scored at least 21 points in every Pac-12 game this year, while the Beavers have given up at least 17 points against every Pac-12 opponent. The margin for error here is very small for the Oregon State defense. Linebacker Rommel Mageo can’t do it all by himself, although he tries: Mageo leads the Beavers in tackles (67), interceptions (two) and sacks (two). He needs three teammates like himself to truly make this defense better.
Upsets happen every year, but they usually happen at home by underrated teams with hidden potential and talents. The Beavers are on the road, and we’ve seen the best they have to offer this year—and it’s not been enough in six Pac-12 games where they’ve been outscored by a 223-87 margin. That’s a team with little or no chance of pulling the upset.
Again, toss in Cal’s motivation today at home, and it spells more doom for the Oregon State kids. If Collins was still the QB and progressing at a normal rate for a true freshman, maybe the Beavers would have been better by now. But the anemic offense and the overworked defense have no chance against the Bears today. Look for Cal to win by 20-plus points while sending OSU to its seventh straight loss.