Gary Andersen had to dig Utah State out of a huge hole as football program when he first got there. The roster did not have much talent and they didn't do a great job of developing that talent before he got there. The result of his first season was as expected: a 4-8 season.
That was actually a one game improvement on the previous season and the first time the program had won four games since 2002. There was steady improvement though with another four win season (actually an accomplishment considering the previous success of the program) followed by seven wins and a bowl game and then an 11-2 season and a bowl win before leaving for Wisconsin.
He took a program that was in the basement for a long time and turned them into one of the best non-Power 5 programs in the nation.
It's under different circumstances, but he's going to have to do something similar with his new job at Oregon State. Andersen won't have to deal with breaking down the culture of losing like he did at Utah State. It's the talent gap between him and the teams he is competing with in the Pac-12 that is going to make his job so tough early on.
From 2011 to 2015, no program in the conference signed less blue chip players than the Beavers. They signed 1(!) player with a composite 4 star ranking or higher in those combined five recruiting classes. By comparison, USC, even having to deal with scholarship reductions, signed 64 in their five classes. That's just a ridiculous amount of a talent gap between the two programs.
To be fair though, let's take the top schools in the conference when it comes to recruiting (USC, UCLA, Stanford, and Oregon) out of the equation and compare them with Cal. Sonny Dykes' program is trying to take that next step and climb out of the bottom of the conference and get closer to the top half by getting back to a bowl game and potentially making some noise in the Pac-12 North race this season. They have signed 22 blue chips over their last five recruiting classes. That's still a heck of a lot more kids that are projected to become difference makers at the college level than at Oregon State.
The Beavers always seem to find diamonds in the rough and did a nice job of developing them under Riley, but when you see that the other two teams that have recruited poorly are Colorado (2 blue chips since 2011) and Washington State (3 since 2011) it's not hard to put it all together that the teams that recruit less talent have a really tough job of getting out of the basement.
Andersen can look at Utah (7 since 2011) and Arizona (9 since 2011) as programs that beat the odds and did a good job of beating more talented teams last season, but there is no doubt that he is going to have a difficult time to get to the point where those two programs are.
According to Ourlads.com, Oregon State is returning nine starters on offense next season, but only two on defense. They also will be playing a new quarterback this season (possibly true freshman Seth Collins or Utah State transfer Darrell Garretson) and have no returning players who made either the All Pac-12 First or Second team on offense or defense last season.
Looking at that and the fact that Nebraska signed 3 blue chip players in Mike Riley's first recruiting class in February compared with the 1 he signed in recent years at Oregon State, no one should have been really surprised that he ended up bolting for that job no matter how much he liked Corvallis.
Gary Andersen has a really tough job ahead of him. Even though it's in the Pac-12, what he has to do in building this program up into a contender is going to be a lot closer to what he did at Utah State than anything he faced in Wisconsin. Just like with Aggies, he is going to have develop players and get them to surpass their projections as recruits to get the Beavers anywhere close to the upper tier of the conference.