Every year, teams from the FBS lose to teams from the FCS. Logically, those games typically involve a very good FCS team and/or a very bad FBS team. Portland State isn't exceptionally talented, and Oregon State isn't exceptionally incompetent. But that won't stop Beavers fans from being nervous.
In 2011, Oregon State lost its season opener to Sacramento State. The Beavers went on to have a 3-9 season. Last year, Oregon State lost its season opener to Eastern Washington and went on to have a 7-6 season. The 2011 loss was a testament to the lack of talent and experience on the Beavers roster, which shouldn't be a problem this year. The Eastern Washington loss, meanwhile, can mostly be blamed on a talented EWU offense running all over a lethargic Beaver defense. Head coach Mike Riley has a reputation for coaching teams that start slowly, but nobody would have imagined a loss to Eastern Washington, and Riley took steps to prevent a re-repeat by allowing more tackling during fall camp this year, addressing the myriad of missed tackles and miscalculated pursuit angles the Beavers suffered through in last August's opener.
Even with the recent losses, it's hard to imagine the Beavers losing to the Vikings on Saturday. Sean Mannion's right arm, combined with his newfound vocal leadership, can pull the Beavers through any potential early adversity. Last year, receiver Victor Bolden learned to use his blinding speed playing as a true freshman, and has continued to develop during the offseason. Tight end Connor Hamlett is a tough cover for just about anybody standing at 6'7", and is even tougher for a Vikings defense whose tallest member is 3 inches shorter. If all else fails, OSU can always rely on Mannion to make plays, as they did last year.
To say the least, the Beavers struggled to run the football in 2013, with their rushing yards ranking 118th in the nation, unbelievable considering the pro-style offense Oregon State runs. They will certainly look to right that ship this season, with senior running back Terron Ward leading the way. In past years, Ward has been more of a 3rd-down back, but he earned more touches towards the end of last season, and finally will get the chance to be the featured runner many fans have always envisioned him to be.
However, the offensive line was the biggest culprit for last season's lack of run production, and after spending nearly all of fall camp mixing and matching the line together, OL coach Mike Cavanaugh has figured out his starters for the opener. Junior star Isaac Seumalo is out with a foot injury, which leads to an inexperienced but talented line. It features junior tackle Gavin Andrews and sophomore center Garret Weinreich, who would have more playing time under their belts if not for injuries. Two more sophomores, Grant Bays and Sean Harlow, will also start, with junior Josh Mitchell holding down the center position. Simply put, the linemen have to do a better job than last year, or the offense will struggle big-time this year. In 2013, WR Brandin Cooks singlehandedly made and found holes in the defense, but he's gone to the NFL, and the Beavers will need to do a better job of opening defenses the more conventional way, running the football.
The defense was absolutely horrible during the Eastern Washington loss, and wasn't very good at any point last season. Much of that squad returns this year, DE Scott Crichton and CB Rashaad Reynolds being notable exceptions. Steven Nelson, who had 6 interceptions last year, can very capably fill Reynolds' shoes. The linebacking corps is incredibly experienced. Michael Doctor is a fifth-year senior who has played since 2010 and is coming off an ankle injury that led to him being granted a fifth year of eligibility. D.J. Alexander is another senior who has played since his true freshman year, and Jabral Johnson started every game during his junior season in 2013.
No single player on the defensive line can replace Crichton, but there is a combination of talent and depth that could help ease the pain of his departure. DE Dylan Wynn is a 3-year starter whose motor makes him incredibly valuable, and the other positions are all held down by juniors and seniors with plenty of game experience. A wild card is Wynn's backup, senior Obum Gwacham, who was a WR during his first 3 years, but was hampered with drops. Since the position switch, coaches have raved about Gwacham's abilities as a pass rusher, and he will play plenty of snaps due to the frequent rotations DL coach Joe Seumalo uses on the line.
Like can always be said about an FBS vs. FCS matchup, the Beavers should win Saturday's game. The two recent losses mean the team isn't overlooking the opener, and the increased tackling in camp mean the team should farther along than last year. Fans will be looking for a blowout victory that shows off an improved run-game and defense that bode well for the Beavers' future.