Friday, November 1, 2013. Oregon State is 6-2, coming off an 8-point loss to Stanford that ended with Brandin Cooks dropping a pass in the end zone. Every Beavers fan expects a close game, and many predict a victory that help them gain momentum heading into the hardest part of their schedule.
The Beavers get steamrolled, losing 31-14, and deserving to lose by more. They don't win again until the Hawaii Bowl against Boise State.
The date's different this year. The storyline, less so.
The Beavers are 3-0, coming off a convincing win against San Diego State, but nobody really knows what to make of them at this point. Many expect the Beavers to play USC tough, but few expect a win. The Beavs are halfway to bowl-eligibility, but a loss against USC puts them at risk to come up a game or so short due to the depth of the Pac-12 this year. USC, meanwhile, has plenty of pent-up aggression, coming off a bye that followed an embarrassing loss to Boston College.
In last year's matchup, Oregon State had one of their better ground attacks, rushing for 92 whole yards, which obviously says more about the run game last year than USC's defense. Still, with this year's improved blocking, and Boston College's 452 run-yard effort against the Trojans, it's hard not to imagine some steady production coming on the ground for the Beavers this week, which is obviously important to protect quarterback Sean Mannion.
To put it mildly, Mannion struggled against the Trojans last year. His 26/45, 3 interception and 1 touchdown statline reads more like something next to a Washington State quarterback's name than the increasingly accurate Mannion. The other historical storyline this week is the less relevant, but still interesting factoid that the Beavers haven't beaten the Trojans in the Coliseum since 1960. History isn't exactly on the Beavers side heading into this one, but they're not exactly strangers to doing the unexpected.
The receiving corps for the Beavers looks quite a bit different than it did last week, and could have a significant impact on the game. Victor Bolden dislocated his pinkie while dropping a pass against SDSU, and Rahmel Dockery has been limited in practice all week, which trickles down and effects many players and positions. Normal split-end junior Richard Mullaney could move to replace Bolden at flanker, a position he's never played before, excluding emergency duty against San Diego State, and isn't exactly built for. Jordan Villamin moves up to take Mullaney's normal spot at split-end, and freshman Xavier Hawkins is forced to burn his redshirt to get some snaps (and likely some fly sweeps). A similar group performed well against San Diego State, but USC could be a different story.
After the game Sunday night many question marks about the Beavers will be periods. Can the offense, already feeling the loss of Brandin Cooks, recover from losing yet another key pass-catcher? Is the run-game really good enough to keep opponents honest? Can the defense matchup with the firepower of the star-studded USC offense? This is a winnable game for Oregon State, but they'll have to play by far their best game of the season to pick it up. We just have to hope history doesn't repeat itself.