This past week, the Oregon State Beavers football team was rewarded with an invitation to play in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on December 24th, in Honolulu, Hawaii. Matched up against the Boise State Broncos of the Mountain West Conference, Mike Riley, and company, are hoping this will serve as a positive capstone to an otherwise less than ideal season.
Sitting at 6-6 after suffering a debilitating loss to the rival Oregon Ducks the day after Thanksgiving, it wasn't known if any bowl bids were going to be sent Oregon State's way, even though 6 wins allowed them to be bowl eligible.
Rewind the clock back to October 19th, the day the Beavers ran over the Cal Bears 49-17, and saw themselves finally catapult in to the top 25 rankings, and it seemed as though Oregon State was destined to be playing during bowl season. With tough match-ups against Stanford, Arizona State and Oregon on tap for OSU down the final stretch of the season, no one on the team imagined they'd hit the kind of wall they did, losing their final 5 games by a combined score of 186-105; simply put, both the offense and defense looked out of sorts over the final month of the season.
Beaver Nation saw a glimpse of the high powered, Mannion-led offense return during the Civil War matchup, and although they'll have nearly three weeks to prepare for the Broncos, they'll want to avoid any of the post season rust so many teams seem to be afflicted with come bowl season.
Boise State, 8-4 overall and 6-2 in their conference, seems a good matchup for Oregon State, and more than just in regards to the game on the field.
First of all, Boise State did just lose their coach, Chris Peterson, to the vacant University of Washington coaching position, so they will play the Hawaii Bowl without the person who helped establish them in the NCAA.
Secondly, Boise State's coaching staff has some notable connections to the Oregon State Beavers. Their quarterback's coach, Jonathan Smith, is one of the all-time great quarterbacks to ever play at OSU, having been their signal caller from 1998-2001, and leading them to two bowl games. Also, BSU associate head coach, Chris Strausser, was Oregon State's wide receiver coach from 1990 to 1991; needless to say, Oregon State will see some familiar faces come Christmas Eve.
As for the game that will be played on the field, Oregon State could have their hands full with what should be a shootout in Hawaii.
Boise State, known for some very prolific, high scoring, offenses, may not have the marquee names they once did, but they still can put points on the scoreboard, sitting at 17th overall for points scored per game. The Broncos offense versus OSU's D will certainly be the key matchup during the game.
It was apparent this year that Oregon State's defense, which has been suspect at times, doesn't do well with long breaks (see Eastern Washington). However, they will have a few players that will be playing in possibly their last collegiate game, and doing some auditioning for next April's NFL Draft.
Scott Crichton, a junior defensive end, has garnered national praise over the past couple of seasons, and for good reason. A relentless pass rusher, Crichton has skills that could easily put him on a starting 11 in the NFL. He led the Beavers D with 6 and a half sacks, to go along with 16 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles, all while seeing double teams most of the year as opposing teams' scouting reports had his name routinely in bold. With Boise State's pass heavy offense, Crichton will have plenty of chances to improve those defensive statistics, and draft stock, in the bowl game.
Cornerback Rashaad Reynolds is another Beaver defender who could be auditioning for NFL playing time on December 24th. The senior defensive back tied for the team lead in interceptions (6), also tacked on one sack on the year, and two forced fumbles. For the past three seasons, Reynolds has been a stalwart on Oregon State's defense, and with him playing in his last game in orange and black, expect him to have a big day.
On the other side of the ball it's no secret that Oregon State's offense consists of one of the most high octane passing duos in the entire nation in Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks.
I've written at length about Mannion's potential NFL draft stock (insert link), and Cooks is an even bigger lock to bolt for the NFL after the Hawaii Bowl where he'll surely, as he's done all year, put on quite the show.
The junior wide receiver torched the league this year to the tune of 1,670 yards receiving, which was tops in the country, and 17 total touchdowns. A finalist for the Biletnikoff Award that will be announced this Thursday, Cooks will be looking to put the finishing touches on one of the most impressive seasons for a wide receiver Oregon State has ever seen; Boise State will no doubt have their hands full chasing him up and down the field on December 24th.
Sean Mannion, however, ultimately holds the Beavers best chance at leaving Hawaii with the bowl win, and while it's very cliché to put the onus on the starting quarterback, Oregon State's ugly losses, and Mannion's worst games, go hand in hand.
While he had always still been able to find Brandin Cooks in those ugly losses, it was the security of the football he had such a hard time with, as turnover after turnover damned the Beavers late in the season. Having corrected the turnover woes a bit against the Ducks in the Civil War, Mannion will look to build on some of that momentum heading in to the Hawaii Bowl.
If the Beavers can get back to playing the kind of football that allowed them to win six straight games earlier this year, while avoiding what made them lose five straight, they should be able to handle Boise State with ease come December 24th.