Wisconsin's 34-24 comeback victory against the Gophers in 2014 to win Paul Bunyan's Axe earned the Badgers a spot in the Big Ten title game.

It also was the last game at Camp Randall Stadium for Gary Andersen.

Andersen departed to become Oregon State's coach while his team prepared for the Outback Bowl, a shocking move considering how successful he had been in his second year at Wisconsin.

Entering his second season with the Beavers on Thursday playing against the Gophers, the 52-year-old Andersen is at peace with his decision to leave Wisconsin. That says a lot, considering Andersen went from a 10-win Big Ten title contender to what might have been the Pac-12's worst team. The Beavers were 2-10 last year, including 0-9 in conference play.

"Two very different coaching adventures," Andersen said Tuesday. "We walked into Wisconsin with an experienced team. Had a plan and a projection and a belief and some really good players. We were able to win a whole bunch of football games, win [the Big Ten West Division] and play in the championship game. Played in a lot of big-time games and big-time moments. It was great. …

"But Oregon State is a great place. It's got a lot of things I believe in and like as a coach. At this point in my life in my career, to be where I want to be is special."

Oregon State is predicted to finish at the bottom of its division in the Pac-12 this year, a tossup with Colorado for which team will finish dead last in the conference.

Andersen's players, though, still are buying into his philosophy, a lot like they did at Utah State, a program he turned around before jumping at a big-time opportunity at Wisconsin. After back-to-back 4-8 seasons in 2009 and 2010, Andersen's team eventually went 11-2 and won the Western Athletic Conference in 2012.

"It's not my first time being in a situation like this," he said. "I'm not afraid to say it's a very difficult challenge. It's a big-boy fight. But it's not one where we're going to back down from."

Oregon State's spread offense resembles what Utah State ran under Andersen. Beavers QB Darrel Garretson, a former Utah State quarterback who was recruited out of high school by Andersen's staff, knows the system better than anyone on the team.

"He's just a natural leader," senior center Dustin Stanton said. "He's a lot faster than people think. He's got a tremendous arm. I think the biggest thing for him is that he's so smart. He knows our offense perfectly, obviously. ... He's capable of doing some big things in this league."

Last year's starting quarterback Seth Collins originally announced he was transferring to Northern Illinois in February, but he was welcomed back in the spring and moved to wide receiver, giving Oregon State another potential playmaker alongside bruising 6-2, 235-pound tailback Ryan Nall.

The bigger question is on the other side of the ball, where the Beavers gave up 37 points per game last season (44 per game on the road), ranking 114th in the country in scoring defense. In their final four games last season, the Beavers gave up 199 points. New defensive coordinator Kevin Clune replaces Kalani Sitake, now the head coach at Brigham Young.

"We're kind of a young defense," cornerback Treston Decoud said. "But we aren't paying attention to the critics. We're the underdog, but we don't look at ourselves as the underdog. We can beat anybody in the country. We just have to put it together and play."