There are a lot of unknowns about Oregon State heading into Thursday's season opener for the Gophers. The Beavers went 2-10 last season, in their first year under coach Gary Andersen. They have a new quarterback, in Utah State transfer Darell Garretson, and will be infusing many of the players Andersen has recruited since leaving Wisconsin.
To learn more about Oregon State, I traded questions with Oregonian beat writer Danny Moran (@DannyJMoran). Here's my Q&A on the Gophers, and here's the one on the Beavers:
1. Oregon State had success under Mike Riley, but in a nut shell, what condition was the program in when he left for Nebraska?
OSU came off an underachieving 5-7 season when Riley left for Nebraska and the team was likely headed for another down year due to the graduation of some key players. But when Gary Andersen took over, he overhauled the offensive scheme from a pro style to a spread and the defensive system from a 4-3 to a 3-4. This helped create a perfect storm for a disastrous 2015 and the Beavers are now in a deeper rebuild.
2. What have been Gary Andersen’s biggest challenges so far in Corvallis?
For one, the Pac-12 is deep. Colorado is evidence that a team can get better each year and not have many wins to show for it. That’s what Oregon State could be looking at this coming season. Recruiting to Corvallis can be a challenge and while his staff snagged two four stars for this most recent class (a cornerback and safety), neither has made it to campus due to academic issues.
3. What skills make Darell Garretson a good fit for this offense?
His accuracy has been mixed in the parts of practice available to the media but he completed 63 percent of his passes at Utah State. That’s far and away better than any of the three quarterbacks Oregon State had last year (a combined 46.9 percent). He’s less mobile than Seth Collins – the primary QB last season – but his passing alone will give the staff a better chance to judge the team’s receiving options and give the offense a second dimension.
4. What are Oregon State’s biggest reasons for optimism on offense?
Garretson is the first because of the reasons stated above. The Beavers were able to hang on to Collins and convince him to move to wide receiver after he nearly transferred to Northern Illinois. Collins scored three touchdowns in a slash role against Oregon to close the year and he provides a versatile option OSU didn’t have last year. The offense also has a clear No. 1 running back in the powerful Ryan Nall, who emerged midway through 2015. The biggest questions are on the offensive line, which will start redshirt freshman Blake Brandel at left tackle and sophomore Yanni Demogerontas at center – two pivotal positions.
5. What are the biggest reasons the defense could be improved?
More game experience may be the only answer. Oregon State entered last year amid a scheme change with just two returning defensive starters. That inexperience showed, particularly as injuries piled up during Pac-12 play. The defense is still young and thin on numbers but has players who played valuable snaps last year and now have some continuity in the 3-4 system.