No. 2: Oregon State. The Beavers are at a point now where you have to expect them to contend for the Pac-10 title year in and year out. They may not be at the top of the recruiting rankings every year, but they sure are near the top of the conference on a regular basis.
For the second year in a row, Oregon St. entered the final game of the season with a chance to go to the Rose Bowl. And although the Beavers came up short each time, the program is at a point where it is consistently in contention.
The Beavers are breaking in a new quarterback this season after Sean Canfield had an eye-opening senior season, earning All-Pac-10 first team honors. It likely will be sophomore Ryan Katz who takes over. Whoever it is will have the luxury of lining up next to two of the greatest playmakers in the country.
The return of the Rodgers brothers – Jacquizz at tailback and James at wide receiver – automatically makes the Beavers’ offense as dangerous as any in the conference. Both are arguably among the best in the country at his position. Jacquizz Rodgers could get some Heisman attention if he gets off to a fast start, especially if he complements his explosive running with the ability to catch passes again this year. Jacquizz Rodgers caught 78 passes for 522 yards last season to go along with 1,440 rushing yards. He scored 22 total touchdowns.
James Rodgers, meanwhile, appears undefendable at times, combining blazing speed, good route running and excellent hands. He caught 91 passes for 1,034 yards and nine touchdowns last season. If Katz or whoever is behind center plays effectively, it should be another big year for the wideout. The Beavers have four starters returning along the offensive line. The unit helped OSU have the top-rated passing offense in the conference last season (270.8 ypg).
The Beavers seem to always plug in holes defensively, and they will need to do so again this season. But returning at defensive tackle is Morris Trophy winner Stephen Paea, who eschewed the NFL and decided to make one more run of it in Corvallis. The Morris Trophy is given to the top lineman (offensive and defensive) in the Pac-10 and is voted on by opposing players.
But OSU will have to make up for the loss of linebacker Keaton Kristick, who had 95 tackles a year ago. The linebacker corps is inexperienced and cause for concern, but the secondary is experienced, and the Beavers will hope that experience results in improved play this season. James Dockery is solid at one corner while starting safeties Cameron Collins and Lance Mitchell both return.
Oregon St. is arguably the best-coached team in the conference. With the weapons the Beavers possess on offense and the track record they have on defense, they have as good a chance as any team in the conference to be playing in Pasadena on Jan. 1.