Watching Washington on Monday Will Show Many How Close Oregon State Was, and How Far it Has to Go Now

By T.J. Mathewson

Contributor, 750 The Game

How would I describe how Oregon State fans feel watching Washington in the National Championship Game vs Michigan on Monday? Angry, frustrated, resentful… that is, if many decide to even watch the game out of disgust for what college football has become.

It was Washington president Ana Mari Cauce’s 11th-hour 180 that sent Oregon State Athletics tumbling into an uncertain future in August, after all. For a good portion of Beaver fans, that could be all the reason they need not to watch a second of the game and hope Jim Harbaugh’s CFB swan song ends in a Michigan blowout.

That resentment could also very well be from the time the two took to the football field at Reser Stadium on Nov. 18. That was the last time we saw a fully committed, distraction-free football team, one that was clearly good enough to go toe-to-toe with a team playing for the national championship.

Even with the loss, that game reflected the relevance and talent of the Beaver program. With the right balance of players and coaches in the current format, Oregon State can put together a program to play national championship-caliber football. As 2023 showed, caliber does not equal results.

We will never know what else that team could have achieved in their final two games, potential wins against two elite programs and a shot at a top-12 finish. Instead, the program sits quite far from that point.

So while UW tries to topple Michigan for its first national title in over 30 years, it serves as a reminder that the Oregon State football program can compete near the top of college football with the right coach, the right players, the right culture, and the right financial support.

They had all four under Jonathan Smith, but I can’t say they do under Trent Bray….. yet. He has his work cut out for him.

The Beavers have suffered a normal amount of attrition in the transfer portal, but where the attrition happens has to make people nervous. This offense lost every single full-time starter except Damien Martinez, after guard Tanner Miller announced he would hit the portal earlier this week. A first-year defensive-minded head coach will have to build a brand-new offense with a first-year offensive coordinator (Ryan Gunderson), a new QB, at least four new linemen, and new skill players. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are overreacting to the roster churn on offense. There is plenty to worry about.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Smith operated around a (for the most part) certain financial future when building the program up. Trent Bray will not get that. Smith had a Power Five conference to recruit to. Bray will not.

None of those four criteria are in place right now. So when Trent Bray says that he thinks this team has a real chance to compete for an at-large bid in the college football playoff, I don’t buy it.

How do they do it? I really think it boils down to being able to build an elite offensive team. As long as Bray is head coach, the Beavers will have a pretty good idea of what to do on defense. Focusing on great offensive personnel and schemes is what will allow this program to thrive. The game is built for successful offense. 

The climb to that level doesn’t happen overnight. It very well might take years of recruiting and personnel adjustments to reach that level. By then, Oregon State might not even be allowed to play for the National Championship, or whatever they will call it.

With a Beaver alum at OC, DC, and HC, they’ll have no choice but to sell the heck out of the Oregon State experience and have it make a difference. Given the situation they are in, that’s the best card they have.

T.J. Mathewson is an Oregon State Beavers football contributor for 750 The Game. He also covers the Beavers for KEJO 1240 in Corvallis and has work featured throughout the season here.