Oregon State may be the quietest top-15 team in the nation, checking in at #12 in the latest AP Poll with two ranked wins already to their credit.
The Beavers are far from flashy—even in the PAC-12, there are probably three or four teams (Washington, Oregon, USC, and maybe even Colorado) with much more national prominence. But other than a slip-up in Pullman against Washington State, the Beavers continue to get things done, staying near the top of the crowded PAC-12 race where they control their destiny.
So, what are the Beavers’ chances of reaching the PAC-12 championship game?
The Beavers are off this week, but a tough 5-game stretch awaits. It begins with a road game at a suddenly dangerous Arizona squad, followed by a trip to Folsom for a game against Colorado. A home game against Stanford precedes contests against Washington and Oregon, the latter of which is a road game (the Ducks have a ridiculous 36-3 record at Autzen Stadium over the last seven seasons).
As of right now, Oregon State’s 3-1 conference record is good for third in the conference standings, behind only Washington and USC, and a half-game ahead of Oregon due to the Ducks having an earlier bye. After how USC looked last week against Notre Dame and against Arizona the week before, it’s difficult to see them winning all four games against Utah, Washington, Oregon (a road game), and UCLA, all of whom are currently ranked. The Beavers’ margin of error is very small, though. Even if Oregon State and USC were to drop a game each against a PAC-12 opponent, that would leave the Beavers with two losses in conference play, while USC would have just one.
The Beavers do have a slightly easier schedule the rest of the way. Both have a home game against Washington and a road game against Oregon. The difference is that USC plays #14 Utah this weekend, Cal, and a rivalry game against #25 UCLA. On the other hand, Oregon State has to play Arizona, Colorado, and Stanford—not opponents to be overlooked, but indeed not as difficult of a schedule, either. For now, the key USC games for Beavers fans are against Utah and UCLA; Oregon State has beaten both teams already, so if USC loses in those games, the Beavers would have a leg up in the tiebreak procedure.
Of course, this assumes the Beavers drop a game or two. Should they run the table the rest of the way, they would automatically be the #1 team in the conference and book a spot in the PAC-12 championship game. The most likely scenario, however, is that the Beavers drop their game against the Huskies, who have done nothing to indicate they’re anything less than a top-7 team in the nation, boasting the country’s best total offense and the third-best scoring offense (per TeamRankings) in addition to a solid defense.
The Beavers should win their games against Colorado and Stanford, who are a combined 6-7 this season. Their game against Arizona is less certain—per ESPN, the Wildcats are ahead of the Beavers in total yards per game and yards allowed per game, and their potent offense has been on display with 85 points scored in the last two games. The game also happens to be a road game for the Beavers, not to mention a kickoff time of 7:30 PM Pacific. Put together, this has the makings of an upset in the making.
But the Beavers also have two weeks to prepare and come in with a balanced offensive attack and a defense that is competent at worst. The likelihood of winning isn’t overwhelmingly high, but I trust the Beavers to prevail.
If the Beavers go 3-1 in their pre-Oregon matchups and USC loses two or more games, there is a significant possibility of Oregon-OSU being a de facto PAC-12 semifinal game and the biggest installment in the rivalry since 2009’s War for the Roses. And in order to get there, Beavers fans ironically may find themselves needing to root for the Ducks against USC.
So, while the Beavers’ road to the conference championship has one massive pothole in the form of USC, several factors could break the Beavers’ way, especially if USC loses to Utah this weekend. Even if the Beavers drop their game against Washington, there is still a solid path for their first appearance in the championship game since it debuted in 2011.
High drama will unfold in the PAC-12 over the next few weeks, and Oregon State is in the thick of it. Don’t blink, folks, or you might just miss a historic season for Beavers football.