They lost to a second-division conference opponent, were victims of a blowout and lost to a "mid-major" program, yet the Oregon State Beavers are on the verge of a remarkably successful season.
Three more wins – starting on Saturday against California – and they're in the Rose Bowl. Not even sixth-ranked USC can say that.
The Beavers lost to Stanford in their season opener. The next week they were blasted 45-14 by Penn State. Later on, they squandered a lead late and lost 31-28 to Utah. Yet on Sept. 25, the Beavers upset USC 27-21, which was the first of five consecutive conference victories. And with each win, they've gotten closer to reaching the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1964 season.
"The growth of the team is exciting," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "Confidence builds. We always talk about a fine line between confidence and being cocky and to try not to cross that edge.
"I don't think we have a team like that. They're excited, but I think they also realize Cal is a really good football team and we'll have to play our best game."
Their best game to date obviously was the victory over USC, which was the nation's top-ranked team at the time. Freshman Jacquizz Rodgers emerged as one of the country's best running backs in that game by rushing for 186 yards and two touchdowns. He leads the Pac-10 in rushing and has established himself as perhaps the best offensive player in the conference.
But there are several other reasons the Beavers control their destiny in the Big 12 race.
Wide receiver Sammie Stroughter has bounced back from a troublesome 2007 season and is leading the Beavers with 50 receptions. James Rodgers, Jacquizz's brother, and Shane Morales also have developed into reliable receivers. And when quarterback Lyle Moevao was sidelined with a shoulder injury two games ago, backup Sean Canfield stepped in and has thrown two touchdowns passes in consecutive games. Moevao's shoulder is improving, but Canfield figures to start against Cal.
After California, the Beavers face Arizona (6-3) and archrival Oregon (7-3).
"There is a sense of excitement because we came out of a bad situation," Riley said. "Growth and development is a great feeling."
Three more wins and the Beavers will be feeling even better.
California at Oregon State. Quick. What team leads the Pac-10 in passing offense? It's Oregon State, which averages 255.7 yards per game. The Beavers also boast Jacquizz Rodgers, the conference's rushing leader. That why Oregon State averages nearly 34 points per game. But hitting that average won't come easy against Cal, which has held five of its past six opponents to 20 of fewer points. The Bears also lead the Pac-10 with 17 interceptions.
PLAYER TO WATCH
California QB Kevin Riley. Returning to play in your home state provides a boost of motivation for most players. But that's a secondary issue for Riley, an Oregon native who is looking for a measure of redemption when the Bears play at Oregon State on Saturday. A year ago, Riley passed for 294 yards and two touchdowns against the Beavers. But he made an ill-fated scramble in the final seconds of the game. Had Riley thrown the ball away the Bears would have had a chance to force overtime with a short field goal. Instead, they lost 31-28 and never really recovered. Riley has been hampered by injuries this season, but he is back in the lineup.
USC's defense has not allowed a touchdown in 10 quarters. That's the second such streak this season for the Trojans, who went 13 quarters without allowing a touchdown earlier. USC has allowed just 60 points so far. … Arizona State FS Troy Nolan has scored touchdowns in each of the past two games. A week ago, he returned a fumble 44 yards for a score against Washington. The previous week, he had a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown against Oregon State. … Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for 144 yards in last week's victory over UCLA. That marked the sixth time in seven games Rodgers has exceeded the 100-yard mark. His season total is 1,089, which is the most by a freshman in Pac-10 history. … Arizona State kicker Thomas Weber is 7-for-8 on field-goal attempts in the past two games. … Cal has 19 sacks in the past six games. … Oregon TB Jeremiah Johnson has posted back-to-back 100-yard games. .. Stanford has won five in a row at home, the school's longest such streak since it won six in a row in 1996-97.
Stanford's bowl hopes seem to get bleaker every week. True, the Cardinal need only one more victory to become eligible for their first bowl appearance since 2001, but only two games remain. Those games are against USC and California. But Stanford beat both of those teams last season. … UCLA is having a hard time away from the Rose Bowl. The Bruins are winless on three road trips this season and have lost their past six games away from home. The Bruins play at winless Washington on Saturday. … Washington quarterback Ronnie Fouch has thrown five interceptions and no touchdown passes in the past two games. … Washington State has given up at least 58 points in each of its past four games.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
"We're not seeing any [improvement] because we're still getting handled at the point of attack. At the end of the day, we're just not able to sustain the line of scrimmage." − UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel on the Bruins' struggling offensive line.
"It was a horrible feeling, being booed by the home fans, very depressing. We have to get that win back to feel like we got something back from last year. We have to get some emotion out at their place." – USC DE Kyle Moore on the Trojans' quest to avenge last season's loss to Stanford.
"I was hoping to turn questions about the Oregon State play into some kind of joke, but I know it happened and I've gotten past it. I know I messed up and I knew the moment I did it. I can rest knowing that I played a solid game. I've learned from the mistake, and it's not going to happen again." – Cal QB Kevin Riley recalling his gaffe in the final seconds of last season's loss to Oregon State.
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel makes his first trip back to Washington this weekend; he coached the Huskies from 1999-2002. … Arizona WR Mike Thomas needs four touchdown catches and 305 yards to set school career records. … With one more touchdown pass, Cal senior QB Nate Longshore will become the fourth player in school history with 50 in his career. He'll join Kyle Boller, Pat Barnes and Troy Taylor. … Oregon State's defense has allowed just one touchdown in the past two games. … Stanford kicker Aaron Zagory is 8-for-8 on field-goal attempts from 40 yards or closer. … USC's Pete Carroll will be on the sideline for his 100th game as Trojans coach this week against Stanford. … Arizona State freshman G Zach Schlink, who made his first start against Washington last week, is out for the season with a knee injury. … Washington freshman TB Terrance Dailey leads the Huskies in rushing even though he's only appeared in five games. … Washington State has had 17 offensive players make their first career starts this season.