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March 26, 2011

Oregon State ready for big bounce back

Oregon State is coming off its first losing record in five season, and that's reason for excitement in Corvallis.

Really.

The Beavers bounced back strong from their two most recent losing seasons. They rebounded from a 5-6 finish in 2001 to go 8-5 in '02. Then, they followed a 5-6 finish in '05 with a 10-win season in '06.

A similar rebound won't be easy. Oregon State lost its two best players -- running back Jacquizz Rodgers and defensive tackle Stephen Paea -- and there are several holes to fill on defense.

But quarterback Ryan Katz will be a second-year starter, there is a good group of receivers and four starters return along the offensive line, which are concrete reasons for optimism.

Here's a look at the Beavers as they get ready to open spring practice.

OREGON STATE AT-A-GLANCE
Oregon State QB Ryan Katz is among seven returning starters on offense.
THE BASICS
Coach: Mike Riley
Last season: 5-7 overall, 4-5 in the Pac-10.
Spring dates: March 28-April 30
RETURNING STARTERS
(minimum seven starts last season)
Offense (7): G Burke Ellis, H-back Joe Halahuni, G Grant Johnson, QB Ryan Katz, T Michael Philipp, T Mike Remmers, WR Markus Wheaton.
Defense (4): E Dominic Glover, CB Brandon Hardin, FS Lance Mitchell, LB Rueben Robinson.
Special teams (1): P Johnny Hekker.
Positions of strength

The Beavers' passing game is sound. Junior QB Ryan Katz had ups-and-downs as a first-time starter, but he still passed for more than 2,400 yards with 17 touchdowns. That season of experience should make him better. The Beavers return their top three receivers from 2010, led by Markus Wheaton, who had a team-high 55 receptions. That doesn't include explosive James Rodgers, who missed most of last season with a knee injury. Rodgers won't participate in spring drills, but he is expected back in August.

Help is needed

Jacquizz Rodgers, who led the Beavers in rushing with more than 1,100 yards in each of the past three seasons, opted to enter the NFL draft. No other running back on the roster had more than four carries last season. That's right -- four. The defensive line also must be restocked because of the loss of three starters, including stalwart T Stephen Paea. Two new starters are needed at linebacker.

3 guys to watch

LB Shaydon Akuna: A former four-star prospect, the athletic Akuna is a redshirt freshman with a chance to step in at a position of need.

DE Scott Crichton: Another redshirt freshman, Crichton is fast and physical. He's also bulked up to 258 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. Crichton could boost the pass rush. No returning starter had more than three sacks in 2010.

RB Jovan Stevenson: He played as a true freshman in 2009 and averaged 5.3 yards on 26 carries. He redshirted because of a shoulder injury last season, and now is back to compete for the starting job.

The pressure is on

RB Ryan McCants: McCants, a senior, was rated among the top running back prospects coming out of high school, but his career has been hampered by injuries. He rushed for more than 300 yards as a freshman backup to Jacquizz Rodgers in '08. But he had just 10 carries for 39 yards in the past two seasons combined. With some young running backs competing for the starting job, this is his last chance to live up to his vast potential.

The buzz

The Beavers are eager to rebuild after last year's late-season collapse in which they went 1-4 after October. That included a 17-point loss to Washington State. Yikes. A adequate replacement for Jacquizz Rodgers must be found and the defensive line must be bolstered. On a positive note, second-year starting quarterbacks have excelled in coach Mike Riley's system, so look for Katz to make significant improvement.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.


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