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Pac-12 football preview: Gary Andersen’s Oregon State team needs good start

August 24, 2016 GMT

If coach Gary Andersen is going to make significant progress with Oregon State’s rebuilding project in his second year, it will have come early in the season.

The Beavers’ bye comes after the opening game, and their last seven conference opponents include several of the Pac-12’s top-tier teams — beginning Oct. 15 vs. Utah. So if Andersen has failed to earn his first Pac-12 victory against Colorado or California, the Beavers may be facing another winless season in conference play.

OSU lost former Utah assistant coaches Kalani Sitake and Ilaisa Tuiaki to BYU, as Andersen’s operation became even more oriented to his Utah State background. Kevin Clune came from USU as defensive coordinator and former Aggie assistants Kevin McGiven and T.J. Woods were promoted to co-offensive coordinator (Dave Baldwin coaches the inside receivers).

McGiven is reunited with former Aggie quarterback Darell Garretson, who was named OSU’s starter in spring practice. Garretson has two outstanding receivers, Victor Bolden and Jordan Villamin, so the Beavers should have a decent passing game.

The question is whether they can protect Garretson and stop opposing running games. “We definitely had our problems in the trenches last year, and if you can’t stand up in the trenches in any league, you’re going to have a major problem,” Andersen said during the Pac-12 Media Days.

Beyond the physical issues, psychological elements come into play, with the Beavers having lost 21 of their last 23 conference games. As shown on “The Drive” documentary on the Pac-12 Networks last season, Andersen was conscious of propping up his players, while also demanding more of them.

He hopes the Beavers soon can “walk out of that tunnel and expect to win … in a game that’s close or wherever it may be, they believe that they can stand up and compete in this league,” Andersen said. “When you don’t have success over a few years, which has taken place, you always look at yourself as a head coach and say, ‘If we don’t believe, we really don’t have a chance.’?”

And that’s why the first five games of 2016 are so critical to OSU’s improvement. The second game, vs. Idaho State, is the only guaranteed win. Yet the Beavers should be competitive against Minnesota and Colorado on the road and Boise State and California at home — compared with their odds of winning any games after mid-October, anyway.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt