Expectations for 2012: The Oregon State game

CORVALLIS, OR - NOVEMBER 5: General view of Reser Stadium as the Stanford Cardinals play the Oregon State Beavers on November 5, 2011 in Corvallis, Oregon. (Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images)

Utah's win over the Oregon St. Beavers last season really got the ball rolling after a horrific 0-4 conference start. We all knew, prior to the game, that it had the potential to start defining the season. It did. The Utes, who were coming off an embarrassing loss to Cal a week earlier, bounced back, defeated the Beavers 27-8 and then finished the season on a 5-1 tear.

That probably doesn't happen if they leave Rice-Eccles Stadium 0-5 in conference play. Of course, Oregon State was the perfect opponent for Utah, since they were in the midst of their worst season of the Mike Riley era and prime for a Utah pounding. It was exactly what the doctor ordered and while I don't want to claim the victory somehow saved the season, it definitely put them on the right path to doing so.

Hopefully when the two meet on October 20th, we're not trying to salvage another awful start to the conference season.

This game is perplexing to me. The Beavers have not been good the last two seasons, going 8-16 over that stretch, and yet, they're still coached by Mike Riley. Even when they're awful, they still manage to somehow win a game they have no business winning - like defeating Washington 38-21 last year and USC 36-7 the year prior. If you sleep on 'em, if you overlook 'em, if you don't take 'em seriously, they'll kick your butt.

The fact this game is on the road, and their history of pulling off upsets, is kind of concerning. Regardless, this is going to be a pretty important game overall. It's one Utah probably can't afford to lose and yet, when I look at the schedule, it's one possible loss that jumps out at me.

Maybe it's because I remember the last time the Utes traveled up to Corvallis for a game. That loss was an ugly way to start the season and not just on the scoreboard - they lost Matt Asiata for the year and Brian Johnson for a few games.

So, similar to my thoughts on the UCLA game, I am a bit nervous about returning to a place of such horror.

Then again, what happened in 2007 is irrelevant. It is clear, right now anyway, these aren't the same Beavers that won 36 games over a four-year period between 2006 and 2009. These past two seasons marked the first time they produced back-to-back losing campaigns in over a decade, when they went 3-8 and 5-6 in Riley's first two years there.

Maybe Oregon State has finally run out of gas.

This season I think will be a big indicator as to whether their past two years are a trend or just an anomaly. If they can't return to their winning ways, if they're not at least contending for a bowl berth, Riley, who just a couple years ago looked untouchable, now finds himself in a precarious position entering 2013.

My thinking is that Utah should win. Yet even when Oregon State is having an un-Mike Riley like season, they're perfectly capable of pulling one stunner that forces a double take. I don't want that to happen against Utah. The Utes can't afford losing to lesser-talented programs - even if they are well coached and playing at home.

This is an important game solely because if you're going to be successful at this level, you really need to take care of business against teams that are probably not as good as you are. Of course, that assumes this year's Utes will be better. It's entirely possible they won't be - or both will be in a position like last year where neither is playing well when they meet. If that happens, then all bets are off.

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