With fall camps underway for several teams in the Pac-12, we're going around the conference to look at each team's most pressing issues and interesting storylines. We've already looked at Colorado, Washington, Washington State,Cal, Arizona, Utah, Stanford, USC, Oregon and Arizona State. Up next, Oregon State.
1. How good can quarterback Sean Mannion be?
It only took two quarters last season for Oregon State coach Mike Riley to bench his starting quarterback. With the Beavers trailing 21-6 at halftime of the season opener against Sacramento State – an FCS school – Riley decided to pull starter Ryan Katz in the second half and play Mannion. All Mannion did was orchestrate a 15-point comeback to force overtime, where OSU would fall 29-28. Mannion started 10 of the Beavers final 11 games and finished the season with 3,328 passing yards, the ninth highest total in school history. In 2012, the Beavers are only going to go as far as Mannion can take them. And Mannion won't take them very far if he throws interceptions like he did last year -- his 18 picks were the second most in the country. If Mannion can avoid a sophomore slump, Oregon State will almost certainly improve on their win total from a year ago.
2. Will the Beavers have a running game?
If Mannion looked overwhelmed at times running the offense last year, it's because he had no running game to take pressure off of him. None. The Beavers only averaged 86.8 yards rushing per game last season, which ranked dead last in the Pac-12 and 118th in the country -- out of 120 teams. The good news: the Beavers do return their leading rusher from last season: sophomore Malcom Agnew. The bad news: he led the team despite only totaling 423 yards. If Agnew can stay healthy -- and that's a big if, he was hampered by a hamstring injury in the spring -- then he should get the bulk of the carries. If Agnew struggles, then Riley will have a stable of backs to choose from, including Storm Woods, Terron Ward and last year's second leading rusher Jovan Stevenson.
3. Can the Beavers stop the run?
Oregon State's rushing offense wasn't the only rushing problem last season; the run defense also struggled. The Beavers surrendered 196.8 yards a game, which ranked last in the Pac-12 and 101st in the country. Stopping the run starts with the front seven and Oregon State should be much improved there this season. The Beavers started two freshmen defensive ends last year and the gamble paid off. Scott Crichton led all freshmen in the nation with 74 tackles and 14.5 tackles for a loss while Dylan Wynn set the OSU freshmen record for fumble recoveries with five. Both players should be markedly improved this season. The linebacking corps also returns two starters -- Feti Unga and Michael Doctor -- Doctor was second on the team in tackles. The front seven could turn into one of the team's strengths this year.
4. Who will be the No. 2 wide receiver?
This seems to be a common problem in the Pac-12. Cal has Keenan Allen, but no true No. 2 wide receiver. Washington State has Marquess Wilson, but no No. 2 receiver. Oregon State has Markus Wheaton, but no No. 2 receiver. Besides Wheaton, who had 73 receptions for 986 yards last season, the Beavers won't have anyone returning who had more than 31 catches last year. The favorites to win the No. 2 spot in camp seem to be Brandin Cooks (31 rec., 391 yards, 3 TD) and Jordan Bishop (31 rec., 384 yards, 1 TD), who put up almost identical statistics last season. The wild card to win the job has to be Obum Gwacham. Gwacham only caught eight passes last season, but he made them all count, averaging 18.4 yards per catch. At 6-foot-5, Gwacham will be a difficult matchup for opposing defensive backs and that's not just because of his height, the kid can also jump, as proven by his sixth place finish in the high jump at last year's Pac-12 track championships.
5. Who's going to be the new punter?
Punter was one of the few positions that worked out well for the Beavers last year. However, last year's punter Johnny Hekker is no longer with the team. The four-year starter is currently in camp with the St. Louis Ram Looking to replace Hekker are Australian Tim McMullen and sophomore Keith Kostol. McMullen is the early frontrunner for the job, but expect the competition to run through fall camp. Whoever wins the job will be inexperienced. Kostol hasn't punted in a game situation since his senior year in high school (2009), while McMullen didn't even play football until 2009.