Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Between Oregon State's opening-week loss to FCS Sacramento State (who have gone 0-2 since*) and miserable 35-0 shutout at Wisconsin, it's arguable no BCS program in the country has been less impressive through the season's first three weeks. So it's only fair the Beavers got a huge jolt of good news Wednesday afternoon as James Rodgers was cleared to play this week's game vs. UCLA.
Taking the field against the Bruins will cap a grueling recovery process for Rodgers that at times looked like it might end his Beaver career. Rodgers was the Beavers' leading receiver and second-leading rusher in 2009, but his ACL was torn last Oct. 9 against Arizona and eventually required two offseason surgeries, the second of which took place this past January.
The fifth-year senior battled back, however, and was allowed to take a "limited" role when the Beavers' fall camp opened. His full return to action would be a boost for any team, as Rodgers has twice earned All-Pac-10 recognition as a receiver and returner and ranks fourth among all active FBS players with 5,784 all-purpose yards.
But it's Rodgers' own team that might need the boost the most. Even against Sacramento State, the Beaver passing game averaged only a so-so 6.4 yards per-attempt; against the Badgers, new quarterback starter Sean Mannion maintained that number but watched the OSU running game fall apart to the tune of 23 yards on 24 carries. Rodgers' presence should help Mannion by offering him a reliable target and explosive playmaker, and help the rushing attack both by his taking handoffs and stretching the field.
Then there's special teams. Through two games, the Beavers rank 81st in average kick return and have returned just two punts for a total of zero yards; Rodgers has the capability of changing what appear to be lackluster units into threats overnight.
Of course, "overnight" may be overstating Rodgers' fitness as he attempts to return to game speed and regain the agility he'll no doubt have to reacquire after his surgeries. But at this point, Mike Riley must take whatever help he can get--and the kind of help even a less-than-100 percent Rodgers offers might be far, far better than the average help.
*By scores of 35-14 against Southern Utah and 49-17 against Weber State. At this stage, this loss easily stands as the worst one suffered by any BCS program this season.