Season-opening opponents Oklahoma State and Oregon State share similarities, beyond the aesthetic coincidence of both being OSUs that wear black and orange. Both are coached by alumni who previously quarterbacked the programs in memorable seasons: Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy shared a backfield with Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders in 1988, while Jonathan Smith led the 2000 Beavers to the best Oregon State season in modern times.
Each also has designs on exceeding expectations in 2019 — though the nature of their expectations is where the similarities start to fade. Oregon State has gone a half-decade without making a bowl game, in that time having four different head coaches (one interim). Oklahoma State, on the other hand, has been a consistently successful program under the second-most tenured head coach in the Big 12, with Gundy's 15 seasons trailing only TCU's Gary Patterson and his 19 years.
Oregon State showed progress in Smith's debut campaign but remains firmly projected for the cellar in the Pac-12 North despite a veteran-heavy roster. Oklahoma State endured a 2018 campaign rife with heartbreaking losses en route to an underwhelming 7-6 finish and is undergoing some significant changes in the starting rotation.
Oklahoma State at Oregon
Kickoff: Friday, Aug. 30 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Oklahoma State -14.5
When Oklahoma State Has the Ball
Mike Gundy returned to his alma mater as an assistant to Les Miles in 2001, and became head coach in 2005 — at which time he became one of the first coaches beyond the Hal Mumme/Mike Leach coaching tree to embrace the air-raid offense. Gundy's hire of Larry Fedora as his first offensive coordinator ushered in an era of potent and exciting offense at Oklahoma State that remains a hallmark today. Through countless personnel changes and evolutions in the game itself, the Cowboys continuously put up points at a pace matching the nation's very best.
Don't expect anything to change in 2019, despite Oklahoma State again losing a standout quarterback. This time, it's Taylor Cornelius who's out, and either Hawaii transfer Dru Brown or redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders who's in. We'll know for sure Friday night when one of the two lines up behind center on Oklahoma State's first drive at Reser Stadium. Regardless who's taking the snaps, throwing to arguably the nation's best receiver, Tylan Wallace, should make for a smooth transition.
The Cowboys offense should also settle in just fine against a passing defense that ranked No. 101 nationally a season ago. Likewise, running back Chuba Hubbard should get rolling working behind a line that returns four of five starters from a year ago, facing an Oregon State defense that gave up a staggering 281.8 yards per game on the ground last season. Oregon State returns nine defensive starters, including the entirety of its linebacker corps, but this collective experience needs to compensate for a lack of depth against Oklahoma State's hurry-up offense.
Generating turnovers is Oregon State's best hope of springing an upset — not just because that's typically a cornerstone to any major college football shocker, but also due to the Cowboys' issues with ball control last season. The 2018 squad was -9 in turnover margin for the year, and -4 overall in losses.
When Oregon State Has the Ball
Jonathan Smith might quietly be one of the game's premier offensive minds. Consider that in his final two seasons as offensive coordinator at Washington, the Huskies averaged 36.2 points per game (No. 17 nationally) and 41.8 points per game (No. 8), respectively. One year removed from his departure for Oregon State, the Huskies ranked No. 88 at 26.4 points per game. Conversely, Oregon State experienced a one-year jump from 20.7 to 26.1 points per game, and that positive trend should continue in Year 2 with a bevy of experienced players back on that side of the ball.
Smith's balanced approach works through running back Jermar Jefferson, a surprise breakout star as a freshman in 2018. Oklahoma State wasn't bad against the run a season ago — opponents averaged 4.6 yards per carry on the Cowboys — but this season opens with six new starters in the front seven. Matched with an Oregon State offensive line that's a surprising strength, returning an All-Pac-12-quality tackle in Blake Brandel and adding Arizona transfer Nathan Eldridge at center, Oklahoma State might find slowing Jefferson difficult.
The Beavers wide receiving corps is also a strength, with enough variety to keep a defense guessing. Isaiah Hodgins is a steady possession receiver, with Trevon Bradford adding versatility out of the slot. Tight end Noah Togiai didn't catch a ton of passes in 2018, but when he did, they typically went for touchdowns. Quarterback Jake Luton needs to be able to throw the ball downfield more than he did a season ago, but should the senior keep the Beavers moving down the field on Friday, they'll have a chance to keep things interesting against heavily favored Oklahoma State.
After a promising 2016 season, Oregon State went completely off the rails in 2017. Gary Andersen's midseason resignation was a shocker, and it left Jonathan Smith to build essentially from the foundation in 2018. The record may not have indicated it, but the Beavers showed undeniable progress in Year 1. Year 2 will be about garnering some wins to give more tangible evidence to the rebuilding efforts.
Oregon State is built to score a major upset at some point in 2019; just don't expect it to come in Week 1. Although Oklahoma State is replacing some key personnel, the Cowboys have the dynamic Tylan Wallace, a great offensive line and a scheme that consistently puts points on the board. Oregon State's offense may have some impressive pieces, but not enough to keep pace with an Oklahoma State side that's been dumping hefty point totals on defenses for more than a decade.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 41, Oregon State 35
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.
(Top photo courtesy of @BeaverFootball)