Philadelphia, PA – There are two ways to look at how the Oregon State Beavers fared last season.
First, there is the glass-half-full approach. People in this camp will point to the team's impressive 6-0 start and rise into the national rankings for the final 10 weeks of the season. This optimistic view also might include that the Beavers' 9-4 finish marked the best one-year turnaround in school history as they were just 3-9 the season before.
However, it wasn't all good times in Corvallis. After rising to No. 7 in the Top 25, its highest ranking since 2000, Oregon State lost four of its final seven games, including a 31-27 setback to Texas in the Alamo Bowl. In this scenario, the glass is clearly half empty.
So which squad is going to step onto the field at Reser Stadium when the Beavers open the season on Aug. 31 against Eastern Washington? The team that stunned Wisconsin in Week 1 or the team that was blasted by intrastate rival Oregon, 48-24, in late November?
The mind-set in Corvallis right now is that it will be the former.
"I think what I've noticed through the off season the attitude has carried on from last season," head coach Mike Riley said. "I hope it's more of the same."
It's an interesting turn of phrase by Riley to say "more of the same" as he has been doing just that during his career at the helm for the Beavers. Riley is the 10th-longest tenured coach in the FBS. Longevity hasn't been his only strength, as last season Riley became the winningest coach in Oregon State history and now sits with 81 victories.
In the hectic world of college football, in which one bad season can send even the most veteran coach packing, Riley knows that what you do now is all that matters.
"The one thing I've tried to reinforce is there are no accidents in this thing," Riley said. "You've got to go earn everything you're going to get. Just because of what the team last year did, there's no guarantees about that."
Although Riley mentioned the attitude from last season carrying over, it wouldn't mean much without some key players doing the same. Luckily, Riley will have one of the more experienced squads in the Pac-12. With 16 returning starters, including players like First Team All-Pac-12 defensive end Scott Chrichton, the Beavers are in good shape.
However, Riley doesn't want to hear about how many starters he is bringing back because he knows his team lost some players and will still need other, newer contributors to take on bigger roles.
"Everybody talks about us not having lost many guys, but we're losing two of the best players we've ever had," Riley said, specifically mentioning the departure of All-American cornerback Jordan Poyer. "How are we going to get all those plays that Jordan's been making defensively. (It's) very important for people to step up."
Enter Rashaad Reynolds. Reynolds was the cornerback on the opposite side of the field to Poyer and is now ready to step in and take the leadership role in that regard. Reynolds is a very effective tackler at the cornerback position, finishing last season second on the team in tackles (75), while ranking second in interceptions (three) behind only Poyer. Reynolds will now need to be even more productive.
Senior cornerback Sean Martin is listed as the other starting cornerback on the depth chart. Riley has made it clear, though, that other than a few spots, the depth chart has definitely been penciled in.
"We'll need quite a few guys to step up even though we have a lot of returning starters. Some guys are going to battle to start," Riley said. "The depth chart is not as important today as it will be at the end of August. I don't even care what it is today."
Even with the secondary still a question mark, although Riley indicated his encouragement with the unit over spring practices, the defense still has a ton of anchors with lead tackler Michael Doctor joining Chrichton on what could be one of the better front sevens in the Pac-12.
The Beavers are also solid on the other side of the ball, although there may be questions at the most important position on the field.
Last season, due to injuries and uneven play, Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz each spent time under center for the Beavers. Both are back for this season. To say their competition for the starting job will be the most fierce of any unit this summer would be an understatement.
Mannion suffered from a knee injury in early October, which opened the door for Vaz, who had just 48 passing yards in his career and had not played a snap in either 2011 or 2012 previously.
After Mannion returned from injury at the end of October, each saw time the rest of the way, though Vaz started and threw every pass in the Alamo Bowl.
The type of tight competition the two are going to be embroiled in during training camps could really push one of them to new heights. However, for Riley, just having two reliable options at the position is already a blessing.
"It's nice to have two guys who know what they're doing," Riley said of his two signal callers.
Like the loss of Poyer, having to see All-Pac-12 receiver Markus Wheaton move on to the NFL will leave the Beavers with a lot to replace outside. However, the return of leading rusher Storm Woods and four of five starters on the offensive line is something Riley is excited about.
"I think our line is better and has a chance to be deeper," Riley said while adding the team in general is deeper than past seasons. "Depth is a key issue. We've never had a lot of depth."
Returning depth is definitely a good thing, but those same players were part of last year's inconsistency.
The key thing for the Beavers this season will be which team shows up on game day.