Editor’s note: Saturday Out West’s annual Crystal Ball prediction series will preview every team in the Pac-12. Today: Oregon State.

Already covered: ArizonaArizona StateCal | ColoradoOregon

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Talk about mixed emotions.

All at once, Oregon State:

  • Is coming off its best season since 2006.
  • Picked up a massive transfer in former Clemson 5-star quarterback DJ Uiagalelei.
  • Ranks 18th in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll.
  • Watched the Pac-12 evaporate before its eyes.
  • Is currently in a Pac-4 beginning in 2024, with options dwindling.

That’s a weird place to be in. But you know what? I can’t think of anyone in the game more equipped to handle this quagmire quite like Jonathan Smith. The legendary Beavers quarterback has steadily built up his alma mater over a half-decade, and now the current team was almost entirely recruited by him and in his image.

Anybody who watched Oregon State last year saw a fundamentally strong squad, built from the inside out, with a top-flight running game and a hard-nosed and downhill defense. Beavers watchers also saw some mediocre quarterback play from Chance Nolan and Ben Gulbranson.

Which leads us to…

Can DJ Uiagalelei regain his mojo?

May 5, 2019: Uiagalelei, the No. 2 overall prospect and No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the country, behind only dual-threat QB Bryce Young, commits to Clemson, which already boasts perhaps the best QB in college football in Trevor Lawrence.

Here’s what 247 Sports’ Blair Angulo had to say that day.

“Known as a flamethrower with a cannon arm, Uiagalelei has taken his game to another level this year and shown the ability to put the necessary touch on his throws. He is still developing as a passer, but he’s now fitting passes in between defenders and timing his throws perfectly to hit receivers in stride. Uiagalelei is a big, strong prospect that is difficult to bring down and can extend plays with his legs when the pocket collapses. He’s accurate while rolling out to either side and has the arm strength to make throws of all lengths.”

That dude showed up in Clemson for all of about 2 games.

As a freshman backup in a pandemic-altered year, he thrived. As a sophomore, he slumped. As a junior last year, he was serviceable, throwing for 2,521 yards and 22 scores with 7 picks, but he lost his starting gig late in the season, precipitating his return out west.

Is he ready to reclaim his glory in Corvallis? Smith is ready, that’s for sure.

“We do need to throw the ball better, in my mind, than we did last year,” Smith said. “You have all these quarterbacks coming up on this stage all day today, in this league, with the level of quarterback play, you got to score some points if you want to win. We got to be able to do that.”

Is Damien Martinez the best back in the conference?

He just might be. The Pac-12’s 2nd-leading returning rusher, DMart just missed the prestigious 1,000-yard mark as a true freshman, finishing with 982. But he had 6 100-yards to end the season and figures to get off to a big start this year. An improved passing game would open up some lanes for him to dominate on the ground, as he did in a 178-yard, 3-touchdown game against Colorado. He should have a few of those performances this year.

Will the pass defense pass the test again?

In a league full of award contenders, Oregon State’s pass defense was fantastic a year ago. The Beavers allowed a meager 57.95 completion percentage, just 224.5 passing yards per game and a Pac-12 low 11 passing touchdowns. OSU returns much of its starting defense, but cornerback Alex Austin will prove difficult to replace.

Game-by-game predictions

Week 1: at San Jose State (W)

The Spartans boast a talented quarterback in former Hawaii starter Chevan Cordeiro, the Mountain West Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Cordeiro was terrific with San Jose State last year, setting career highs and leading the Mountain West with 3,251 passing yards and a career-high 23 touchdowns, along with 9 rushing touchdowns. His performance against Eastern Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl was fantastic, as he passed for 366 yards with 3 touchdowns and an additional rushing score. But Uiagalelei proves in a hurry why his transfer ranked among the most important in the country.

Week 2: vs. UC Davis (W)

This one is even more lopsided, as the FCS Aggies have nowhere near the depth or talent to compete. The FPI gives Oregon State a 96.8% to 3.2% edge in this matchup. That won’t quite be the final score … but it won’t be too off.

Week 3: vs. San Diego State (W)

The Aztecs have become a consistent program, with bowl bids in each of the past 12 seasons (after zero postseason appearances from 1999-2009), but last year’s 7-6 squad showed some cracks. It was a far cry from the 12-2 mark under Brady Hoke in 2021. With the Beavers soaring and the Aztecs lagging, OSU is a clear favorite.

And with SDSU returning just 40% of its defense, Uiagalelei will feast. He only topped 300 yards once last year, at Wake Forest, and he needed double overtime to do it (though he did toss 5 touchdowns). He’ll do it here, to the Aztecs’ detriment. I like this one as Uiagalelei’s coming out party.

Week 4: at Washington State (W)

The Cougars — who, along with the Beavers, could be among the last 2 Pac-12 teams standing — have owned this rivalry in recent years, helping them take control of the all-time series. Before Oregon State won 24-10 in 2022, Wazzu had won 8 straight. Now the Cougs have a 56-48-3 edge. But even with the game in Pullman, OSU is favored.

The Beavers will capitalize on a defense that returns just 50% of its production from a year ago. Uiagalelei will hit the 300-yard mark in consecutive games for the first time since his freshman year, when he filled in for a COVID-19-stricken Trevor Lawrence to pass for a combined 781 and 4 TDs with no picks against Boston College and Notre Dame.

Week 5: vs. Utah (L)

A lowkey candidate for Pac-12 game of the year, with Utah’s talented defense squaring off against what should be a surging offense. Uiagalelei’s fun ends here, though. The Utes are slightly favored despite Oregon State boasting the home advantage, and a renovated Reser Stadium should indeed be rocking, and for good reason.

In the middle of OSU’s dream season last year, Utah proved to be a nightmare in their Week 5 matchup. The Beavers only lost 2 other games, each by 3 points; the Utes won, 42-16, picking off Chance Nolan on the 2nd play of the game and scoring just three plays later. That set the stage for one of the most thoroughly lopsided losses in what is now a 12-12-1 rivalry. You can be sure the Beavers will remember that indignity.

Week 6: at Cal (W)

OK, back on track for the OSU offense, even though the Bears’ defense is its strength, with 78% of production returning. This will be a field day for Martinez, who outdueled Cal’s terrific freshman running back Jaydn Ott in last year’s matchup, a 38-10 win. Martinez had 105 rushing yards on 23 carries with a long of just 15 yards, meaning he consistently beat up the Bears for 4- and 5-yard gains. Ott, meanwhile, managed just 20 yards on 8 carries. That 21-point margin of victory was the Beavers’ best against Cal since 2013.

Week 7: vs. UCLA (W)

Consider this one a vote for Smith vs. a true freshman QB. Indications out of Westwood are that Chip Kelly is growing mighty comfortable with 5-star freshman Dante Moore, one of if not the best recruit in program history. Even if Ethan Garbers gets the first crack at the gig, Moore should be in the saddle by midseason when the Bruins visit Corvallis.

That will be quite the wake-up call for both Moore and UCLA, which could be 6-0 by then. I like the Beavers in a close one, though UCLA’s pass rush may give them fits. OSU’s well-established line can handle the pressure.

Week 8: Bye

Week 9: at Arizona (W)

Facing an up-and-coming Wildcats squad, this will be close, but the Beavers will put the clamps on Jacob Cowing, Tetairoa McMillan and Montana Lemonious-Craig and flummox Jayden de Laura, who torched OSU for 399 yards and 3 scores as a true freshman in 2021 with the Washington State Cougars. After transferring from the Palouse to Tucson, de Laura had a good-not-great year last year, but he should be much improved this year. Even so, the Beavers may look back on this as their best road win of the season.

Week 10: at Colorado (W)

As much as I believe in what Coach Prime is doing in Boulder, it’s hard to imagine a team with the chemistry, style and attitude of an Oregon State going into the circus and losing. And what Deion Sanders has done at Colorado has indeed been chaotic, with an almost entire roster gut-job. Prime stripped the Buffaloes to the bone, and while new players like Shedeur Sanders, Travis Hunter and stud freshman Cormani McClain have tons of talent, who knows how it will come together? Even with Uiagalelei getting bottled up a bit by the Buffs’ boffo defensive backfield, Martinez will run wild to run OSU’s record to 8-1 with a top-12 ranking.

Week 11: vs. Stanford (W)

Long gone are the days of the Cardinal absolutely owning this rivalry, which they did for an entire decade from 2010-20. Oregon State has won 2 straight, including a thrilling comeback win last year, erasing a 24-10 deficit to win on Gulbranson’s 56-yard touchdown pass to Tre’Shaun Harrison with 13 seconds left. With Stanford transitioning to a new head coach in Troy Taylor, who took over for the once-ultra successful David Shaw, this game will be a gimme for the vastly more talented Beavers.

Week 12: vs. Washington (L)

OSU’s glorious ride ends here, with the twin PNW brick walls of Washington and Oregon in back-to-back weeks. The scheduling gods did the Beavers no favors putting the Huskies in Week 12, as Michael Penix, Rome Odunze and Co. will be steamrolling by then. Surprisingly, ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Oregon State a 56.0-44.0 edge in the matchup. Especially surprising, considering Washington has won 10-of-11 in the rivalry, including last year’s 24-21 win at Husky Stadium.

Week 13: at Oregon (L)

It would sure be exciting if the matchup formerly known as the Civil War decided the entrants of the last Pac-12 title chase. And that could very well be the case, with both teams returning top-20 talent. Oregon’s Bo Nix could be in the thick of the Heisman race, and boy, wouldn’t the Beavers love to spoil that. With the game returning to Autzen Stadium, you have to give the Ducks the edge, even if OSU pulled off the strangest win in the long rivalry last year.

Oregon State allowed Nix to complete 27-of-41 passes for 327 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Gulbranson completed just 6-of-13 passes for 60 yards and 2 picks … and won 38-34. Midway through the 3rd quarter, after an OSU fumble led to a Ducks field goal to fall behind 31-10, the Beavers scored touchdowns on 4 straight drives with zero pass attempts. Just 13 rushes, 141 yards and 4 scores.

2023 Projection: 9-3 (6-3)


It says a ton about the Beavers that a 9-3 season would be considered a letdown. Alas, Smith has raised expectations to the point that Oregon State is ranked in the preseason Top 25 for the first time since 2013. A 9-win season followed by a bowl win would be status quo, but they have a lot more than status quo on their minds.

It’s truly going to come down to the passing game. If Uiagalelei performs at the level he played at Clemson, 10 wins would be the ceiling. If he lives up to his once-lofty expectations, the college football darlings could slide on Cinderella’s glass slipper.