While the rest of us are waiting until August 30 to see the Vikings in action against Oregon State, they’ve already begun preparing for the opener and held their first practice of the year on April 14.
“The idea is to make sure you get better every day that you are out here. We have a host of guys who have played a lot of football for us, so now it’s about making sure we improve,” said head coach Nigel Burton.
The Viks finished last year at 6–6 overall, and 3–5 in conference play. This year, though, brings with it a significant amount of continuity: 48 letterwinners are returning to the Vikings, 14 of which were full-time starters last year. And given the propensity for the Beavers to lose non-BCS games early in the season, Portland State has perhaps a bit more than a puncher’s chance.
Looking at OSU, one sees a team full of talent. They beat Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl to finish with a record of 7–6, a win that prevented the Beavers from closing the season on a dreadful six-game losing streak. Quarterback Sean Mannion is returning and is set to break nearly every OSU passing record. The senior is expected to have another strong year despite losing two receivers—including his top wideout Brandin Cooks—to the NFL.
But the weaknesses are there. One glaring weakness is the running game on both sides of the ball. The Beavers were 115th last year in rush offense, and were generous defensively as well. However, even with the loss of DE Scott Crichton, they should still be better than a handful of Pac-12 schools.
OSU’s tradition of losing non-BCS games early in the season (as alluded to earlier) has a recent precedent. It was opening day last year, August 31, when they lost to Eastern Washington, making it the third time ever that an AP-ranked FBS program was beaten by an FCS program. So, the natural question, homer or not, is how do the odds stack up against PSU?
To begin with, the 2013 season was a great season for the Vikings’ run game. They set school records for total rushing yards (3,330), rushing average (277.7) and rushing touchdowns (36). This bodes well against a team that has traditionally struggled against the run. We are losing D.J. Adams, though, the man behind a lot of that rushing (he finished sixth in the nation in rushing touchdowns). Some combination of Shaq Richard, Nate Tago, and incoming freshmen Steven Long and Rey Vega will have to carry the load.
Kieran McDonagh will return for his fourth season at PSU, and as the quarterback who is representative of the continuity of the PSU squad. Also returning is Kasey Closs, who led the team last year with 63 receptions and eight touchdowns. His 1,167 yards was the third-highest total in PSU history.
All signs point to a definite improvement for the Vikings, and history has shown that the Beavers are beatable.
How far away is August, again?