Keith Johnson, Deseret News archives
Oregon State's James Rodgers, seen here playing Utah in 2007, is back and an explosive player to watch.

Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series previewing the Pac-12 football season. Monday: Oregon State University

LOS ANGELES — Oregon State had a pretty good thing going. From 2006-09, the Beavers thrived down the stretch — going 17-5 in games played in November and later.

Such success, however, failed to materialize last season.

Aside from an impressive 36-7 win over USC, Oregon State fell upon hard times late in the year. Losses to UCLA, Washington State, Stanford and Oregon led to a 5-7 record and kept the Beavers from going bowling for the first time since 2005.

It's a trend they would certainly like to reverse.

"I've talked to our team about this for a long time," said Oregon State coach Mike Riley. "We're going to really, really have to grow a lot through fall camp and through our season."

Doing so, however, will be more difficult with star tailback Jacquizz Rodgers' early departure to the NFL and offseason surgeries that kept five projected contributors out of spring ball.

The good news, though, is players are on the mend as the season approaches.

Quarterback Ryan Katz is expected to be 100 percent by camp after recovering from a fractured throwing wrist. Receiver James Rodgers, the older brother of Jacquizz, is running again after two major knee surgeries.

Other recoveries include H-back Joe Halahuni (shoulder), receiver Jordan Bishop (ankle) and running back Jordan Jenkins (shoulder).

The precarious situation, of sorts, means Oregon State will be counting on additional players to step it up.

"As we get back into this thing, we'll have to grow a lot and be ready to compete all the way down the stretch," Riley said. "Get better every day, the old-fashioned cliché that we use and that's what we're going to have to be."

Health included.

OFFENSE: Who will replace Rodgers as the featured running back? That's the big question for the Beavers on offense. The passing game returns Markus Wheaton, Halahuni and Bishop, who were Oregon State's top three receivers last season. They combined for 107 catches, more than half of the 213 passes completed by Katz.

DEFENSE: With only four returning starters, there are a lot of unknowns on this side of the ball. Free safety Lance Mitchell and cornerback Brandon Hardin are seniors of note and the top returning tacklers. Defensive tackle Dominic Glover and linebacker Rueben Robinson also started last season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Beavers have two of the top three kickoff returners in the Pac-10 last season back in the fold in Rodgers and junior Jordan Poyer. Both averaged better than 27 yards per return.

PLAYMAKERS: Rodgers was dynamic before injuring his knee against Arizona State last October. Can he return to form? Wheaton is another player to watch.

TOUGH STRETCH: The Beavers face a challenging finish with league games at Utah (Oct. 29), California (Nov. 12) and Oregon (Nov. 26), as well as home dates against Stanford (Nov. 5) and Washington (Nov. 19).

EXTRA POINTS: Oregon State is 41-21 under Riley at home . . . Senior center Grant Johnson is on the Rimington Trophy watch list . . . Wheaton is a candidate for the Biletnikoff Award, while Halahuni is on the preseason list for the John Mackey Award . . . The Beavers will play at AT&T Park and CenturyLink Field this season.

Oregon State Beavers

2011 media poll: 4th, North

2010 record: 5-7, 4-5

Head coach: Mike Riley (69-54, 11th season)

2011 schedule


Sept. 10 — at Wisconsin

Sept. 24 — UCLA

Oct. 1 — at Arizona State

Oct. 8 — ARIZONA

Oct. 15 — BYU

Oct. 22 — at Washington State

Oct. 29 — at Utah


Nov. 12 — at California


Nov. 26 — at Oregon