CORVALLIS — Oregon State finally gets to play its opener.
The No. 16 Beavers will host Nicholls State today — at 11:30 a.m. The game was supposed to be played on Sept. 1, but it was postponed when Hurricane Isaac bore down on the Colonels’ Thibodeaux, La., campus. Officials for both schools decided it would be best to reschedule the game out of concern for the athletes affected by the storm.
Three months later, Oregon State is 8-3 overall and awaiting a bowl bid on Sunday. The Beavers are possibly headed to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 27, and representatives for that bowl will be in Corvallis for today’s game against the Colonels.
Not many would have predicted such a turnaround for Oregon State back at the start of the season, when the Beavers were picked to finish last in the Pac-12 North after going just 3-9 last season.
The Beavers’ five-game improvement this season is second only to the six-game turnarounds by Ohio State and Middle Tennessee.
“We are down to the last couple of chapters and we need to talk to the team about putting an exclamation point on who they want to be remembered as,” Beavers coach Mike Riley said. “One of the first ways a team is remembered is their record, so we want to make that record as good as we can.”
The Colonels, who play in the FCS Southland Conference, are just 1-9 this season and have lost seven in a row. They have been off since a 35-16 loss to Southeastern Louisiana on Nov. 15.
On paper, the matchup looks lopsided.
Apart from the obvious divisional difference, the Nicholls State defense is giving up 244 yards passing per game, last in the Southland, while Oregon State is averaging 304 yards passing a game, ranked 19th in the nation.
The Beavers will start sophomore quarterback Sean Mannion, who was their starter when the season opened and led the team to its first four wins, but he injured his left knee and required surgery. Backup Cody Vaz took over the job, but then he injured his left ankle and has sat out the past two games.
Riley said he could play both Mannion and Vaz against Nicholls State.
“If we wanted to substitute — it’s certainly not because of this game — I’ve been thinking about that for a long time. Don’t know that we’ll do it, but we might,” Riley said. “We’ve got two starting quarterbacks.”
Mannion is coming off a rough outing in a 48-24 loss to rival Oregon in the annual Civil War game, during which he threw four interceptions.
“You learn what you can and you just move on,” Mannion said.
Both quarterbacks have been helped by the efforts of receivers Brandin Cooks and Marcus Wheaton. Cooks is averaging 101.2 yards receiving per game to rank ninth in the nation, while Wheaton is 12th with 98.6 yards.
Cooks is questionable today after he sustained a knee bruise in the Civil War.
For the Colonels, junior Landry Klann leads the Southland’s third-best passing offense, averaging nearly 227 yards a game. He needs 115 yards passing today to become first Colonel to throw for 2,000 yards since Brad Zeller in 1998. Klann has eight touchdown passes this season.
The Beavers are ranked third in the Pac-12 in pass defense, allowing an average of 227.6 yards a game.
This is the third FBS team that Nicholls State has played this season. The Colonels also faced South Alabama and Tulsa, both losses. The Colonels have two wins over FBS opponents since 2000: They beat Arkansas State 28-22 in 2001, and they edged Rice 16-14 in 2007.
There is one interesting connection between the two teams: Nicholls State coach Charlie Stubbs was an assistant at Oregon State from 1985 to 1990 under head coach Dave Kragthorpe.
Oregon State is probably not in danger of overlooking the Colonels. The Beavers want to flip their record from last year to 9-3, and for inspiration they need only look back to last season, when they opened with a 29-28 overtime loss to lower-division Sacramento State.
“We can’t take any opponent lightly. We did that last year,” Cooks said. “I don’t want to go into the past, but that’s what we did and we ended up with a loss. Now we’ve got to come in and act like we’re playing someone else from the Pac-12.”
Nicholls State at Oregon State
• When: Today, 11:30 a.m.
• TV: Pac-12 Network
• Radio: KICE-AM 940, KRCO-AM 690