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Minnesota Football: Preseason Opponent Previews - Oregon State

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The Gophers can't afford to overlook the Beavers, and need to come out strong to open the season with a win

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

2015 Record: 2-10 (0-9 Pac-12)
2015 Final S&P+ Ranking: 102
2016 Projected S&P+ Ranking: 86
Returning Starters: 7 Offense, 6 Defense

These two teams have met before

Minnesota and Oregon State first met on the gridiron in 1954, when the Gophers torched the Beavers 44-6 under then head coach Murray Warmath. Since then, the two teams have met twice and split the two games. Oregon State won 17-14 in 1978, before Minnesota unleashed another beatdown to the tune of 42-12 in 1981. All three games were played in Minneapolis. The Gophers will make their first trip to Corvallis in 2017.

Oregon State was not good at football last season

In their first season under new head coach (and Badger defector) Gary Andersen, the Beavers were not good. That about sums it up. Oregon State finished the year with a 2-10 record, with wins over Weber State (out of the FCS) and San Jose State. In addition to a non-conference loss to Michigan, the Beavers were winless against a gauntlet of Pac-12 opponents. Blowout losses to Arizona (44-7), UCLA (41-0), and Washington (52-7) were sandwiched between a couple close contests and more blowouts. Oregon State couldn't even come out on top against Colorado at home. In 10 losses, the Beavers' opponents' average margin of victory was 24.9 points.

The Beavers weren't good at much of anything, ranking 97th on offense and 110th on defense according to S&P+. What was the problem? Youth and inexperience. Injuries didn't help either, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Just two of their top 10 defensive backs played in all 12 games last season. The good news for the Gophers is that the Beavers will continue their youth movement for another year, with underclassmen populating almost half (12-of-26) of their end-of-spring two-deep.

One new face and a bunch of familiar ones on offense

The quarterback position was a disaster for Oregon State last season. Andersen had three freshmen quarterbacks to work with in his first season and none of them had even attempted a pass in a collegiate game prior to his arrival. The game of musical chairs under center with freshman Seth Collins and redshirt freshmen Nick Mitchell and Marcus McMaryion led one to transfer at the end of the season (Mitchell) and another to reconsider a transfer and instead transition to wide receiver (Collins). But rather than McMaryion taking over, Utah State transfer and redshirt junior Darell Garretson was named the starting quarterback back in the spring.

Garretson was the starting quarterback for the Aggies for the second half of 2013 and the first half of 2014 before being sidelined with a wrist injury. His career numbers with Utah State over two seasons: 344 pass attempts, 217 completions, 2,586 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. Garretson transferred to Oregon State after playing under Utah State offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven, who now coaches quarterbacks and serves as co-offensive coordinator for the Beavers.

Garretson will lead an offense that returns sophomore running back Ryan Nall (73 carries, 455 yards, 3 touchdowns) and leading receivers Jordan Villamin (43 receptions, 660 yards, 5 touchdowns) and Victor Bolden (46 receptions, 461 yards, 3 touchdowns). Collins, the Beavers' leading passer and rusher a season ago, will also be in the mix at wide receiver, where he will make for a dynamic weapon with his versatility once he is comfortable in his new position. Blocking for the Beavers will be a decent offensive line unit that loses all-conference performers Josh Mitchell and Isaac Seumalo but boasts five upperclassman with a combined 82 career starts.

Nowhere to go but up on defense

Last season, Oregon State ranked 113th in scoring defense, 115th in total defense, 114th in rushing yards allowed, 98th in passing yards allowed, 106th in sacks, 115th in tackles for loss, 83rd in red zone defense, and 117th in turnovers forced.

So, not good.

Will this season be much different? That remains to be seen. The Beavers do have a talented pair of starting cornerbacks with a lot of potential in senior Treston Decoud (a returning starter) and sophomore Dwayne Williams, and senior strong safety Devin Chappell also returns. Filling out the rest of the defensive backfield is a mix of experienced veterans and unproven youngsters. But no group of defensive backs can survive without a pass rush, and Oregon State is severely lacking in the trenches.

Five defensive linemen depart, including all-conference defensive tackle Kyle Peko. With one returning starter -- junior defensive end Baker Pritchard -- the Beavers will lean on a pair of sophomores and three incoming JUCOs. Hardly an encouraging sign for a unit that desperately needs to improve. Senior middle linebacker Caleb Saulo (69 tackles), last year's second leading tackler, leads a solid group of linebackers that also returns sophomore and third leading tackler Jonathan Willis (67 tackles), with a total of six linebackers that have starting experience.

Kevin Clune, previously the defensive coordinator at Utah State, takes over the defense after the offseason departure of former coordinator Kalani Sitake to BYU. But with Clune having coached under Andersen before, don't expect to see the Beavers detour from the 3-4 defense that he favors so much. And Clune knows what he is doing after leading an Aggie defense that ranked 26th in college football according to S&P+.

Can the Gophers beat the Beavers?

I should hope so. Since 2009, the Gophers are 4-3 in their home openers at TCF Bank Stadium. Just one of those openers has been against a Power 5 opponent -- a close loss to the TCU Horned Frogs a season ago. But Oregon State is no TCU. This is a game that Minnesota should win, but the program also isn't to the point yet where any opponent is a surefire win (except for maybe Indiana State). Too-close-for-comfort wins against Colorado State, Kent State, and Ohio last season are evidence of that.

The Beavers will be breaking in a new starting quarterback and a new defensive coordinator, both unknown elements that could make things interesting to start the game. I wouldn't be surprised if this is a surprisingly close affair early on as both teams shake off the rust and feel each other out, but I expect the Gophers to pull away in the second or third quarter. If Tracy Claeys wants to get this program back on track, taking care of business against Oregon State is the obvious first step.

For more on the Oregon State Beavers, check out a more in-depth preview from SB Nation's Bill Connelly.