The Pac-12 is usually full of surprises on a year-to-year basis, and the 2022 college football season has been no different to this point. Through the halfway point, Oregon State and Washington State are both having fairly good campaigns. While both teams would've liked a different outcome against USC, it's pretty clear that the Beavers under Jonathan Smith have some staying power, while Jack Dickert probably has the Cougars in a better position than former head coach Nick Rolovich ever did during his brief tenure. Now the two up-and-comers in the coaching fraternity meet at a critical point in their respective seasons.
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With both teams entering this game with identical records (4-2 overall, 1-2 in conference play) Saturday's matchup could have a lot to say about the ultimate outcome for both Oregon State and Washington State. With three undefeated teams among those ahead of both in the standings, a loss would pretty much eliminate that team from the Pac-12 Championship Game conversation. Along those lines, the winner would not only stay in the proverbial hunt for one of those berths but also be just one more victory away from becoming bowl eligible.
And even though the Pac-12 has ditched the North and South divisions for a 12-team free-for-all, the rivalries still matter. Wazzu has won eight in a row over the Beavers, so you know that's a streak Smith and Co. would love to put an end to, especially in front of the home crowd at Reser Stadium.
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 15 at 9 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Oregon State -3.5
Tickets: As low as $91 on SITickets.com
Cameron Ward, a transfer from FCS Incarnate Word, has done a fine job of making the transition to the FBS level. He's third in the Pac-12 in passing (269.5 ypg) and is tied for second in the conference with 15 touchdown passes. He has tossed seven interceptions, so he needs to be wary of an Oregon State defense that has already recorded seven interceptions.
Five different Cougars have caught at least two touchdown passes, so continuing to spread the ball around could make it easier to solve the Beavers' defense.
The x-factor for Wazzu's offense has been Jaylen Jenkins. He claimed Freshman of the Week honors from the conference after an impressive performance last week against USC. He not only gashed the Trojans for 134 yards on just 13 carries, but he also added another 54 receiving on two catches. He appears to be a do-it-all-back in the mold of former Cougar Max Borghi and will definitely draw the attention of Oregon State defensive coordinator Trent Bray.
Chance Nolan missed last week's game against Stanford and isn't expected to play on Saturday as he's reportedly in concussion protocol. While no official announcement has been made, Ben Gulbranson will likely get the start against Washington State after leading the Beavers to an improbable, come-from-behind 28-27 victory over the Cardinal last Saturday.
It was Gulbranson's two touchdown passes that helped Oregon State rally from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit, including the game-winning, 56-yarder to Tre'Shaun Harrison with just 13 seconds left. The Beavers had managed just a touchdown and a field goal prior to their 18-point fourth-quarter outburst, but if Gulbranson can build on his heroic performance, then Oregon State's offense may be fine without Nolan. Gulbranson finished with solid numbers — 20-for-29, 250 yards, 2 TDs — against Stanford but Washington State's defense ranks much higher than the Cardinal in most categories.
The Cougars are third in the Pac-12 in scoring at 20.2 points per game allowed and have been pretty stingy (110.5 ypg, third) against the run, including allowing only three rushing touchdowns so far. They have been more susceptible to the pass (260.7 ypg, 10th) and, besides Harrison, who leads the team in receptions (31), yards (441), and touchdowns (three), Gulbranson has reliable targets in fellow wide receivers Anthony Gould and Tyjon Lindsey as well as tight end Luke Musgrave to throw to.
This game could go so many different ways. Both of these teams are capable of putting on a clinic, and both of these teams are capable enough to make it a defensive slobber-knocker too. At the end of the day, the absence of Nolan is enough to sway my sensibilities toward Washington State, even if the Cougars are the 'dog in this game. Wazzu has great balance on offense and a running game that should wear out Oregon State's defense just enough to squeak out a close victory in a tough environment.
— Written by Kane Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.
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