Beavers Eager for Respect
Friday, August 10, 2007
Yvenson Bernard watched prognosticators dismiss his Oregon State team this preseason with the nonchalance that comes from experience. Reporters picked the Beavers fifth in the Pacific-10, in which they finished third last season.
"I'm so used to it, I don't even care," the running back said.
His teammates agreed. Even though Oregon State won 10 games last season, became the fourth team in four years to beat Southern California and returns 16 starters, the Beavers have been largely ignored this preseason. That happens when a team with a nondescript history hails from Corvallis, Ore., not even one of the major population centers in the state, let alone the West Coast.
"It's kind of our lot in life, but I love the vantage point from which we come," Coach Mike Riley said. "We recruit some guys that have a chip on their shoulder and want to prove they can play anybody in the country."
The program's history compounds its anonymity. In 1999, the Beavers ended a 35-year bowl drought. During the span, Oregon State experienced 27 consecutive losing seasons and finished ninth or 10th in the Pacific-10 in each of those years.
"I think probably we still battle that a little bit," Riley said.
Even after the Beavers crushed Notre Dame in the 2000 Fiesta Bowl, their only Bowl Championship Series appearance, their profile rose little. Oregon State boosted it last season, though, when it knocked off then-No. 2 USC, 33-31. This season, with the Trojans widely considered the No. 1 team in the country, that victory amplifies Oregon State's confidence.
"We knew their names coming out of high school," center Kyle DeVan said. "It proved to ourselves that we could hang with any team in the country. I think that really opened the eyes of a lot of people."
The USC win catapulted Oregon State to a flurry of victories after a rocky start. After five sloppy games, Oregon State stood at 2-3, its season crumbling. Riley called a team meeting.
"You either fight or flee," Riley said. "You either fall apart or stand together."
And so, the Beavers won eight of their last nine games and played in the Sun Bowl against Missouri, where they pulled within a point with a touchdown in the final seconds. Riley thrust his index finger into the air as the Oregon State sideline exploded around him, celebrating the touchdown that brought the Beavers to the brink of overtime. All they needed was the extra point, which is what Riley's finger signaled: one point.
But when referees called for the play to be reviewed on replay, Bernard rushed to Riley.