THE SPORTS EXCHANGE takes a closer look at Oregon State headed into Wisconsin (ESPN, 9 a.m.) If the Beavers are to pull off the big upset, they opine, the Beaver special teams will need to make some plays and the QB situation will need to show less tumult and more production. And either Terron Ward or Jordan Jenkins will have to step up with Malcolm Agnew sidelined and not making the trip.
As if Oregon State doesn't have enough problems to solve, the Beavers can't decide on a starting quarterback.
Both junior Ryan Katz and redshirt freshman Sean Mannion will play at Wisconsin, OSU coach Mike Riley said, with the veteran Katz "right now" the expected starter.
But Mannion got the majority of snaps with the first team on Tuesday. And Wednesday. And Thursday.
Katz played the first half of the opener against Sacramento State before being replaced by Mannion, who had the better statistics as the OSU offense produced better results with the rookie at quarterback.
"We want to keep playing both guys," Riley said. "They both can help our team."
The Beavers will need everything they can muster against the Badgers. And that means a better pass defense, and probably some big plays on special teams to counter Wisconsin being at home and a heavy favorite.
The one upside of playing Wisconsin right after such a disappointing loss is that it forced the Beavers to move on, and not sulk over that opening defeat for two long.
But what impact will it have that the Beavs have to wonder which quarterback will be running the offense?
OSU went into this season with the thought that its most solid element was the return of its starting quarterback, with Katz starting all 12 games last season.
"I know what I can do, I know I can still play," Katz said. "It's coach's decision what to do. I'll be ready."
--With the 9 a.m. PT kickoff at Wisconsin (for an ESPN telecast), and school not in session yet, OSU switched its practice times to the morning this week. The OSU coaching staff well remembers the last time the team had a similar kickoff, and the result was a very slow start by the Beavers on the way to a 63-27 loss at Louisville in the 2005 season.
--This will only be OSU's second game against an opponent from the Big Ten in the past 25 years. Since playing at Michigan in 1986, OSU's only other game against the Big Ten was a trip to Penn State in the 2008 season. Even more rare is a Big Ten team coming to Corvallis -- it hasn't happened since 1971 -- but Wisconsin is schedule to play at Reser Stadium in the 2012 season.
SERIES HISTORY: Wisconsin leads Oregon State 1-0 (last meeting, 1961, 23-20 Wisconsin).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Suddenly what was expected to be the strength of the Beavers is in some question. Which quarterback starts? Running back Malcolm Agnew has not sufficiently recovered from a hamstring injury suffered in practice on Tuesday and the decision was made Thursday that he will not trip to Madison. So will Jordan Jenkins or Terron Ward shoulder the load in Agnew's absence? Can one of those two crack the Wisconsin defense and make it a tight game headed into the fourth quarter? WR James Rodgers and tight end Joe Halahuni will remain out recovering from off-season surgeries. To us here at The Sports Exchange, it seems OSU's only hope of an upset at Wisconsin is to put up a lot of points, and that seems far from a sure thing.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The priority against Wisconsin has to be focusing on the running game, the staple of the offense for the Badgers. But since OSU showed how vulnerable it was to the pass in the opening game, giving up four touchdown passes and being flagged three times for pass interference, the Beavers can't commit too much to defending the run.
Adding in mobile quarterback Russell Wilson might make this the most difficult challenge OSU will face until November.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've obviously got a big challenge and a big week ahead of us. A lot of this is going to be a mental factor because we all know in sports confidence is a big deal." -- Oregon State coach Mike Riley, on playing Wisconsin after losing to Sacramento State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Oregon State at Wisconsin, Sept. 10 -- The Beavers make what seems to be an annual road trip to play a top 10 nonconference foe, this time the Badgers in Madison. It hasn't been a good experience for OSU in recent seasons, including losses to TCU and Boise State in 2010.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Can the Beavers find a way to slow down the Wisconsin offense? Then maybe there will be the opportunity for an upset. The OSU offense has shown that it has some playmakers, both at receiver and running back, though the question mark at quarterback could be a limiting factor in that regard.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
DT Kevin Frahm -- Expected to be a leader of the defense, Frahm missed the opener as he recovered from knee surgery last month. He's arguably not only OSU's best defensive lineman, but he's one of the vocal leaders of the unit.
MLB Feti Unga -- Wisconsin's overpowering running game often goes directly up the middle, and the Beavers will attempt to funnel those runners toward the middle linebacker. In his first collegiate start, Unga had a team-high eight tackles, and that number figures to double if OSU is going to have any success against the Wisconsin running game.
WR Markus Wheaton -- The Beavers will need a big play or two to get them going against Wisconsin, and who better to supply that than Wheaton. He had the long play of the opener on a 69-yard reception, among his six catches, and it seems likely he'll have the football in his hands on a reverse or fly sweep, if not used on a kickoff or punt return in an attempt to spring him free to use his speed.
--After losing out in the battle to be the starter at right tackle, junior Michael Philipp has requested that he be allowed to redshirt this season. A two-year starter at left tackle, Philipp played as a true freshman. While OSU didn't play him in the opener, our take is the redshirt decision could come under review because OSU is left with only starters Mike Remmers and Colin Kelly and reserve Grant Enger as true tackles, backed up by reserve center Geoff Garner and a couple of true freshmen.
--The one-game suspensions for defensive tackle Castro Masaniai and reserve tight end Connor Hamlett will be pushed back at least for one more game, with both needed against Wisconsin as OSU is thin at both spots.
--The Beavers are still awaiting a resolution of the academic status of reserve defensive lineman Dominic Glover. He continues to practice but didn't play in the opener and his status for the Wisconsin game is in question. How long does it take for grades from the summer session that ended three weeks ago to be finalized so there is a determination on the senior?