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March 28, 2010
All the problems going on about 30 miles down Interstate 5 from Corvallis, Ore., appear to have set up a wide-open Pac-10 race this fall.
Oregon was a strong favorite to successfully defend its conference title before a rash of off-field issues led to suspensions of several players, including QB Jeremiah Masoli. Oregon State is hoping it can take advantage.
But the Beavers have some quarterback issues of their own. They also have to shore up a defense that was only decent in '09.
If the Beavers make strides at quarterback and linebacker this spring, they will pose big problems for Pac-10 rivals next fall. And not just the one down I-5.
Here's a look at the Beavers as they get ready to begin spring practice.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
Any position that has a Rodgers playing there is in great shape. Junior RB Jacquizz Rodgers has turned in back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing performances and will be a bona-fide Heisman Trophy contender. His brother, James, leads a deep list at receiver. He's coming off an outstanding 2009 campaign in which he exceeded 1,000 receiving yards. Sophomore WRs Darrell Catchings and Markus Wheaton played as true freshmen, and their roles in the offense figure to be expanded. The Beavers also are set at tight end with Camp, Joe Halahuni (who had 35 catches a year ago) and John Reese.
HELP IS NEEDED
Send up a flare from under center: Quarterback is an obvious concern. All-Pac 10 QB Sean Canfield completed his eligibility and former starter Lyle Moevao was denied a sixth year of eligibility. Spring drills will feature a competition between Peter Lalich, who sat out last season after transferring from Virginia, and Ryan Katz, who played sparingly. Another area of uncertainty is linebacker, which was expected to be a point of strength. But that was before key backup Keith Pankey ruptured an Achilles last month and returning starter David Pa'aluhi, the second-leading tackler last year, left the team to join the military.
GUYS TO WATCH
LB Michael Doctor: He's not real big (5 feet 11/216 pounds), but he is real fast. He is a former three-star recruit who grayshirted and enrolled in January. Doctor steps in at an area of need and will have a legitimate shot at earning a starting job.
QBs Ryan Katz and Peter Lalich: They project as the key figures in the Beavers' quarterback competition. Katz, a sophomore, appeared in four games last season and was 14-of-27. Lalich, a junior, sat out a redshirt year after transferring from Virginia two games into the '08 season.
CB Rashaad Reynolds: At least one starting job is open in the secondary, and Reynolds - who redshirted last season - is a leading contender to fill it. He's an excellent athlete who played quarterback and cornerback in high school in the Los Angeles area.
THE PRESSURE IS ON
OL Ryan Pohl: He started twice as a sophomore, then appeared in three games as a backup last season. Although he can play every line position, he's expected to start at guard - where the Beavers have to replace Gregg Peat. A solid spring solidifies the starting spot. If Pohl struggles, he likely will spend his senior season as a backup.
Oregon State already has suffered a couple of setbacks with the NCAA turning down Moevao's petition for another year of eligibility and Pa'aluhi opting to pursue a military career. Their positions - quarterback and linebacker - will be under the proverbial microscope this spring. The performances in what figures to be an intense quarterback battle should provide some hint of what to expect in the fall. At linebacker, there is no shortage of candidates to fill two open spots. Whether those candidates can prove they can consistently play at a high level will be a key focus this spring.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.