CORVALLIS, Ore. - Bring on No.1?
"I think they're coming anyway," said Oregon State coach Mike Riley, politely declining to say anything that the top-ranked USC Trojans could use as bulletin board material when they arrive Sept. 25 as the Beavers' next opponent.
Oregon State may have cleared away some self-doubt with an easier-than-expected 45-7 win over Hawaii Saturday. That doesn't mean the Beavers feel ready to proclaim themselves contenders or do anything provoke the Trojans, who left No. 5 Ohio State in the dust Saturday, winning 35-3 in a game that had been billed as "The Collision in the Coliseum."
Now the team on a collision course is Oregon State -- although Saturday's win to avoid the team's first 0-3 start since 1996 did raise the optimism level around Reser Stadium.
"It was a great confidence booster and great win to get us back on track," said quarterback Lyle Moevao, who had plenty of time to throw and plenty of receivers to choose from, and consequently went 20-of-34 for 268 yards in just about three quarters of work. "And it reminds us of how we felt last year (when Oregon State went 9-4)."
Oregon State's defensive line and linebackers had taken much of the heat after losses to Stanford and Penn State to open the season. Comparisons with last year's group, which led the country in rushing yards and then graduated all the starters, weren't flattering. So the front seven held a meeting this week. No coaches were invited.
"We talked about last year's group and how they had a swagger about them that was about trust in each other and felt that we could develop that," defensive end Slade Norris said.
The Beavers looked much better against Hawaii (1-2), which marched down the field in its first possession and but staggered for much of the rest of the game, finishing with its lowest total offensive yards total (211) since 1998.
"We did what we needed to do," said linebacker Bryant Cornell. "Because there are questions about our defense still."
Which is why there was little crowing from the Beavers after the game. With quarterback Colt Brennan and coach June Jones gone from the Warrior team that went 12-1 and played in the Sugar Bowl last year, this is a game Oregon State was expected to win.
That won't be the case when USC arrives for Thursday evening game next week.
The last time USC visited in 2006, Oregon State shocked the third-ranked Trojans 33-31. But that team had senior QB Matt Moore at the controls and that game was in late October, at which point the Beavers were on their way to winning seven of eight games to close out the season.
Mark Sanchez threw four touchdown passes and Joe McKnight ran for 105 yards for the Trojans (2-0) on Saturday. They won for the 39th time in their last 40 home games.
The Beavers have 12 days to prepare for USC, although Riley wryly noted that "we might need 12 months."
Still, the Beavers have something to build on. Freshman Jacquizz Rodgers followed up his 99 rushing yards against Penn State with 110 against Hawaii, and the emergence of senior wideout Shane Morales (93 yards receiving) gives Oregon State three trusted receivers, along with Sammie Stroughter and Rodgers' older brother James (76 yards receiving and a touchdown).
"I think we have a vision of who we want to be and what we want to do offensively," Riley said.