While the offense is still coming together with presumed starting quarterback Tristan Gebbia, it's Oregon State's defense that should worry opponents.
The Beavers' D is led by senior outside linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr., who had a school-record 14 sacks last season and led the nation with 22.5 tackles for loss.
Rashed said he returned to the Beavers for this strange season out of loyalty.
“I feel like I wasn’t done yet. And my team, of course, needs me. I feel like I’m supposed to be here now," he said. "God put me on this earth to play another year, I’m gonna finish my career. That’s the big thing. I feel like I wasn’t just gonna leave my team hanging. I’m a team player. I want to be here for my team and the guys that look up to me.”
Fellow linebacker Avery Roberts returns after a team-high 83 tackles, while Omar Speights had 72 tackles last season as a freshman. Addison Gumbs said he's healthy after sitting out most of the 2019 season with an injury.
Nearly all the team's top tacklers are back for the Beavers. Jaydon Grant, who had a pair of interceptions last season, is among the top returnees in the secondary. Senior Isaiah Dunn is expected to start at cornerback.
Any uncertainty for the Beavers is centered on the offense. Quarterback Jake Luton has moved on to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Gebbia, at least for now, looks like the frontrunner going into the abbreviated Pac-12 season.
But it's still a competition between Gebbia, junior college transfer Chance Nolan, junior Nick Moore and freshman Ben Gulbranson.
There's also a big hole to fill at receiver. Isaiah Hodgins caught 13 touchdowns and had 1,171 receiving yards last season before declaring for the NFL draft, going to the Buffalo Bills. The group will likely be led by senior Trevon Bradford, who missed all but four games because of injury last season.
The Beavers surprised many by going 5-7 overall and 4-5 in the conference in a three-way tie for second place in the North Division. This season they've been picked by the media to finish fifth in the division.
Coach Jonathan Smith is in his third season and said he hasn't really broached the idea of a postseason bid because so much is up in the air.
“I know it’s coach speak, but it’s truth: We focus on what we can control, preparing ourselves to be ready to play games. Then you get into these games, you take them one at a time because that’s the only way you get to play them. So we haven’t approached that topic with the guys," Smith said. "I know the goals of wanting to play in the postseason are real, and that’s an aspiration all of us have. The only way we’re going to achieve that is focus on the day to day. ”
Jermar Jefferson ran for a school-record 1,380 yards as a freshman in 2018 but he was hampered by injuries last season. He was asked heading into the season what he would consider a good year, personally. He didn't cite numbers and stats.
“I'd probably say getting more carries out of the backfield, getting more receiving catches, and seeing what I can do in the open field,” he said.
Oregon State's policy is to announce opt-outs only if the athlete announces it first. So far just guard Onesimus Clarke and defensive back Johnathan Riley have opted out. Additionally, defensive end Jeromy Reichner is not practicing with the team and is not injured.
In addition to Luton and Hodgins, several other Beavers moved on after last season, including running back Artavis Pierce (now with the Chicago Bears), offensive linemen Blake Brandel (Minnesota Vikings) and Gus Lavaka, and tight end Noah Togiai (Indianapolis Colts).
Since Oregon State started using the Pac-12's rapid testing program some three weeks ago, the Beavers have administered 2,200 tests on athletes and staff, with two positive results as of late last week.
Oregon State opens the season at home against Washington State on Nov. 7. It is a key game for the Beavers, who haven't beaten the Cougars since 2013. The rivalry game against the Oregon Ducks is still over the Thanksgiving weekend, but it no longer marks the end of the regular season. Instead, the team finishes with tough road games at Utah and Stanford before the final week against an opponent to be determined.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25