SAN ANTONIO — Their fans don’t stand for entire football games. And best anyone can tell, Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Ore., does not sway.
Their colors lean toward orange and black, not maroon.
The team mascot builds things rather than barks. And it wears a costume.
But in many respects, Oregon State might as well be Texas A&M. Or the Northwest version of the Aggies.
“We may be that school (A&M) in our state,” OSU coach Mike Riley said after a recent practice for today’s Alamo Bowl against Texas.
Like their “cousin” in the Lone Star state, Oregon State is a proud agricultural school isolated in a rural setting and committed to escaping the shadow of its big brother nearby.
The Beavers even have a slightly less hostile version of the Aggies-Longhorns blood feud with their in-state rival, Oregon, which – in Oregon State’s view – comes off as big, arrogant and swimming in money. For instance, OSU claims a $58 million athletic budget, which pales in comparison to Texas’ $163 million annual operation.
“We’re a bunch of farmers,” OSU operations and recruiting intern Todd McShane said of his alma mater, and Oregon is “a bunch of hippies.”
That sounds familiar.
And were it not for the Pacific-12 Conference’s ban on such things, those same Ducks might have their own television network, like the Longhorns. The Nike Network, if you will.
And like the Aggies since their move to the SEC, the Beavers are on the rise on the back of a charismatic coach who rides his bike to work each day – when he’s not driving his modest silver Prius – and over-achieving, overlooked players who love football. Still, this might be college football’s best-kept secret in a pastoral setting, where the stadium sits a long punt away from dairy farms.
However, the word may be out. A win in the Alamo Bowl would give Oregon State only its third 10-win season ever. Seven OSU players were drafted by NFL teams in 2009, and 15 more have signed with NFL teams the last two years.
Riley’s bunch is flirting with engineering the biggest one-year improvement in school history, matching the best turnarounds in the FBS at Ohio State and Middle Tennessee. A prolific offense and tough-minded defense flipped a 3-9 season into a 9-3 turnaround that – but for a four-point loss at Stanford – almost included wins over both Rose Bowl-bound champions from the Pac-12 and Big Ten.
Now, OSU doesn’t have that transcendent player like A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, but until this magical season, both schools had just a single Heisman Trophy winner in Aggies back John David Crow (1957) and Beavers quarterback Terry Baker (1962) before the sport exploded.
The Aggies, however, have one thing the Beavers do not: instant access to hundreds of FBS-quality athletes in their home state.
“When you compare the 10 or 12 Division I kids from Oregon to the 400 out of Texas, it’s clear that we have to go elsewhere,” Riley said. “That’s why we have a handful of kids from Texas (five) and Oklahoma.”
Corrected Mark Banker, OSU’s defensive coordinator, “I think he’s over-exaggerating. I think there are only six (D-I prospects) a year.”
The point, however, remains that Oregon State has to do more with less. Texas, incidentally, signed eight five-star and 60 four-star players the last four seasons, although 15 of them are no longer on the team.
The uphill battle for OSU is never more obvious than in the school’s ongoing struggle with Oregon, which – thanks in large part to the arrival of great coach Chip Kelly and the omnipresence of Nike and Ducks benefactor Phil Knight – elevated the program to the elite level.
And the Ducks remain a big measuring stick – winning five straight in the annual Civil War game.
“Oregon is flashier than we are, and not only because of their uniforms,” said safety Ryan Murphy, who chose OSU over UCLA, Fresno State, Cal and San Jose State. “Up and down I-5, you see Ducks billboards. In the malls, there are bigger Ducks sections than Beavers. We probably feel about them like A&M does Texas. What’s the saying? If you’re A&M, you root for two teams - A&M and whomever Texas is playing against.”