CORVALLIS — Boosted by last year's finish, and particularly the Civil War victory over the rival Oregon Ducks, the Oregon State Beavers are feeling momentum and hoping they can build off that this season.
Oregon State snapped a five-game winning streak and beat Arizona 42-17 in the second-to-last game, prompting coach Gary Andersen to proclaim, "Winning's fun, man."
A week later, the Beavers defeated the Ducks 34-24, ending an eight-year losing streak in the series and stringing together consecutive conference wins for the first time since 2013.
The Beavers finished 4-8 overall, a two-game improvement over the previous season.
Just before fall camp opened, players pointed to those wins as an indication that the team is making strides. Oregon State opens the season at Colorado State on Aug. 26.
"It was definitely motivation for us going into the offseason. It was positive for us because now we're going in knowing that we can compete," running back Ryan Nall said. "This offseason there was definitely a shift of attitude and momentum."
The Beavers will definitely be stronger at running back with a group led by Nall, who ran for four touchdowns in the victory over the Ducks.
Nall finished the season with 951 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns on the ground, and also caught a pair of TD passes. He had four 100-yard rushing games.
Joining him is Thomas Tyner, who is returning to football after two years away from the game. The Oregon native played for the Ducks for two seasons but took a medical retirement after missing the entire 2015 season with a shoulder injury.
"It's great having Thomas here. He's just been an experienced young man, he's walked in here and he works, he understands," Andersen said. "There's so many things when a kid has been where he has been — he's been to the highest spot that you can get in college football. Then he's had something that knocked him down, and he's gone full circle."
Tyner rushed for 1,284 yards and 14 touchdowns during his career at Oregon. The last live game he played was the national championship in January 2015 against Ohio State.
Other things to note as the Beavers start the 2017 season:
LUTON TO START: Early in fall camp Andersen named community college transfer Jake Luton the team's starting quarterback. Last season at Ventura Community College, Luton threw for 3,551 yards and 40 touchdowns, both single-season records at the school.
He went 13-for-21 for 118 yards in the Beavers' spring game, but he was beset by a mysterious illness that caused him to drop 30 pounds from his 6-foot-7 frame. He said before the start of fall camp that he has fully recovered.
Luton will be backed up by Darell Garretson.
McMARYION MOVES ON: Quarterback Marcus McMaryion, who started the Beavers' final six games last season, transferred to Fresno State with two years of eligibility remaining. Pressed into service because of injuries, McMaryion threw for 1,286 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, but also threw five interceptions.
COLLINS RETURNS: Receiver Seth Collins missed the final two games last season with a serious illness that put him in the hospital for nearly two weeks. He had 36 catches for 418 yards and a touchdown before falling ill.
This season he'll play at slot receiver.
KEY GAMES: Can the Beavers make it two in a row in the Civil War? They'll get their chance — this time at Autzen Stadium — on Nov. 25. Oregon State will face a few considerable tests before then: notably Minnesota on Sept. 9. The Golden Gophers are coming off a 9-4 season capped by a victory over Washington State in the Holiday Bowl. The Beavers will also be challenged on the road against USC, picked to top the Pac-12 this season, on Oct. 7.
PREDICTION: There are still so many questions about the Beavers as they embark on Andersen's third season. While the team has made statistical improvements on defense during his tenure, last season they still struggled against the run — and that could be a problem in the Pac-12.
But Andersen is a careful and methodical coach, so expect more incremental improvement and the Beavers could become bowl eligible for the first time since 2013.