CORVALLIS — Two years ago when Oregon State visited Cincinnati, quarterback Sean Canfield — then a sophomore — suffered his first loss as a starter.
Now a senior, Canfield has taken charge in Lyle Moevao's absence and will face his first real challenge of the season when the No. 17 Bearcats come to Corvallis.
Canfield has shown composure in his first two starts of the season, against Portland State and UNLV, and the Beavers have benefited by going 2-0 for the first time since 2005.
"He's in a whole different place in his quarterback life right now," coach Mike Riley said. "He can learn from that game."
For the record, Canfield completed 14 of 23 passes for 143 yards and had three interceptions in a 34-3 drubbing by Cincinnati in 2007. It is the only previous time the teams have met.
Canfield was expected to back up Moevao this season, much like last year, when the Beavers went 9-4. Moevao threw 19 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions in 11 starts last season, while Canfield started twice and finished with six touchdowns and two picks.
But Moevao, the Pac-10's leading returning passer, had rotator cuff surgery in the offseason and did not progress as quickly as expected — so Canfield got the nod in fall camp.
Two games into this season, Oregon State is averaging just more than 407 yards of total offense a game. Most of the attention that the Beavers get falls on the talented Rodgers brothers.
Jacquizz Rodgers, who made a splash last season when he was named the Pac-10's offensive player of the year as a freshman, is averaging 134.5 yards rushing and has four touchdowns. He also has four catches for 97 yards.
Older brother James, a flanker, has eight catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns.
While the Rodgers are the flash to Oregon State's offense, Canfield is the calm. He has a completion percentage of 78.6 percent, which leads the nation. He has completed 33 of 42 passes for 356 yards and three scores. He has yet to be intercepted.
But he has yet to face a challenge like Cincinnati.
The Bearcats, playing under new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, returned only one starter on defense. But they held Rutgers to 15 points in a 47-15 season-opening victory and allowed only a field goal in last weekend's 70-3 win over Mississippi State.
Oregon State defeated Portland State 34-7 in the opener, then defeated UNLV 23-21 in Las Vegas. Kicker Justin Kahut kicked a 33-yard field goal with seven seconds left to beat the Rebels.
Riley praised Canfield for orchestrating the game-winning drive.
Canfield led the Beavers 64 yards in 12 plays for the game-winning field goal. On the evening, he completed 25-for-31 for 198 yards with two TDs and no interceptions.
"I was really impressed with the poise he showed when we needed a two-minute drive to win that game," the coach said.
Bearcats coach Brian Kelly knows better than to expect the Canfield of two seasons ago.
"They have the ability now to throw it with Canfield," he said. "When he was here, he was just a sophomore. He was finding himself as a quarterback. He's a lot further along."
What will be interesting in the long run is how the Beavers handle the return of Moevao, who Riley said is practicing this week and would be available against the Bearcats.
Saturday's game figures to be one of the biggest nonconference games at Reser Stadium in recent memory.
The last time the Beavers hosted a nationally ranked nonconference foe was in 1977, when No. 13 BYU came in and lost 24-13.