EUGENE, OREGON - NOVEMBER 24: Head coach Jonathan Smith of the Oregon State Beavers stands on the field during the first half against the Oregon Ducksat Autzen Stadium on November 24, 2023 in Eugene, Oregon.
Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images

With So Many Changes, What's Next for Oregon State?

The Oregon State Beavers might be the biggest victim of the new conference realignments.

With 10 of the 12 current Pac-12 members set to leave for a new conference in 2024, the Beavers and the Washington State Cougars have been left behind. There have been talks that the conference will try to merge with the Mountain West Conference. There also have been discussions that both the Beavers and the Cougars could end up in the Big 12 along with Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Arizona State. But for now, being an independent for at least one season seems to be the plan for Oregon State.

But not knowing who you are going to play is not the biggest fallout from the Pac-12 disbanding, as the Beavers lost head coach Jonathan Smith to the Michigan State Spartans. Smith's six years at Oregon State resonated with the saying, "It takes time." In his first season, Smith went 2-10 but then followed it up with a 5-7 season in 2019. In Smith's third year, the Beavers won just two games in the COVID-19-shortened season. Then, in 2021, Smith saw his first winning season and immediately followed it with a 10-win season in 2022 that was capped off with the Beavers' first bowl win in almost a decade.

For the 2023 season, expectations were high, especially with the arrival of transfer quarterback and former Clemson Tiger DJ Uiagalelei. Not only did the Beavers have a good defense and good skill players, they also had a quarterback who was talented enough to compete for a Pac-12 title. Oregon State started the season 6-1 and was in the thick of things in the Pac-12 title race. But with the top two teams — Oregon and Washington — still on their schedule, the Beavers went 2-3 to close out the regular season, with losses to both the Ducks and Huskies as well as to the surprising Arizona Wildcats.

So, with no future schedule set in stone, a cold ending to their 2023 season and their coach leaving for a new job, what is in store for the Oregon State Beavers?

For starters, the Beavers wasted no time in finding Smith's replacement, as they promoted defensive coordinator Trent Bray to be their head coach. Bray, 41, played linebacker for the Beavers from 2002-05 and has been on the Oregon State coaching staff since 2018, starting off as the Beavers' linebacker coach. Bray has led the Beavers' defense, which has been the best in the Pac-12 since 2022, and he will want to continue that success.

Getting a coach helps keep players out of the transfer portal and will help keep current recruits from de-committing from the Beavers. Unfortunately, the program will already be losing at least one key player, with Uiagalelei entering his name into the transfer portal.

But how realistic is a 10-win season next year and later for a team that has had a difficult time recruiting? Currently, the Beavers rank 67th in the country in recruiting and last year finished with the 49th-best class, with just two four-star recruits between the two classes. The Beavers currently do not have a future in a conference — which means selling television exposure and conference prestige to a recruit is damn near impossible at this time.

Still, remaining an independent could benefit them if they build a strong schedule and use that as a selling point of exposure against the best teams in the country where NFL scouts will be in attendance.

In 2024, their current schedule just consists of three games, including a home contest against Purdue and an away game against Boise State. And looking ahead, in 2025, they have another Power Five matchup with Texas Tech in Lubbock, which they will host in 2026, and another matchup with a Mountain West team in Fresno State. Lastly, the Beavers have a home-and-home scheduled with Ole Miss in 2027 and 2030. So, what exactly does all of that mean? It means that they have a foundation in their future schedule to build off of whether they are an independent or a member of either a Power Four or a Group of Five Conference.

The Oregon State football program has been on the rise over the last two seasons but has now become collateral damage amid conference realignment. Many questions surround the Beavers and their future. Will they continue to rise and be among some of the best teams in the country? Or will the ramifications of changes in college football cause the Beavers to fall off and become average, and just be another team that plays on Saturday? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure: College football has been better and has been great with the Oregon State Beavers playing at a high level. Hopefully, at some point, they can get back to that same level of success.

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