Recruiting class bolsters Beavers
Observations about Jonathan Smith's second full recruiting class and what to expect from the 2020 Oregon State Beavers …
• "We think we knocked it out of the park with some quality additions," the coach said about his crop of 19 letter-of-intent signees.
Under the circumstances, I'll settle for a stand-up double.
Oregon State football seems on the rise after a 5-7 season in 2019, which makes it easier to attract top talent. The Beavers' haul is not in the same area code as that of Washington or Oregon, but there are players who will fill immediate needs and others who will develop into contributors in the future. They got into doors they wouldn't have entered if they'd had another 2-10 campaign.
What really needs to happen next season is a bowl appearance by the Beavers, who have not had one since 2013. That would open more doors in the recruiting wars.
The website 247 Sports rated Oregon State's recruiting class ninth-best in the Pac-12 and 48th nationally. The rankings: Washington 14, Oregon 16, Stanford 22, UCLA 28, California 33, Colorado 34, Arizona State 35, Utah 36, Oregon State 48, WSU 61, Arizona 70 and Southern Cal 79.
Let's stop there for a minute. The great USC, last in the Pac-12 in recruiting, with one four-star and no five-star prospects? Johnny McKay is rolling over in his grave. John Robinson and Pete Carroll are shaking their noggins in disbelief.
From what I know of Clay Helton, the SC coach is a class act. But finishing behind Bowling Green, Troy and North Texas on the national recruiting list isn't going to win points with SC alums, many of whom had already soured on the coach.
Part of successful coaching is recruiting well. An equally important component is developing talent. Ex-OSU coach Mike Riley routinely mined pearls from lowly rated recruiting classes and also had a slough of walk-ons who achieved greatness (Jonathan Smith, Mike Hass, Alexis Serna, Slade Norris, et al.) I have a feeling Smith and his staff will be strong in the development department, which to me is more rewarding than riding the coat tails of five-stars. Even though it would be nice to have a few of them.
• Smith: "We did a great job of identifying our needs, chasing our guys and then being able to hold onto them. There were some competitive battles we were able to win."
That was among the most impressive things to me about Smith's class. Over the past 40-some years, when Oregon State has gone head-to-head with conference rivals or national powers, it's been carnage most of the time.
The Beavers lost plenty of their targets, but won a good number of duels, too. Offensive tackle Taliese Fuaga had scholarship offers from Oregon and USC. Quarterback Ben Gulbranson had offers from California and Arizona State. Prize running back Isaiah Newell chose OSU over Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado. Tight end Jake Overman had offers from Washington, Arizona, Cal and Boise State. Oregon, Utah, Arizona State and UCLA coveted defensive end Tavis Shippen. Colorado, Texas A&M and Boise State were among those who wanted cornerback Alton Julian. Almost ever OSU signee had at least one other Power Five offer.
• Oregon State will welcome 21 newcomers, including defensive end Charles Moore, a transfer from Auburn who was on campus during the fall, and offensive tackle Korbin Sorensen, a grad transfer from Portland State. The group breaks down this way: Two quarterbacks, one running back, two tight ends, three receivers, three offensive linemen, four defensive linemen, two linebackers and four defensive backs.
"We're across the board positionally," Smith said. "I like the mix between JC guys and freshmen."
All four of the future members of OSU's secondary are junior-college transfers. In 50-some years following Beaver football, I can't remember four JC defensive backs arriving in the same recruiting class. That means secondary coach Blue Adams felt the need for immediate help.
Cornerbacks Julian and Rezjohn Wright — brother of Nahshon Wright, who started at corner much of the past season — will vie for time at corner and the nickel next season with such returnees as Jaydon Grant, Isaiah Dunn, JoJo Forest and Alex Austin.
Ron Hardge and Johnathan Riley will compete with the likes of returnees David Morris and Akili Arnold for time at safety in 2020.
• The starting quarterback spot will likely be a duel between sophomore Chance Nolan, the signee from Saddleback JC in Mission Viejo, California, and junior Tristan Gebbia, who replaced an injured Jake Luton in this year's Civil War contest.
The other QB in the recruiting class, prep senior Gulbranson, will learn the system and likely redshirt in 2020.
Smith has his quarterbacks nicely spread out by class, with juniors Gebbia, Nick Moore and Aidan Willard (if he chooses to return), sophomore Nolan and freshman Gulbranson.
• Nolan, who picked Oregon State over Utah and Oklahoma State, may be unlike any quarterback since Terry Baker with his ability to pass and run. One scouting service tabbed the 6-2, 200-pound Nolan — who threw for 3,315 yards and 38 touchdowns with six interceptions and rushed for 1,069 yards and six TDs at Saddleback — as the No. 1 dual-threat JC quarterback in the country.
But don't expect Smith and O-coodinator Brian Lindgren to convert to a spread-option attack to take advantage of Nolan's rushing talents.
"He's athletic, but he's a passer first," Smith said. "I describe him as a point guard out there."
• Newell enters a crowded running back stable, led by juniors Jermar Jefferson and B.J. Baylor. Behind them are junior Calvin Tyler, sophomore Kase Rogers and redshirt freshman Ta'Ron Madison.
• I think all six of the JC transfers will play immediately, especially Shippen. He and Moore could well wind up starters on Lega Suianoa's three-man defensive front, which often turned into a two-man front last season. Junior Isaac Hodgins is a mainstay and senior Simon Sandberg came on at the end of the season. Senior Jordan Whittley, perhaps the most talented of the bunch, has to get into better shape to command playing time.
• At 6-5 and 325, Fuaga may be in position to contend for a starting offensive line job as a true freshman, a rare occurrence in college football. The 6-6, 305-pound Sorensen should also be a factor after starting the last two seasons at Portland State.
Seniors Nous Keubounnam and Nate Eldridge and junior Brandon Kipper are likely to nail down starting spots on the O-line. Other prime contenders include junior Onesimus Clarke and sophomores Joshua Gray and Jake Levengood.
• Nine of the recruits will enroll in January, including both quarterbacks. Nolan will have three seasons to play, as will JC transfers Shippen, Julian and Riley. That's been a trademark of Smith's recruiting efforts thus far. If he's going to dip into the JC ranks, he'd like to get three years out of the player.
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