Evanson: OSU's Smith is on his way, or is he already there?
Nothing is easy for Oregon State football — and their coach wouldn't want it any other way.
Five years ago, when Jonathan Smith was hired as the Beavers' new head coach, he made it clear that he knew how to win in Corvallis. He was an afterthought recruit, an undersized college quarterback, and an assistant who simply worked his way from Idaho to Montana, Boise State to Washington, and finally to Oregon State, where he rather appropriately made his head coaching debut. His success is rooted in the hard work that got him where he is today, and it's that same hard work that will get his program where he wants it to go.
Blue-chip recruits are few and far between in Corvallis, and in fact, Oregon State has averaged 68th in recruiting rankings over the past five years under Smith.
Their facilities are fine, but not elite.
Their history boils down to a Heisman Trophy in 1962, and a Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame nearly 40 years later.
And beyond that, you have a lot of losing, a couple handfuls of small to mid-tier bowl games, and a couple near-misses in the 2000s that could've put the Beavers in their first Rose Bowl since 1965.
As a result, they'll likely never have the "big boy" talent that makes winning at the "big boy" level a consistently reasonable expectation. That's not a knock on the program, but rather the harsh reality for 90% of the FBS schools playing a rigged game.
My guess is that Smith knows that, but at the same time, he knows that's part of the challenge he's been facing his whole life.
At 5-foot-10 and anything but fleet of foot, he wasn't supposed to play quarterback at the then Pac-10 level. He certainly wasn't supposed to win, and leading a team to a Fiesta Bowl victory over one of the sport's most historic programs en route to a No. 4 ranking to end the year was beyond even Smith's dreams.
So, while five-star recruits might make it easier, easy isn't what Smith or his program are or need to be built on.
The Beavers are 2-0 to start the season with a home win over Boise State and a last-second road triumph over Fresno State last Saturday night. In the wake of those victories, people in and outside the program are starting to talk — or maybe wonder aloud — about a team that they feel may have arrived.
When Smith showed up in 2017, the program was in shambles. Gary Anderson had quit midway through the previous season. Leading up to his shameful departure, he had stewarded two- and four-win seasons, and he watched from a distance as his team managed just a single win after he left the sinking ship. Since then, his replacement has been shepherding in the available players he needs to compete and building a culture to help make them competitive — and it's working.
Boise State isn't what they once were, but they're still a relatively solid and prideful program.
And Fresno State? They too are no threat to the upper crust of the collegiate game, but with a very good senior quarterback and two outstanding receivers, along with a 6-0 record against the Beavers in Fresno, it was never going to be easy sledding for OSU.
So, while not surprised by either win, most will tell you it's noteworthy that this year's Beavs found a way to win those games rather than lose them like they maybe would've in the past.
Maybe it was good fortune?
Or maybe a sign of not what's coming, but what's already here?
A team that may not look the part, but one that gets the job done in spite of it — like their coach.
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