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IT IS RARE FOR A COACH TO WHITTLE HIS TEAM'S CHANCES DOWN to the development of a single player. Oregon State's Mike Riley has a long list of wants—cohesion along the offensive line, the quick development of some inexperienced linebackers—but he admits that the Beavers' season likely hinges on one man: first-time starting quarterback Ryan Katz.
"If he performs the way we believe he can, all the pieces are in place," Riley says. "Everyone likes Ryan. He is unflappable and has that physical toughness you look for. He has all the tools. Will he put it all together for us?"
If he does, Oregon State could find itself in the Rose Bowl. The team is loaded with skill players, including running back and Heisman Trophy candidate Jacquizz Rodgers and a handful of experienced and talented wideouts that include Jacquizz's older brother, James, an All-Pac-10 performer last year. The offensive line is solid, and the defense has three returning starters in the secondary, including junior Cameron Collins (70 tackles in 2009) and senior Suaesi Tuimaunei. As Riley suggests, the pieces are in place, with one big exception. "Last season [Sean] Canfield really understood when to take the shot downfield and when to drop it off to Quizz. Just that understanding took him from a 60% passer to a 70% passer," Riley says of the Beavers' '09 quarterback, who was drafted by the New Orleans Saints. "We have to get Ryan to the point where he has that understanding and timing."
There is reason to believe that Katz will get there. A 6' 1", 210-pound redshirt sophomore from Santa Monica, Calif., he turned down offers from Oregon, Washington and Utah to play for the Beavers. He is a better athlete than Canfield—the bootleg could become another weapon in the Oregon State attack—and he has a bigger arm. "He can throw it through a wall. We just don't always know which wall," Riley jokes.
Katz looked good in the spring, and in the early summer he organized workouts with the wideouts and backs to build a better rapport. "I've been playing QB since I was seven, and I've been here for two years learning," Katz says. "There are things I need to get better at, but I think I can have a good season. I know what my job is: Get the ball to Quizz and our playmakers, and let them do their thing."
COACH Mike Riley (8th year)
56-33 (37-23 in Pac-10)