What was once considered a dream season comes down to crunch time.
The Oregon State football team has two Pac-12 games left with no room for mistakes.
Opportunities for the North Division title are gone, and so, too, could be an at-large Bowl Championship Series bid.
The No. 15 Beavers enter today’s 7:30 p.m. showdown with California in a must-win situation to help their postseason bowl game positioning.
So many scenarios are out there, but a win here should at least secure a Holiday Bowl invitation. A loss sends them plummeting down the bowl pecking order.
“As of now I have no clue, anything can happen,” receiver Markus Wheaton said of the postseason. “There are still a lot of teams we are competing with. We just have to finish strong.”
The Beavers (7-2, 5-2) are the third-place team in the North behind Oregon and Stanford.
They need to win tonight because getting a win in the Civil War will be a daunting task with the way the top-ranked Ducks are playing.
If they finish with three losses, they’ll end up no worse than tied for third in the division with Washington. The win will also help improve their No. 16 spot in the BCS standings.
While the Beavers are not likely headed to a BCS game, bowl game selection committees look at BCS standings as one indicator to decide what team to pick.
“We just have to keep doing what we are doing,” Wheaton said. “We approach every game like it’s a huge one. We’ve come too far to give up now. We are just going to try and win this next game.”
Games to watch today besides the OSU game are Stanford-Oregon and UCLA-USC.
The Battle of Los Angeles will determine the South Division champion. With a win, the Ducks can keep the overall conference second-place pack tight among the L.A. teams, Stanford, OSU and surging Washington as a wild card.
“We are taking it one game at a time, but as we are getting close we are looking where we might end up,” running back Storm Woods said.
Bowl games with Pac-12 tie-ins now have a picking order. That means the Beavers could be of interest of the second-place Alamo Bowl on down through the Holiday, Sun and Las Vegas.
Holiday Bowl president Eric Graves already said the Beavers are a high-value pick for him since they’ve never been to the San Diego game and of coach Mike Riley’s history as a well-respected coach of the San Diego Chargers from 1998-2001.
However, they need to keep winning.
“It hurt. Any time you lose a game it’s hard,” cornerback Jordan Poyer said of last week’s setback. “What we do with that is learn from it. We still are a good team. We’ve only lost two games. And we have more games to get back in it.”
The Beavers are an attractive pick for any of the bowls since they’ve been in the national spotlight with a dramatic turnaround from last season’s 3-9 record, well-publicized trips to In-N-Out Burger after road wins and an ESPN special on Riley.
And the fan base is itching to attend a quality bowl game after two losing seasons. That satisfies a bowl game’s bottom line of people in seats spending money around town.
So with all the potential destinations, winning tonight is paramount. The Beavers must respond from the 27-23 loss to Stanford last weekend that likely cost them a BCS bowl bid.
“The loss is tough but the vibe of the team is to move on, and that’s exactly what we are going to do,” Poyer said. “Our opponent is Cal and that’s who we are focused on. We are going to play our best football game against Cal.”
After starting the season 6-0, the Beavers have lost two of the last three.
Players are handling the pressure of the tight season with consistent practices, Riley said, so he has no concern about finishing strong.
“We are giving everything we have week in and week out and we put in a lot in the week,” Poyer said. “When we lose, we know the fans are disappointed, but so are we. What we do with it is use that for motivation the next week to do more work to come out on top.”
The Beavers face a desperate Cal (3-8, 2-6) team playing its last game of the season, and potentially the last one for coach Jeff Tedford, who has the dreaded publicized meeting with the athletic director after the game.
Then it’s on to juggernaut Oregon in the Civil War. So a win today will ease the slide and build momentum for the rivalry game.
“The guys are looking forward to Cal,” Woods said. “Coach Riley harped on not letting Stanford make us lose this game. We are going to not make the same mistakes that caused us to lose to Stanford.”