Two teams with proven offenses and questionable defenses will square off in Corvallis, Oregon when Arizona State takes a trip up to Oregon State. In Tempe last season, Arizona State's defense stepped up in a fairly easy 30-17 victory over the Beavers. But Mike Riley's offense is too good to not improve this year against the Sun Devils. Whether their defense will step up is the question. Here are three players to look out for.
Offense: Sean Mannion (6-foot-5, 220 pounds)
If you could take Mike Riley's brain and make it create the perfect quarterback to run his system, it would be Sean Mannion. Headed into his senior year, he already owns 11 Beaver passing records and is on the verge of setting the rest of them. He threw a staggering 603 passes in 2013, nearly doubling his attempts numbers from 2012. He completed a jaw-dropping 400 of them, 37 going for touchdowns as he threw for 4,662 yards on the year.
After losing a crushing game to Eastern Washington 49-46, Mannion caught fire, leading the Beavers to a six-game winning streak. But the danger of throwing the ball 603 times is that it allows for more interceptions, and boy, did Mannion throw a lot of those. In three years as the starter for Oregon State, he's thrown for 68 touchdowns compared to 46 interceptions. That's a lot of touchdowns but an especially high amount of picks. Last year against the Sun Devils, Mannion went 31-46 in throwing for 320 yards and two touchdowns, but he also was picked off by the Sun Devil secondary four times.
Mannion puts up big numbers, and against weak defenses will torch your secondary, but he makes a lot of mental mistakes. Add that to the fact that All-American and Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks bolted for the professional ranks and Mannion looks more vulnerable.
Defense: Steven Nelson (5-foot-11, 195 pounds)
Nelson transferred to Oregon State in December of 2012 from a junior college, and caught fire in his first season in Corvallis. He started nine games and led Beaver cornerbacks with 62 tackles and eight pass breakups. He also intercepted six passes on the year, including a game-winning pick-six interception return against San Diego State.
In junior college Nelson contributed on special teams as well as defense, but has yet to bring his versatility and speed to punt and kick returns at Oregon State, but he could this season. Named to the Bronko Nagurski Award (national defensive player of the year) watch list, Nelson is a former track star who is dangerous with or without the ball in his hands.
Offense: Richard Mullaney (6-foot-3, 199 pounds)
Mullaney was the other, non-Bradin Cooks, starting wide receiver for Oregon State last year, but still managed to put up solid numbers in Cooks' shadow. He hauled in 58 balls for 733 yards and three touchdowns in 2013, and will be looked to in 2014 to step up in Cooks' absence.
If you haven't seen much of Mullaney, he's a legitimate talent as the featured wide receiver. His ball skills and hand-eye coordination aid him greatly in catching jump balls (his 6-foot-3 frame also helps) and he excelled in making last-second adjustments to catches. I watched film on him and he made a catch coming across the field where the ball was thrown behind him. He just reached back, completely disregarding his own momentum and contorting himself to make a catch that requires much more athleticism than one would guess. Mullaney isn't the pure talent that Cooks was, but his height and ability to adjust at the last second make him a threat to opposing defenses.