The Associated Press

CORVALLIS, Ore. The feeling around Corvallis is unusual, unfamiliar and, to some, almost unbelievable.

Long-suffering Oregon State football fans are talking about a winning season.

The Beavers haven't been winners since they went 6-5 in 1970. They have been the doormat of all college football doormats. But maybe not for much longer.

"I really believe in my heart that Oregon State will go out this year and be competitive in every game," coach Jerry Pettibone said.

But, in the fourth year of their patient rebuilding effort, Pettibone and his staff are trying to keep the Beaver faithful from getting carried away.

"They've been starved for so long that they have a tendency to overeat," is the way offensive coordinator Mike Summers puts it.

Pettibone says repeatedly that the step from last year's 4-7 record to a winning season "is the most difficult step to take."

He's not promising a winner this year. But because of last year's performance, which included near misses against Washington, UCLA and Stanford, there is no avoiding the optimism.

If the Beavers can find a reliable punter, develop some new talent in the defensive line and avoid injuries in a few thin areas, this could be the most interesting season at Oregon State in nearly a quarter-century.

"Everyone on the team, including myself, is really tired of coming close to winning," quarterback Don Shanklin said. "Last year we got to the hump. This year everyone wants to get over it."

Most of the components return from the option offense that was second in NCAA Division I in rushing at 295.8 yards per game.

Chief among them is running back J.J. Young, who rushed for 955 yards and was a second team all Pac-10 selection last year. He averaged seven yards per carry, third-best in the nation, and topped the 100-yard mark in five contests.

"He's got the breakaway ability and speed that, every time he touches the ball, either from scrimmage, catching a pass or running back a kickoff, he can take it all the way," Pettibone said. "He's a great blocker. He's a tough guy who will play with injury."

Other returning halfbacks in the wishbone attack include Jason Barry and Cameron Reynolds. One-time quarterback Mark Olford, a wide receiver last year, has been moved to halfback behind Young. Running back Joe Douglass has been switched to wide receiver.

Fullbacks include veterans J.D. Stewart, John Young and Sedrick Thomas.

The offensive line includes 6-foot-1, 305-pound center John Feinga, 6-4, 279-pound guard John Garrett and 6-7, 288-pound tackle Tim Camp.

Shanklin, a prep standout in Amarillo, Texas, is a 22-year-old sophomore who beat out Rahim Muhammad for the starting quarterback job in the spring. Shanklin earned the starting job five games into last season and led the Beavers to a stunning 30-14 victory over Arizona State.

But he sprained his left foot while trying to score at the goal line late in the game.

The injury kept him out for the rest of the season and he regained the year's eligibility. Muhammad started the last five games, including victories over Pacific and close losses to Washington and UCLA.

Another sophomore, Adrian Woodson, saw lim ited action last year and is the third-string quarterback.

Shanklin insists there are no hard feelings among the quarterback contenders.

"We all know that you're going to use more than one quarterback on an option football team," he said. "That just reassures whoever the starter is that if I go down, there's somebody just as good or maybe even better than me who's going to take my spot."

The depth means the Beavers may redshirt freshman Tim Alexander, the Florida sensation who was rated the top running quarterback in the country last season.

OSU quarterbacks threw only 83 times last year. But Shanklin was 13-for-17 in his brief tenure and the passing game will be a much bigger part of the offense this season, Pettibone promises.

The Beavers open their season on the road Sept. 3 against Arizona State.

The days of teams looking past the Beavers are over, Pettibone believes.

"We're going to get everybody's best shot," he said. "We're not going to sneak up on anybody anymore." Read Next Article