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Race for the North: Oregon State

It’s way too early to have a good sense of how things will play out in the Pac-12 next season, but we're past the point where it’s OK to start trying to figure it out anyway. With some teams in the middle of spring practice, some just getting started, and others set to begin in a few weeks, it feels like a good time to try to gauge expectations for next season. Over the next two weeks, we’ll take stock of each team in the Pac-12 and see how things are shaping up for 2017. Next up from the North: Oregon State.

Oregon State’s role in the division race: The Beavers are still in a building mode. Make no mistake, last season was a crucial step in Oregon State’s growth, but 2017 will continue to be a slog in which nothing will come easy -- Washington and Washington State both return a lot of their talent; Oregon has been reinvigorated by the hiring of Willie Taggart (while also returning a lot of talent). Given the number of players returning for all of those teams, as well as a Stanford outfit that figures to be competitive in the North race, this probably isn’t the year for Gary Andersen's Beavers to win it all. But with running back Ryan Nall, who’s now a proven commodity (assuming the offensive line can pull it together) and some hope with the quarterback competition and wide-receiver depth, the Beavers could be a team that throws a wrench into the plans of some of those teams that do figure to compete for the North.

What constitutes success: Being more competitive against the best teams in the conference. In 2016, the Beavers lost by 41 to the Pac-12 South champion and by 24 to the Pac-12 North champion. Their next step will come by competing better against the top tier. An upset here or there is one thing (and it gives a team momentum and confidence), but being able to truly play down-for-down with the league's top talent will be the next big sign that things are moving forward in Corvallis.

Summer priorities: The Beavers ended spring without much clarity on which quarterback would be its go-to guy come fall. Andersen said he felt Jake Luton, Marcus McMaryion and Darell Garretson could all be that guy but that the decision would come down to which player could make those special plays that can keep an offense moving. That comes down to chemistry, timing and comfort within the offense (and, yes, sometimes luck). Players can control those first three aspects, and Luton, McMaryion and Garretson should all be spending their summer honing those parts of their games. If the Beavers can come into the 2017 with a quarterback who is head and shoulders above the rest, they have a chance to find success -- being competitive with the top talent in the league -- but if not, they’ll have a year similar to 2016 in which they rotate their carousel of QBs in search of a semi-fit.