During the past three years, no team has struggled to win in the Pac-12 like Oregon State.

The Beavers are 5-22 in conference play since 2014, outscored by an average of 14.7 points per game.

Entering the third year of the Gary Andersen era, however, the tide appears to be turning. This month, BuffZone.com is previewing each of Colorado's opponents, with this installment focusing on the Beavers, who will host the Buffs on Oct. 14.

"I feel like the kids really feel like they belong and I don't think you can discount that," Andersen told the OSU media earlier this week. "They believe they can physically match up. In this game of football that we play, if you believe you can physically match up, you have an opportunity. If you don't physically match up, it's going to be very hard to compete."

After a dismal 2-10 mark in Andersen's first season, in 2015, the Beavers improved to 4-8 (3-6 Pac-12) last season, closing the year with back-to-back wins. Although those two wins were against last-place teams — Arizona (South) and Oregon (North) — they may have been an indication of things to come.

By season's end last year, the Beavers were significantly improved from the squad that lost 47-6 in Boulder on Oct. 1. Andersen believes the Beavers made even more progress this offseason.

"I think our kids understand that this is a highly competitive league," Andersen said. "We all feel here that we're in the best league in the country and we're proud to say that and we understand we have to prepare every day and every week to play against some of the best people in the country."


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To improve in the win column, Andersen identified two keys: better quarterback play and more big plays on defense.

Using three different quarterbacks last season — including returnees Marcus McMaryion and Darell Garretson — the Beavers were last in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency.

McMaryion, Garretson and 6-foot-7, 230-pound junior college transfer Jake Luton (who began his career at Idaho) will compete for the starting job in the fall. Andersen said all three have good qualities, but OSU needs one to stand out.

"We want to be able to get ourselves in a spot to be able to find a quarterback that can make the game-changing plays," he said in the spring.

The Beavers have some game-changing talent at running back. The top two rushers from last year — Ryan Nall and Artavis Pierce — are back, and former Oregon tailback Thomas Tyner joined the team this summer.

Defensively, eight starters are back and they'll look to improve upon the 30.5 points per game they allowed last year. Andersen believes the key for the defense is more sacks (conference-worst 18 last year) and more turnovers (20 last year).

With better play at quarterback and on defense, the Beavers could be one of the most improved teams in the Pac-12 and reach a bowl for the first time since 2013.

"I never really set expectations on wins and losses," Andersen said. "I think they are where I want them to be from a mentality standpoint."

CU opponent preview: Oregon State Beavers

Date with CU: Oct. 14, at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Ore., time TBA

Head coach: Gary Andersen, 3rd season (6-18; 55-56 career)

Series: Oregon State leads 5-4

Beavers in 2016: 4-8, 3-6 in Pac-12

Returning starters: 14 - 6 on offense, 8 on defense

Offensive players to watch: LT Blake Brandel, So. (started at RT last season); WR Seth Collins, Jr. (36 catches, 418 yards, 1 TD); QB Darell Garretson, Sr. (73-of-146, 617 yards, 3 TD, 4 INT; rushing: 41 att., 174 yards, 3 TD); WR Timmy Hernandez, Jr. (19 catches, 214 yards, 1 TD); QB Jake Luton, Jr. (transfer from Ventura C.C.); QB Marcus McMaryion, Jr. (101-of-170, 1,286 yards, 10 TD, 5 INT; rushing: 29 att., 75 yards, 1 TD); RB Ryan Nall, Jr. (147 att., 951 yards, 13 TD; 22 catches, 214 yards, 2 TD); RB Artavis Pierce, So. (98 att., 523 yards, 4 TD; 21 catches, 132 yards, 1 TD); RB Thomas Tyner, Jr. (transfer from Oregon).

Defensive players to watch: S Brandon Arnold, Sr. (68 tackles, 1 INT); CB Xavier Crawford, So. (70 tackles, 10 PBU, 1 INT); NT Sumner Houston, Jr. (13 tackles); ILB Andrzej Hughes-Murray, So. (24 tackles, 3 TFL); ILB Manase Hungalo, Sr. (83 tackles, 1 INT, 3 fumble recoveries); DE Baker Pritchard, Sr. (23 tackles, 0.5 sacks); OLB Bright Ugwoegbu, Jr. (54 tackles, 11 TFL, 5.5 sacks); DT Kalani Vakameilalo, Jr. (17 tackles, 2 sacks).

Notable: Oregon State begins its fall camp on Tuesday and opens the season Aug. 26 against Colorado State in Fort Collins. ... Nall averaged 7.2 yards per carry in Pac-12 play, the most of any running back with at least 100 carries. ... Former Oregon running back Thomas Tyner is now with the Beavers. Tyner has not played since the 2014 season and medically retired from football in the spring of 2016, but has since transferred in an attempt to make a comeback. If he's healthy, he could give a huge boost to the offense. In two seasons as a backup at Oregon, he rushed for 1,284 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. ... Crawford was named a USA Today freshman All-American. ... The Beavers have allowed at least 30.5 points per game in each of the last four seasons. ... OSU was 4-3 at home and 0-5 on the road last season. ... The Beavers enter the season with a 13-game road losing streak since a 36-31 win in Boulder on Oct. 4, 2014.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.