Oregon State has an opportunity on Saturday to end its standout season with a statement win.
The No. 17 Beavers face Florida at 11:30 a.m. in the Las Vegas Bowl with a chance to finish a 10-win season with a victory over an SEC team.
Granted, Florida is not the power it used to be — the Gators are 6-6 overall and went 3-5 in the SEC — but an Oregon State victory would be symbolically significant.
Florida has won three national championships in the past 27 years — 1996, 2006 and 2008.
The game will be played at the Las Vegas Raiders’ home, Allegiant Stadium.
“We’re excited about a big-time stadium, big-time opponent, and a location our fans can get to,” Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith said. “There’s a lot to play for. I feel really good about the momentum of the program.”
Think back to 2017, when head coach Gary Andersen quit midway through a 1-11 Oregon State season, and the notion of the Beavers beating an SEC blue blood would have been laughable.
But Oregon State now has that opportunity as a 10-point favorite in the Las Vegas Bowl.
That’s the power of what Smith has done with the Beavers since taking over prior to the 2018 season.
Oregon State is 9-3 and went 6-3 in the Pac-12 in Smith’s fifth season, in which he was named co-Pac-12 Coach of the Year by the conference’s coaches.
“This league this year is highlighted by teams that are really tough to beat,” Smith said about the Pac-12. “For our league, we feel really proud that we’ve finished like we have.”
The Beavers go into the Las Vegas Bowl on a roll, having won six of the past seven games, including a stunning 38-34 rivalry comeback win Nov. 26 against No. 15 Oregon.
Many teams this bowl season will be missing players because of NFL draft declarations and the transfer portal, and Florida will be down quite a few.
The Gators enter the bowl game on a two-game losing streak, with losses to Vanderbilt and Florida State.
Florida is No. 32 in the nation in total offense at 441.2 yards per game. Oregon State is No. 32 in the nation in total defense, allowing 342.2 yards per game.
One of the Florida players who won’t be competing in the bowl game is quarterback Anthony Richardson, who is going to sit out in anticipation of the NFL draft.
Richardson has thrown for 2,549 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He’s also rushed for 654 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Gators also will be without backup quarterback Jalen Kitna, who was dismissed from the team after an arrest.
Jack Miller III is expected to make his first college start at quarterback for Florida.
The Gators will have a strong duo at running back, with Montrell Johnson Jr. (827 rushing yards, 11 total touchdowns) and Trevor Etienne (705 rushing yards, six total touchdowns).
Oregon State is No. 59 in total offense at 399.6 yards per game. Florida is No. 103 in the nation in total defense at 415.8 yards allowed per game.
Ben Gulbranson is 6-1 as the starting quarterback for the Beavers. He has thrown for 1,290 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions. Gulbranson also has four rushing touchdowns.
Damien Martinez leads Oregon State in rushing with 970 yards on 158 carries, and he has scored seven total touchdowns.
Tre’Shaun Harrison is the Beavers’ leading receiver with 52 catches for 604 yards, and he has scored four total touchdowns.
Oregon State wide receiver and returner Anthony Gould has missed the past two games with an injury. His status for the bowl game is unknown.
The Beavers are clear favorites in the game, and they should finish with a historic 10-win season.
“It’s a chance for our league to take another step forward in these bowl games, and obviously we want Oregon State to be a part of that,” Smith said. “The opportunity to win 10 games would mean a lot to our program.”
About the Las Vegas Bowl
Who: Oregon State vs. Florida
When: 11:30 a.m. Saturday
Where: Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas
Records: Oregon State (9-3 overall, 6-3); Florida (6-6 overall, 3-5 SEC)
Line: Oregon State by 10
Prediction: Oregon State 35, Florida 17