Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks (7) gives a thumbs up to Oregon State fans from the sidelines during the final seconds against California on Saturday. Oregon State won 49-17.
Oregon State's Brandin Cooks is certainly well known to opposing Pac-12 coaches.
"He's fearless. He's not very big, but he's very physical," Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. "He can go up and get a football with two or three people around him."
Said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham: "So far nobody's seemed to have an answer for him."
But Stanford coach David Shaw put it most succinctly: "Wow."
Cooks is the nation's leading receiver that no one outside the Pac-12 has heard about -- although that's changing. He ranks ahead of all FBS-level receivers with 10.9 catches and 168 receiving yards per game. He ranks second in scoring with 12 points a game, and fifth for all-purpose yards with an average of 184.1 yards a game.
He is considered a front-runner for the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver, and he's even getting some Heisman whispers.
"I haven't really thought about that to be honest," Cooks said about the attention. "We want to keep winning. Whether I have a great game or not, it's all about the team. It's about the W."
The junior is by far the favorite target of Sean Mannion, who himself is the national leader for both yards passing (427.4 per game) and total offense (414.3 per game).
"He is just very talented, very driven and very savvy. He gets it," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said about Cooks. "That's because he cares and he's spent a lot of time with football in his life. This is not an accident. This is accumulation of a lot of work and a lot of great chemistry with his quarterback."
Last season, Cooks was half of a receiving duo with Markus Wheaton that was the highlight of Oregon State's offense. They were considered among the best wide receiver pairs in the conference, along with USC's Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. Wheaton has since moved on to the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cooks had 1,151 yards receiving as a sophomore to average 88.5 yards per game last season. He led the conference with an average of 17.2 yards per catch, ranked No. 2 nationally, and had five touchdowns.
"Even a year ago, there was a lot of talk throughout the league, not just coming from Oregon State, that they had the best receiver duo with Wheaton and Cooks. And I was the first that kept saying it was USC until I saw them (Oregon State) on film. Then I kind of backed off my talk, and it was really both of them," Shaw said. "But the way Cooks is playing right now, there's nobody that he hasn't gotten behind. They've tried to double cover him, they've tried to play off him, and even when they play off him, he still runs past them."
In the offseason, Cooks bulked up, adding 10 pounds to his 5-foot-10 frame to reach about 182. Riley said the extra weight has given Cooks added strength.
Oregon State was ranked No. 25 in the preseason, but the opener was a disaster with the Beavers falling 49-46 to lower-division Eastern Washington. They've rebounded since, winning six straight and going undefeated in four conference games, and they were ranked No. 25 in the BCS rankings released on Sunday.
The Beavers were coming off a 49-17 victory at California. Cooks caught 13 passes for a career-high 232 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 10 yards and another score. Mannion threw for 481 yards and four touchdowns.
"We tried to get our hands on him, rolled coverage to him, jammed him at the line of scrimmage, played a linebacker outside of the box more to his side. We did a lot of things," Cal coach Sonny Dykes said about Cooks. "He made a lot of competitive plays on the football. He is a heck of a football player. That is what good players do, make plays when they have an opportunity to do so. He did it over and over again."
Oregon State faces arguably its greatest challenge of the season on Saturday against No. 8 Stanford (6-1, 4-1). The undefeated Oregon Ducks and Oregon State sit on top of the Pac-12 North standings as the only undefeated teams in conference play.
Stanford, which suffered a 27-21 upset loss to Utah on Oct. 12, rebounded with a 24-10 victory over UCLA last weekend.
"Stanford's a great team. They lost to Utah and then got that fire back and beat UCLA this weekend. We know we have our hands full coming up this week, but we're not going to back down from nobody," Cooks said.