Sean Mannion went into last year’s fall camp uncertain whether he would be the starter. This season, the uncertainty centers on who will emerge as his go-to receiver.
Mannion set a Pac-12 season record for yards passing with 4,662 and threw an Oregon State-record 37 touchdown passes, third-most for a single season in conference history.
The fifth-year senior has 10,436 career yards passing and could break Matt Barkley’s record of 12,274 before the end of the season.
A drop-back passer who fits perfectly into coach Mike Riley’s pro-style offense, Mannion is on the preseason watch lists for a slew of honors, including the Walter Camp, Davey O’Brien and Maxwell awards.
But he’ll need a new favorite target now that Brandin Cooks has moved on to the New Orleans Saints.
Cooks won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver. As a junior last season, he set Pac-12 records with 128 catches for 1,730 yards. He also broke the school record with 16 touchdown receptions.
The heir apparent appears to be Richard Mullaney, who caught 52 passes for 788 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore last season. Sophomore Victor Bolden is expected to slide into Cooks’ spot at flanker, and redshirt freshman Hunter Jarmon could also see playing time.
“I think that we’ve got quite a few guys with capabilities. And frankly, it’s gonna be a matter of who plays the best in camp,” Riley said last week in a conference call with reporters who cover the team. “A lot of them haven’t played very much, so they gotta come fast and make plays in camp and become reliable.”
Oregon State opened fall camp on Monday. Last season, the Beavers finished 7-6, capping off the year with a 38-23 victory over Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl.
This season opens at home on Aug. 30 against Big Sky opponent Portland State.
Mannion competed for the starter’s job in camp last season with Cody Vaz, although it became quickly apparent that Mannion would get Riley’s nod.
He stumbled at the start when the Beavers lost at home to lower-division Eastern Washington in the opener, but rebounded to lead Oregon State to six straight wins.
Mannion was considered a Heisman hopeful until a five-game losing streak closed out Oregon State’s regular season.
There were questions following the season about whether Mannion would turn pro like Cooks. The 6-foot-5 quarterback said he consulted the NFL Draft Advisory Board and was projected as a third-round selection.
Mannion, who has his degree in liberal studies, decided to stick with the Beavers, and spent the summer making himself better.
He went to the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana, where he roomed with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. He joined fellow quarterbacks including Utah’s Travis Wilson as a counselor at the Nike Elite 11 camp run by Trent Dilfer.
And he worked out when he could with Oregon State’s young receivers and fellow quarterbacks.
“I think the course that he took when he looked into coming out put him on the radar as far as people talking more about him, whether it was to be in the NFL or you folks in the media,” Riley said. “But I think the biggest factor is he’s a good player with a lot of good numbers, so he belongs in any conversation about quarterbacking in this country right now.”