CORVALLIS, Ore. — The difference in Sean Mannion is marked: The once soft-spoken and reserved quarterback for Oregon State has blossomed into a confident full-fledged leader in his senior season for the Beavers.
"I think it's just growing older and getting more comfortable in your surroundings," said Mannion, a fifth-year senior. "At this point I've been here four, going on five years. You get comfortable with everyone and you get a feel about how to talk with your teammates about whatever is going on, good or bad. It happens with experience."
A perfect fit in Oregon State's pro-style offense, Mannion set a Pac-12 season record for yards passing last season with 4,662. He threw an Oregon State-record 37 touchdown passes, third-most for a single season in conference history.
Mannion, who has 10,436 career yards passing, needs 1,839 more this season to pass USC's Matt Barkley as the all-time Pac-12 leader. The Beavers open the season at home Saturday against Portland State.
His favorite target last season was Brandin Cooks, who became the Biletnikoff award winner as the nation's top receiver, setting a league record with 128 catches and a national-best 1,730 yards.
Cooks declared for the NFL draft a year early and went to the New Orleans Saints in the first round.
Mannion weighed his options and consulted the NFL Draft Advisory Board, which projected him as a third-round selection.
"I thought over the NFL, but ultimately I thought I could still make improvements at the college level. I know someday I want to go to the NFL, but I want to know I became the best college player I could first," he said. "From there it was an easy decision — I love it here at Oregon State. There's nowhere that I'd rather be right now, improving as a player and helping our team win games this season."
Oregon State coach Mike Riley couldn't be happier.
"I'm really proud of him just because he's a great young man in our program, (going) from a guy that was probably what I would call relatively shy when he was a freshman into being now a guy that is not only a leader by example, but a vocal leader, too," Riley said at Pac-12 media day.
Just a season ago in fall camp, Mannion was competing with Cody Vaz for the starting job. Mannion came out on top, but got off to a rocky start when the Beavers fell 49-46 at home to lower-division Eastern Washington in the season opener.
The Beavers rebounded and reeled off six straight wins to become bowl eligible seven games into the season. Along the way, the 6-foot-5 Mannion was widely considered a Heisman hopeful.
But Oregon State lost its remaining five regular-season games. The slide ended with a 38-23 victory over Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl, giving the Beavers a 7-6 finish.
Mannion said the season was a learning experience for everyone. He feels Oregon State is stronger for it heading into the game against the Big Sky's Vikings.
"I think everyone who is back from last season knows you have to play one week at a time — it's a cliche I know. But really you've got to focus on what you can do each day to improve and only have your one opponent in mind," Mannion said. "I think taking that approach will help us avoid some of the pitfalls we had last season."
As for Mannion's goals? That's pretty simple.
"A Rose Bowl," he said. "That's it. That's all that matters to me."