LAS VEGAS — No. 17 Oregon State rolls into the Las Vegas Bowl off a victory over rival Oregon, with six wins in seven games and the chance to make school history.
Only two Beavers teams have reached double-digit wins, the first time in 2000 when Jonathan Smith was the quarterback.
Now Smith is the Beavers’ coach and hopes to achieve 10 victories for the first time since 2006, which Oregon State (9-3) will reach if it beats Florida (6-6) on Saturday (11:30 a.m., ESPN).
“That’s the No. 1 thing, get the 10th win,” Oregon State right guard Brandon Kipper said. “We’ve talked about it all week. We’ve talked about it all season. Getting that 10th win is a big deal, especially in Oregon State history.”
Oregon State faces Florida quarterback Jack Miller, who will make his first start of the season. Just a few weeks ago, he was No. 3 on the depth chart. But starter Anthony Richardson declared for the NFL draft and backup Jalen Kitna was arrested on child-pornography charges and released from the program.
However, Miller might not be a typical No. 3. He was a touted transfer from Ohio State and likely No. 2 QB, but reportedly broke his thumb in preseason.
“You see a little different look in his eye,” Florida coach Billy Napier said. “He’s excited about the opportunity to play, and he’s worked hard. He’s got the respect of his teammates. I’m excited to watch him play.”
Vegas Bowl experience
It’s Florida’s first appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl, but not the first for wide receiver Ricky Pearsall.
He played for Arizona State in last year’s game, catching four passes for 65 yards in a 20-13 loss to Wisconsin. Pearsall said he shared his experiences with his Florida teammates.
“It’s Vegas, so it speaks for itself,” Pearsall said. “I feel like they do a really good job here with everybody on staff creating a good bowl environment. And, obviously, the stadium is beautiful.”
Pearsall leads the Gators with 596 yards and five touchdowns receiving. His 29 catches are tied for second on the team.
Kipper considered stepping away from Oregon State after last season. He’d been there five years and earned his degree.
But the Beavers lost 24-13 to Utah State in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl, and Kipper knew he had to return.
“I knew there was still unfinished business here,” Kipper said. “I really wanted to see this program make a full change before I left. So I felt coming back one more year, I had the opportunity to contribute to that, to really leave an impact on the school. It was a very clear and easy choice to make.”
Not sitting out
Many players who declare for the NFL draft skip bowl games so they can prepare and lessen the chances of injury.
That’s not what Florida defensive tackle Gervon Dexter Sr. chose. He said it wasn’t a difficult decision to play in this game despite receiving a second-round grade by scouts.
“We earned the right to play in this bowl game, and so I felt it was right for me to play one last game with my teammates and my brothers,” Dexter said.
Oregon State has rewarded Smith with an new contract that takes him through the 2028 season. He will receive an annual guaranteed salary of $4.85 million beginning March 1, with the deal increasing by $100,000 each year.
The school also committed to additional money for assistant coaches. Defensive coordinator Trent Bray had his contract extended through the 2024 season.
With Smith in charge, the Beavers have gone from twice winning two games — once during the COVID-shortened 2020 season — to 7-6 in 2021 and now 9-3.
“We’re progressing the right way,” Smith said. “We haven’t reached the pinnacle, but I think (this bowl) shows progression.”