It's tempting to look at what happened to Oregon State in its season-opening football game and make a sweeping judgment.

Although favored by four touchdowns over Sacramento State, a middling Football Championship Subdivision club, the Beavers endured a 29-28 overtime loss at home.

It was the first time since 1996 the Pac-12 Conference outfit succumbed to a non-Football Bowl Subdivision team. Back then, Oregon State was in the midst of a NCAA-record 28 straight losing seasons, finishing last in league play seven straight times before the Mike Riley coaching era blossomed.

The Beavers have finished in the upper division nine times since, including six top-three finishes and a title in 2007, so the loss to an FCS school was pretty jarring.

As such, the biggest question coming out of the Willamette Valley this week is how Oregon State will answer to the challenge of facing the eighth-ranked University of Wisconsin on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.

Riley saw some encouraging signs Tuesday when he said his players were focused and detailed during a morning practice designed to help get their body clocks prepared for the 11 a.m. kickoff — or 9 a.m. Pacific time — and an opponent favored by three touchdowns.

"Their attention was there," he said.

History indicates jumping to lowly conclusions about the Beavers is a mistake. Not only did Oregon State experience some extraordinary growing pains in its opener — 14 players made their first college starts, including a school-record eight true freshmen — it has a history of sketchy starts under Riley that gave way to impressive finishes.

Look at 2004: Oregon State started 1-4 and finished 7-5 overall.

Look at 2006: The Beavers got pounded by Boise State 42-14 in the opening month of the season and finished 10-4 overall.

Look at 2007: Oregon State got drilled by Cincinnati 34-3 in the first month of the season and finished 9-4 overall.

Look at 2008: The Beavers were battered by Penn State 45-14 in the second game of the season and finished 9-4 overall.

"We don't like having to do this too often, but we have, I guess, in the past and the lessons learned are very, very simple," Riley said. "A football season is about how much you improve. Our room for improvement is bigger than others'."

Oregon State should be stouter on defense where tackles Kevin Frahm (knee) and Dominic Glover (academics) are expected to be available, and have a better sense of rhythm in the run game after a slow, costly start in the opener.

The Beavers found an apparent go-to guy in true freshman running back Malcolm Agnew, who scooted for 223 yards on 33 carries and accounted for three touchdowns after sitting on seven rushes for 32 yards at halftime.

Agnew looks like he might fill the void created by Jacquizz Rodgers — the No. 2 rusher and touchdown scorer among running backs in Oregon State history — who bypassed his senior season to declare for the NFL draft and was chosen in the fifth round by Atlanta.

But what was regarded as an area of veteran strength two weeks ago has become tinged in controversy. Junior Ryan Katz was one of seven returning starting quarterbacks in the Pac-12, but after the offense wobbled to 140 total yards in the first half against Sacramento State — Katz was 11-for-22 for 87 yards and an interception — Riley opted to use redshirt freshman Sean Mannion and the results were significantly better.

The Beavers rallied from a 21-6 deficit heading into the fourth quarter and Mannion completed 8 of 12 passes for 143 yards and no turnovers.

Riley acknowledged Katz was shaken by the move, but the coach said he intended to play both in the opener and he liked what he saw from Mannion. Riley said both will play against the Badgers, adding it has more to do with Mannion's progress than a regression by Katz.

"None of this has to be a life sentence," Riley said. "Guys have to keep playing, keep competing, keep their poise and make sure that they're always ready for their opportunity."

The next one comes in a place where the Beavers haven't played since 1961 and where UW is on a 29-game winning streak against non-league opponents dating to 2003.

"We love to embrace these venues," Riley said. "It's great for their growth."

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