https://twitter.com/William_Whelan BOULDER, Colo. – When I was freshly 19-years-old, I attended the Friday Night Game of the Week (brought to you by your friends at NorCalPreps.com) between my alma mater, California High School, and Foothill High School in a stadium nestled under the hills of Pleasanton, California. The two schools, a part of the Bay Area’s infamous East Bay Athletic League, seemed to be on a collision course for the league title and thus, were selected as the Game of the Week. There wasn’t an abundance of college talent on the field, rather two programs with ridiculous coaching—including Tony Sanchez of Cal, who now leads national powerhouse Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas—but I had been told about Foothill’s quarterback. He was tall, lanky and had a bit of a wind up…but a cannon. He threw for one touchdown, maybe two, and an interception. Frankly, he was a bit underwhelming. My game recap included a scouting report on him that said something to the effect of: “Big time arm, small time frame that needs developing but the tools are there. With improvement, could prove to be a lower level FBS prospect.” A week later, Sean Mannion was rated as a four-star prospect by the scouting heads at Rivals. It was my last football evaluation, as I took my sorry gridiron scouting skills and shoved them in a deep, dark corner, never to be heard from again. With the obvious fuel provided by my lackluster opinion, Mannion has proved himself to be one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the country, en route to shattering every passing record that exists in Corvallis for the Oregon State Beavers. That is, until this season. See Mannion no longer looks like the NFL-hopeful gunslinger that Pac-12 opponents had come to know, with just four touchdowns and four interceptions through, you guessed it, four games. And that leads us to our first storyline to watch for this weekend. Mannion to Cooks…or not Big Sean clearly misses his safety blanket, go-to receiver that he had a year ago in Brandin Cooks. Cooks torched the Buffaloes a year ago in the Pacific Northwest with nine receptions for 168 yards that included two touchdowns. Now, his receiving corps has no one averaging more than 50 yards a game, and no one with multiple receiving touchdowns. Is it Mannion’s options, or the Man(nion) himself? While the Beavers’ two featured backs, Storm Woods and Terron Ward, have been more than effective (514 combined yards and six touchdowns), they might need some big play capability to keep up with a Colorado offense that has stunningly risen up the national charts for production. That may very well come on the ground, but if I’m a fan of the Beaver, I’d like to think my senior signal caller will have some role as well. Going up against a talented Colorado secondary, this looks like a fun storyline to keep an eye on throughout the afternoon. Run Defense Not Withstanding It is no secret, as Colorado State rudely modeled on opening night, that the Colorado run defense isn’t where Mike MacIntyre and Kent Baer want it to be right now. CU is giving up 170.2 yards per game on the ground, a number offset by an encouraging performance against UMass and the aforementioned trouble against the rival Rams. Now, in today’s college game, teams seem to either be passing for 500 yards a game or running for 350 yards, so that number might not be as troubling as it looks without context. However, it’s an area of weakness nonetheless. Oregon State is averaging 123.8 yards per game on the ground, good enough to rank No. 105 in the nation. So, on Saturday afternoon in Boulder, which side will prevail? If I had to speculate, which I do, I’d guess that MacIntyre would rather put the fate of the game in the hands of OSU’s receiving corps as opposed to a run game that could keep Sefo Liufau and Nelson Spruce off of the field. However, sleeping dogs eventually wake up, and no one wants to see Mannion and his friends find their groove on Folsom Field. Your best hope in any game, is to try and make a team as one dimensional as possible. Don’t try to force Washington State into running the ball, it’s not going to happen! Attack the quarterback, and you’ve got a show. The same theory could be applied here, to Oregon State. Colorado’s strength is their secondary, especially with the emergence of Tedric Thompson as a playmaking safety. Trust your guys, generate some pressure from your defensive line and occasional blitz, and make Mannion pay for every completion he gets. Cooler in the Shade Ah, Shay Fields. Saturday’s shootout did seem to be missing something, and perhaps that was because the young Mr. Fields only recorded two catches all day. Yes, Nelson Spruce has stolen the limelight, and with good reason, and Shay (nicknamed Shady, get it? Ah, fine.) looks prime for a standout day. As much as Colorado hopes to avoid a breakout performance from the OSU passing attack, those same Beavers certainly don’t want to see their jerseys spliced throughout Spruce’s highlight film as he accepts the Biletnikoff Award. The cloud coverage that last weekend’s commentator kept begging Cal to throw at Spruce very well may arrive on Saturday, and so, Liufau will need an open mind when it comes to his other targets. We’ve seen the involvement of Tyler McCulloch as a very reliable third down receiver over the middle. D.D. Goodson has proved to be valuable in tight spaces and the corner of the end zone. If I’m the Buffs, I’d move Fields all around the field, searching for match ups that put him in a variety of spots where he can make plays with the ball after the catch. There’s only so many yards a defensive back can defend, and with Spruce likely demanding so much attention, there’s bound to be some left for MacIntyre’s four-star receiver.