Mike Riley is willing to try almost anything to end Oregon State's streak of 27 years without a winning season, the longest drought in the nation. So this year he broke with college football custom and implemented morning practices. "We're going out on a limb," says Riley, who's in his second year with the Beavers, "but I think it makes sense."
While other teams begin their workouts in die afternoon, when classes are over, the Beavers take the field from 8 to 10 a.m. and then hit the classroom. They return for film sessions and meetings in the early evening.
"Once we get the players awake, which takes about 20 minutes, we find they've got more energy in the morning," says Riley. "It also breaks up the day for them. It's not four straight hours of football, so you get better concentration."
Riley, 45, who served as an assistant at Southern Cal from 1992 to '96, says he got the idea from former Trojans basketball coach George Raveling, who borrowed it from his opposite number at Temple, John Chaney. In addition to taking advantage of the players' higher energy level, Riley says, morning practices help ensure that they eat a decent breakfast—nobody wants to run two hours of drills on an empty stomach—and make it to morning classes. Coaches like the schedule because they can break down tape in the afternoon, leaving evenings free to make recruiting calls. "The only problem is that the grass is always wet first thing in the morning," Riley says.
Before making the switch, Riley checked with Oregon State's academic services staff to make sure his players' class schedules could be adjusted to accommodate the practices. Then he had to sell his none-too-eager Beavers on the idea. "At first they hated getting up," Riley says, "but almost to a man, they've told me, 'Once you get going, it's great.' "
Riley says the morning workouts are an experiment that he'll evaluate after the season. The early practices weren't enough to break Oregon State's streak. After winning four of their first six games, the Beavers have lost four straight, including a 41-34 heartbreaker to UCLA last Saturday, to drop their record to 4-6 with one game left.
Tree Huggers vs. Tree Muggers
This caper is equal parts surreal and arboreal: the case of the kidnapped Stanford Tree.
In die early morning hours of Oct. 17, someone broke into the Stanford Band Shak, the storage facility for the Cardinal marching band, and made off with the 10-foot-tall, 45-pound costume of the school mascot. Almost immediately campus police ruled out the Symbionese Liberation Army. Instead they looked across San Francisco Bay to Berkeley and hated Pac-10 rival Cal. "There is nothing about this that's a joke," said Stanford police captain Raoul Niemeyer, who was treating the prank as a felony. "You do the crime, you do the time."
Six days passed without a lead. Or a leaf. Law enforcement officials at both schools were stumped. Stanford Business School graduate Tim Harrington offered to pay a $5,000 "reward" to a local charity. Junior Chris Henderson, the debarked mascot, showed symptoms of an identity crisis by issuing a press release that stated, in part, "I am the Tree. Me." Cal chancellor Robert Berdahl set a midnight Oct. 28 deadline for the Tree's return, no questions asked; after that he would put Oski the Bear, the Cal mascot, under lair arrest as an act of good faith.