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IT'S HIS FAULT, MIKE RILEY ADMITS. ADMINISTRATORS KEEP BRINGING him invitations to play marquee nonconference games—almost always on the road—and he keeps saying yes. Now they're a tradition. "I love those games," the Oregon State coach says. "You love it for your team, your fans, your program. You like to put your team out there." Although the matchups have brought the spotlight, that spotlight hasn't always been flattering. Last year losses to TCU in Arlington, Texas (a virtual home game for the Horned Frogs), and at Boise State meant that by late September the Beavers were in a 1--2 hole. Unlike in past seasons, when slow starts were followed by strong finishes, they never climbed out. "We got in over our heads," Riley says.
Though Riley says the disappointment of last season has created a hunger for success, rebuilding won't be easy. Oregon State lost its top playmakers on both sides of the ball—running back Jacquizz Rodgers and All-America defensive tackle Stephen Paea—both of whom are now in the NFL. "Everybody's gonna have to be better," Riley says, "because we don't have a ready-made Stephen or Quizz."
On offense other question marks involve the health of several key returning players, including standout wide receiver--kick returner James Rodgers, Jacquizz's older brother, who has had two surgeries for a left-knee injury sustained in the fifth game of the 2010 season. Without Jacquizz, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher, the offensive emphasis will shift to the right arm of junior quarterback Ryan Katz. He was inconsistent last season, but Riley expects a big leap for the second-year starter. The Beavers need Katz and the offense to produce, because the relatively green defense is coming off a season in which it didn't live up to the gritty standard set by its predecessors. "We need depth and continued growth there," Riley says. "But these kids have a chip on their shoulder. That's a good way to approach this coming year." Having a chip is a good strategy for Riley's bunch, and it typically works.
Speaking of typical, the nonconference schedule is loaded, including games against Wisconsin and BYU. Some things don't change, and Riley's not sure he wants them to. "We understand how those [games] can affect a season," he says. "But for me, I love that challenge."
COACH Mike Riley (11th year) 61--40 (41--28 in Pac-10)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Danny Langsdorf
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Mark Banker
2010 RECORD 5--7 (4--5, T-5 in Pac-10)