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MIKE RILEY DOES NOT RUN FROM THE RECORD. "[GOING] 3--9 IS motivating," he says of 2011. So was going 5--7 the year before. Suddenly Oregon State football is occupying a trough the Beavers thought they had climbed out of years ago—and the coach is feeling at least a little bit of heat. Given what Riley has accomplished in Corvallis, building a consistently winning program, this may seem crazy. But it is reality. "It's a big year," Riley says of 2012. "I'm not naive about how these things go."
The biggest problem last season was the running game—on both sides of the ball. Oregon State allowed an average of 196.8 yards on the ground, ranking 101st nationally, worst in the Pac-12. On offense the Beavers averaged only 86.9 rushing yards (118th nationally, last in the Pac-12). Ten true freshmen played at least one game in 2011, and overall there were 23 first-time starters. Add a rash of injuries and a controversial early-season quarterback switch (from Ryan Katz to Sean Mannion), and the results were perhaps predictable.
But the young team's struggles last season provide reason for some confidence. The Beavers are excited about the potential for growth around Mannion and a talented receiving corps led by Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks. Running back is unsettled, though there are viable candidates, including sophomore Malcolm Agnew and redshirt freshman Storm Woods. "We've got several good football players," Riley says. "Really good versatility."
Riley and his coaching staff are painfully aware, however, that they need dramatic improvement on both lines. The task was complicated when, because of injuries and attrition, only eight offensive linemen were available for spring practice. Seven additional linemen will join the team in August and are expected to contend for playing time.
As usual the rugged nonconference schedule could stunt progress on the won-lost ledger. Riley knows he has his work cut out for him. "We've had two down years in a row and not been to bowl games," he says. "That's coming off two years where we were playing for the Rose Bowl. It's just disappointing. We want to be a consistent program and not be on a roller coaster."
COACH Mike Riley (12th year) 72--63 (46--48 in Pac-12)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Danny Langsdorf
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Mark Banker