Before the season, if you had told me that Oregon State would be in charge of its own destiny going into Week 8, I probably would have assumed you meant from a "bowl eligibility" standpoint. Maybe, because the Beavers have Stanford and Oregon late, you could have been technically referring to them winning the Pac-12 North.
No way would I have assumed you meant for hosting the Pac-12 Championship game and possibly getting to the BCS Championship.
If you have not started up your "Mike Riley for Coach of the Year" campaign yet, you most certainly need to. The man has pushed this football team to heights most folks did not expect, including being ranked ahead of cross-state rival Oregon by the BCS Computers.
Will Muschamp, Pat Fitzgerald, Jim Mora, Bill Snyder, Todd Graham, Kyle Flood, Charlie Strong, Butch Jones, David Cutcliffe, Chip Kelly, Frank Solich and Nick Saban all should be in the running for the award. They are all, given their different situations, stepping up and putting on coaching clinics in managing situations and maximizing production.
Still, none of them have come from nearly as far off the radar as Mike Riley. The longtime, and two-time, Beavers head coach is making things work in Corvallis in a year where most people thought he would finally find himself on the hot seat.
After all, the Beavers had gotten progressively worse in the last few seasons. Two nine-win seasons in 2007 and 2008, including beating second-ranked California in 2007 and first-ranked USC in 2008, gave way to 7-6 in 2009, 5-7 in 2010 and 3-9 a season ago.
First, it was the win over Wisconsin—a victory that was discounted as the Badgers struggled through the early parts of the season. Then, in beating UCLA, the discounting came at the expense of a much-improved Bruins team. No one cared much about a win over Arizona, and Washington State is everyone's doormat with Mike Leach this year.
However, the Beavers handled a tough BYU defense last weekend. Riley changed the game plan against BYU in order to catch the defense off-guard and get his backup quarterback more comfortable early in the game.
Riley's efforts need to be applauded. His team has responded to him in a way that most folks did not expect. The defense is playing better, going from 84th in total defense giving up 411 yards per game, to 46th giving up 361 per contest. The unit is not elite, but it is getting the job done.
On offense, the improvement is truly staggering. Following the Rodgers brothers era in Corvallis, yardage was extremely hard to come by. Now, the Beavers are moving the ball, and they've improved from 73rd to 32nd in total offense. They are not a great running team, but they do enough on the ground to keep teams honest before taking advantage of play-action passing to work their matchups.
There is still plenty of the season left for stars to rise and fall. However, with dates to visit Stanford and host Oregon, there are still plenty of chances for Riley to solidify his stance as one of the nation's premier candidates for Coach of the Year.
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