The Pac-12 Football Coach Who Routinely Exceeds Recruiting Rankings

Kyle KensingContributor IFebruary 10, 2014

Oregon State head coach Mike Riley, right, congratulates Oregon State running back Terron Ward, center, after the replay official ruled his touchdown good in the second quarter of the Hawaii Bowl NCAA college football game against Boise State, in Honolulu, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)
Eugene Tanner/Associated Press

Mike Riley must not have seen the rankings of his recruiting class because on national signing day the Oregon State head coach was beaming in his interview with Pac-12 Networks, discussing the quality of a recruiting class that ranked No. 10 in the conference.

The outlook wasn't much better at or, both of which pegged Oregon State at No. 9. And yet, there was an exuberant Riley on television, touting the qualities of a class overlooked among its conference counterparts.  

What Riley knows that others don't is proven—the future of Oregon State football is not written in the stars.

Beavers recruiting classes are not typically filled with 4- and 5-star prospects, but Riley has proven especially adept at leading overachievers to records that exceed their expectations. 

The 2013 roster features some notable examples of recruits who were not the most celebrated coming out of high school, but have since gained plenty of attention. Chief among them were quarterback Sean Mannion and wide receiver Brandin Cooks

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Both came to Corvallis, Ore., as 3-star recruits. Cooks is now projected as one of the top wide receivers available in May's NFL draft and a target for the first two rounds by's Daniel Jeremiah. Mannion set the Pac-12's single season passing record. He returns to captain the Beavers' offense in 2014.  

Another 3-star hidden gem Riley found and helped polish for success in the Pac-12 and a professional future is defensive end Scott Crichton, who projects as a second-round pick. 

Really, it's old-hat for the Beavers coach. From Jacquizz Rodgers to Jordan Poyer and Markus Wheaton, Riley has unlocked the star power from those players without star ratings.  

The embrace of such a recruiting philosophy is truly unique, but also a primary reason Riley is a great fit at Oregon State. The Beavers face one of the more daunting recruiting challenges up against in-state rival Oregon, a program celebrated for changing the game with its state-of-the-art facilities and seemingly endless supply of new gear—all courtesy of Nike mogul and alum Phil Knight.

The Beavers couldn't win a traditional arms race against such a formidable force, so Riley takes on a different approach.   

Oregon State assistant director of player personnel Ryan Gunderson pulled back the recruiting curtain for The Oregonian last season, revealing a process that includes soliciting highlights via Twitter.

Riley explained how finding hidden recruiting gems works.   

It's not necessarily that they're totally under a rock, but development of kids is different. Some kids don't develop until late. Mike Remmers is playing in the NFL right now, and nobody recruited Mike out of high school. There are all sorts of stories and even now, there are guys who are really, really good players who no one knows about.

Oregon State has produced professional prospects from this model, but have also been competitive in the Pac-12. The Beavers won at least eight games every season from 2006 through 2009. In the 2009 regular season finale, they played for their first Rose Bowl berth since the 1964 campaign. 

The Beavers' 2012 season was a return to form after a two-year lull of 5-7 in 2010 and 3-9 and 2011—the latter being a season in which Riley relied heavily on underclassmen. Oregon State won nine games, returned to the Top 25 and peaked at No. 7. It did so with a roster comprised primarily of recruiting classes that did not rank that highly among the Pac-12, let alone the nation.

  • 2008: No. 10 in Pac-12/No. 52 nationally (
  • 2009: No. 10/No. 54 ( 
  • 2010: No. 10/No. 44 (
  • 2011: No. 7/No. 41 (247Sports)
  • 2012: No. 11/No. 46 (247Sports)

So when it seems as though Riley knows something everyone else doesn't about his unheralded recruits, it's probably because he does. 


Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. Recruiting rankings culled from unless otherwise noted.