Due to countless media reports recently, you would be led to believe the Beavers of Oregon State have never lost a game in November or December in the history of their program. On the flip side, you'd think the Oregon Ducks had never won a late-season game...ever.
Well, I hate to rain on the "Mike Riley’s teams always finish strong" parade. However, I have to respectfully disagree. (And I won’t even go into his time with the Chargers.) If you want to compare Riley’s career in November to Mike Bellotti’s at Oregon, then you need to look at all the numbers—not just the ones from 2006 and 2007.
Yes, the last two seasons OSU has won the Civil War (which includes a win against a Dixon-less Ducks team playing their fourth and fifth-string QBs) and two bottom-tier bowls against inferior opponents.
However, for his career at OSU, Riley is 11-11 in November (13-12 if you count the early December games), while Bellotti boasts a 26-15 mark (27-16 with the early December games).
Riley’s four bowl wins, while quite an accomplishment at a school that had very few bowl wins prior to his tenure, came against four unranked schools, all of whom were underdogs and had a combined .549 winning percentage.
Compare this to the 11 bowls Mike Bellotti has taken the Ducks to (which include a BCS bowl, a Cotton Bowl, and two Holiday Bowls), with three of the last four against ranked teams (who owned a combined winning percentage of .745).
The media (along with regurgitating Beaver fans) want to focus on the last two seasons—and if you’re OSU and Mike Riley, why wouldn’t you?—but in 2005, while the Ducks were winning their final seven games of the regular season, the fantastic finishers from Corvallis were losing four of their last five and were left home for the holidays.
In 2003, upon receiving the gifts of a 5-1 start and Pro Bowl NFL talent, such as Steven Jackson and Derek Anderson, Riley’s Beavs tanked four of six and headed to Vegas for an epic showdown with New Mexico.
The question you have to ask is, why does Riley get a pass for what really is the most consistent part of his resume—slow September starts? While many are eating up all the excuses, Riley is going 14-15 in August and September.
Mike Bellotti, on the other hand, has started his seasons at a 44-11 clip (including huge, program-changing wins against Michigan—twice—and Oklahoma).
Make all the excuses you want, but when you start poorly and are never ranked, it means little or no exposure for your team. The college football preview shows that you can find at just about every hour of the day only talk about you if you’re in the top 25. The tickers constantly scroll through the top 25 teams.
How many times has Mike Riley, in the 90 regular season games he’s coached at OSU, led a ranked Beaver team onto the field? Once. That’s it. And it was way back on October 18, 2003. And they lost.
The Ducks had ESPN’s College GameDay on campus more times than that last season alone.
Mike Bellotti has coached Oregon as a ranked team—with all the exposure, pressure, and expectations that come with it—36 times...and that’s in just the last 40 games.