Oregon State defender Steven Nelson reacts after missing an interception during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Oregon in Corvallis, Or., Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Troy Wayrynen)
Troy Wayrynen
December 01, 2014

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) Oregon State coach Mike Riley is facing a growing chorus of questions about whether his old-school offense can cut it in the Pac-12.

Even Riley seems to be having his doubts.

The Beavers went 5-7 overall this season and just 2-7 in the conference. The season ended with a thud in the Civil War, a 47-19 loss to No. 3 Oregon.

Riley is just 2-12 in his last 14 conference games dating back to last season. This season he had a talented quarterback in Sean Mannion, a perfect fit in the Beavers' pro-style offense, who set the all-time conference record for career passing yards with 13,600 and a school record for touchdown passes with 83.

But Mannion couldn't carry a team that ranked 76th in the nation in total defense, allowing opponents an average of just over 406 yards, and 70th for total offense, with an average of 393.5 yards.

''We'll evaluate all the parts of the football end of it - what we do strategically, and how we can change to make us better,'' Riley said. ''We do that every year. But obviously right now it's real important to take a good, hard look at that.''

While the ''Fire Mike Riley'' movement is momentarily loud, it's not very realistic.

Riley has seven years left on his contract and Oregon State really can't afford to pay him off. And there's the matter of location: It's hard to fault Riley for the challenges of recruiting top players to Corvallis.

With the help of Nike and Phil Knight, rival Oregon has been able to draw players to Eugene with luxurious facilities. Winning has helped immeasurably, too.

A more similar case in point is Washington State, where Mike Leach hasn't been able to win more than four conference games in each of his three seasons since arriving in Pullman to make over the Cougars.

Riley, if anything, has proven that he is a master of finding kids that aren't heavily recruited and turning them into stars. Mannion is the latest example. And plenty of recent Beavers are seeing success in the NFL, including receiver Markus Wheaton of the Steelers, guard Andy Levitre of the Titans, defensive tackle Stephen Paea of the Bears and cornerback Keenan Lewis of the Saints.

Oregon State's two conference wins this season came against Colorado and, almost surprisingly, then-No. 7 Arizona State. It was the high point of the Beavers' season and another in a string of big upsets in Corvallis that the team has become known for.

But the Beavers lost close games at home to California and Washington State. In both games, Oregon State had the lead going into the fourth quarter.

''We'll look back at a lot of probably what we could say are missed opportunities. We would have liked to have done a way better job of keeping some of that momentum from the Arizona State game,'' Riley said. ''We'd like to turn the clock back and play some of those other games where we were ahead in the fourth quarter and finish them better.''

For now, without a bowl game to prepare for, all Oregon State has is the future. Nine of 11 starters on defense were seniors, so that will no doubt be a focus for Riley and his staff in the coming months.

Luke Del Rio, son of former NFL linebacker and current Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, appears poised to take over for Mannion at quarterback. Del Rio is mobile, and Oregon State could try to capitalize on that skillset by introducing more spread offense elements.

And the Beavers have a good recent record of rebounding: After going 3-9 in 2011, the team went 9-4 the next season.

''I think the future is very bright,'' Mannion said. ''We had a lot of young guys playing this year, especially on offense and have all gotten better as the year has gone on. This is a great program with a great coaching staff, from top to bottom, and the players work very hard. ... I have total faith that everyone will continue to work hard.''

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