Several things that happened this season, both good and bad, came as a surprise to coach Mike Riley.
With both the season and a week's decompression period after the Beavers' collapse in the Alamo Bowl behind us, its time once again to rate Oregon St. football coach Mike Riley using Fanoverboard's patented 5 Beavertail system that we use after the season ends for each of the Beaver's major programs.
After last year's 3-9 disaster of a season, a majority of respondents rated Riley's performance as Beaverbysmal, a 1 tail rating that won't be an option this time, after Oregon St. put together what will be a top 20 season, and reached their best bowl game since the 2001 Fiesta Bowl.
Only 8% felt there were enough young players in place to turn things around, but they proved to be correct.
22%, while granting a second tail, did feel Riley would make the changes necessary, and they were right, with the hiring of Rod Perry to modernize the defensive secondary, and the decision to take back play calling from offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf. And the moves paid immediate dividends, as Oregon St. ran off 3 straight upset wins to start the season.
Reviewing The Season
Behind one of their best defensive performances in years, the Beavers started with a 10-7 upset of then #13 ranked Wisconsin, who would go on to claim their third consecutive Big 10 Championship, and appear in their third consecutive Rose Bowl.
Then Oregon St. did something they had never done under Riley, beat a ranked team on the road in September, as the Beavers edged then 19th ranked UCLA 27-20 in the Rose Bowl. The Bruins would go on to win the Pac-12 South, and receive a bid to the Holiday Bowl, which wanted Oregon St., but never got the chance to invite the Beavers, whom the Alamo Bowl didn't let get by them.
Sean Mannion got off to a strong start to the season, but a knee injury in the 4th game of the season had lingering effects on the rest of the season.
The month ended with another road win, this time a 38-35 shootout win in Tucson over Arizona, as both quarterback Sean Mannion and wide receiver Markus Wheaton had their career best day for the second game in a row. Mannion completed 29 of 45 passes, for 433 yards and 3 touchdowns, with no interceptions, and Wheaton caught 10 of them for 166 yards, and 2 of the touchdowns.
Riley Winningest Beaver Coach Ever
And the Beavers had 2 road wins before October. That's notable, given that Riley had only 1 road win as a college head coach before October in his career previously.
More notable was the national attention runs to In-N-Out Burgers on the way to the airport to celebrate the road wins that was Riley way of celebrating becoming the winningest football coach in Oregon St. history.
The Calendar Turns, And The Season Could Have Too
Returning home to Reser, Oregon St. got a surprisingly close, 19-6 win over Washington St., as the defense continued to play their best ball at home, and when the offense was struggling. There was a bigger development that came to light the following week, however, after Sean Mannion had an MRI when his knee continued to bother him after the game. Turns out Mannion needed surgery to clean up a meniscus tear, and would miss the next 2 games, the first of which was to Provo, to face an ultimately Poinsettia Bowl bound BYU team that featured one of the best defenses in the country.
Enter Cody Vaz, above, who proceeded to Vazzle-Dazzle the Cougars, and everyone else, leading Oregon St. to a 42-24 win, and another stop at In-N-Out. A week later, Vaz led the Beavers to another win, this time a 21-7 blackout of mistake prone Utah that elevated Oregon St. to #7 in the country, and equaling the best start to a season in school history.
Beavers Suffer A Clinker
Things began to go off the rails a week later, on a miserably rainy night at Century Link Field in Seattle. Riley returned Mannion to the starting lineup, and stuck with him until after he had thrown 4 interceptions, and Wheaton was knocked out of the game. Vaz was finally inserted, and rallied Oregon St. to take the lead, but Washington responded, and pulled out a 20-17 win, as the Huskies out-hit and out-coached Riley and the Beavers. The win wound up being key to Washington posting a winning season, and going to the Las Vegas Bowl.
With Mannion clearly not ready to return, Vaz got the start against Arizona St., and led a 36-26 win. Staying healthy had been a key to the fast start to the season, but with injuries mounting, and the surprise factor long gone for Oregon St., it was encouraging that Riley and the Beavers bounced back from the fiasco in Seattle, and defeated the Sun Devils with better adjustments, an especially encouraging sign with a trip to Stanford that would turn out to be for a Rose Bowl berth looming.
A Painful End To The Trip To Stanford
Oregon St. had Stanford on the ropes, but then the win slipped away when a scrambling Vaz fumbled the ball with no one near him, and the Cardinal capitalized on the gift possession in Beaver territory to score the touchdown that produced a 27-23 win. To make matters worse, Vaz subsequently suffered a sprained ankle, below, that would hobble him the rest of the season.
The game was the first start for Stanford freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan, who proceeded to direct 4 consecutive wins over ranked opponents, including a win at Oregon the next week that knocked the Ducks out of the National Championship game, and then concluded with leading the Cardinal to victory in the Rose Bowl.
Oregon St. returned home to finish out the regular season, and Mannion returned to the starting lineup, throwing 4 touchdown passes, as the Beavers destroyed a bad California team 62-14. It would be the end of Bears coach Jeff Tedford's career in Berkeley.
The momentum was short lived, however, as an angry Oregon team rolled into Reser the following week, and Duck coach Chip Kelly did what he has done in the "era of Chip", oversee another lop-sided Civil War win over the Beavers.
Civil War Slips Away
Oregon St. was actually in the game until well into the 3rd quarter, after pulling within 20-17 on Storm Woods' second touchdown of the day. But the Ducks ran off 4 straight scores, while the Beavers committed 4 consecutive turnovers, and Oregon pulled away to win 48-24. In all, Oregon St. suffered 6 turnovers in the game, 4 of them interceptions thrown by Mannion.
Surprisingly, the loss didn't drop Oregon St. in the polls, remaining 16th in the AP poll, and ranked 15th in the BCS, while Oregon actually dropped a spot in the AP poll despite winning on the road over a ranked opponent!
An All-Star Season
With the conference season completed, Oregon St. learned that 4 Beavers were named First Team All-Pac-12, with Jordan Poyer, above, who would go on to be named to 4 All-American teams, and Wheaton leading the way, joined by Defensive End Scott Crichton and Special Teams star Jordan Jenkins. 6 more Beavers received Honorable Mention All-Conference honors.
December Football Was Back
The Beavers recovered from the Civil War disaster against a horribly over-matched Nicholls St. FCS team, in a game moved from opening weekend to the last game of the season as a result of the storm effects of Hurricane Isaac. Oregon St. scored on every possession except when they ran out the clock at the end of the game, posting a 77-3 win, putting Wheaton in the record books in the process.
Markus Wheaton concluded his career with multiple receiving records.
The impressive win produced a 9-3 regular season, second best in school history, a ranking of 13 in the BCS, and earned an Alamo Bowl invitation, where they would meet #23 Texas.
For 3 quarters, it looked like the Oregon St. defense, playing as the designated "home team" despite the fact that Longhorn Nation, playing only 80 miles from home, out-numbered the Beavers about 8 to 1, would do as they had done several times before, and bail out a struggling offense.
With Mannion still floating passes on a knee that never seemed to fully recover from surgery, Riley elected to go with Vaz as the starter in San Antonio. However, the ankle injury suffered against Stanford was aggravated on a sack, and though Vaz would return after Mannion led a touchdown drive that consisted of only running plays, his limited mobility was even more limited.
Despite having what Riley had termed as 2 quarterbacks capable of winning that had been reduced to 2 quarterbacks hampered by injuries, Oregon St. still took a 27-17 lead on Woods' second rushing touchdown of the night just before the end of the third quarter. And the defense protected the lead until almost halfway through the 4th period.
Freshman Storm Woods led a resurgent Oregon St. rushing attack in 2012, rushing for 940 yards and 13 touchdowns, and adding 313 receiving yards. But Woods struggled to stay healthy and finish games at times.
But Texas mounted a furious rally, after Oregon St.'s mistakes repeatedly prevented them from putting the game away, finally taking the lead with 2:24 left. Vaz subsequently suffered 2 sacks, the last of the Alamo Bowl record 10 on the day, and the Longhorns had a 31-27 win, having overcome 2 different 10 point deficits.
Oregon St. didn't manage a single first down in the 4th quarter, and had negative yardage for the period. Coupled with inexplicably horrible clock management at the end of both halves, and no explanation of why he never tried Mannion in place of an obviously overwhelmed Vaz, Riley came under considerable criticism for the lack of adjustments.
The late loss kept Oregon St. from posting what would have been only their third 10 win season in history, and seriously disappointed Beaver Nation, after what had been a great bowl week, and a memorable season that wildly exceeded almost everyone's expectations, where the most optimistic pre-season predictions were to barely reach bowl eligibility, and most expected a third consecutive sub-.500 season.
But after a 6 win turnaround, tied for best in the nation, which was also the largest turnaround ever in the various iterations of the Pac-"X", and the first time a team from the PCC/AAWU/PAC-8/10/12 ever went from 3 wins to a bowl game, expectations had been totally turned around.
It was a good year to be a Beaver, but it could have ended better.
So while it was a very successful season, and with the vast majority of the team returning, making a preseason ranking, another run at the Pac-12 North title, and another quality bowl game all highly likely, it was also a disappointing one. The uncompetitive losses that had become commonplace over the last couple of years were eliminated, and 3 of the 4 losses were games Oregon St. could very reasonably have won without anything particularly spectacular happening. But the losses to Washington and Texas fell squarely on Riley, and never should have happened.
And Stanford went to their 3rd consecutive BCS bowl, and Oregon their 4th in a row, after extending their win streak over Oregon St. to 5 games.
Some Of The Best And Worst Moments In History In The Same Season
One of the risks of getting to play in really big games is the possibility of losing really big games, and the emotional toll that can take, and Beaver Nation certainly experienced that this season. Many of both the high highs and low lows were directly due to decisions Coach Riley made.
Was it still a Beaveriffic season? Will it be considered one if next year clearly is one, and Oregon St. takes another step forward?
How much does developing All-Conference, All-American, and next level pros count for?
What is Riley's highly respected status nationally as a coach and his personal character worth?
Equally important, who, if anyone, could and would do better in the unique Corvallis atmosphere?
Cast your votes, and share your comments.
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)