I've done a lot of thinking, and had a lot of discussions, about the issues swirling around another year of angst and disappointment around Oregon St.
In my opinion, the single biggest issue has been numerous injuries to the lines. Due to heavier turnover, and the fact that the injury bug struck earlier, its been a bigger issue for the offensive line than the defense, which is why the offense has struggled much of the time most of the year.
This was a concern clear back in the spring, and it only intensified as summer camp came and went, and so its not a surprise that Sean Mannion hasn't had a spectacular senior season, despite being documentably one of the best quarterbacks ever in the conference, never mind at Oregon St.; this despite a disappointing year.
But of late its become a problem for the defense as well, and coincides with the overall downturn of the unit.
That's not to say there aren't other glaring concerns, some on the players, and some on coaching. Dropped balls and dumb, unforced penalties, as well as game management miscues, and play calling errors, transcends talent and system.
Scheme concerns a lot of us as well, and when scheme limits your options, in also compounds the affect of other problems. It's been a bigger issue this year for the offense than the defense, in part because more changes have been introduced on the defensive side of the ball in the last few years.
But overall, the current defense is overall also much more experienced than the offense, and stayed healthier longer, so its as expected that the defense was the strength of the team for the first half of the season.
Unfounded overselling based on unreasonable optimism didn't help the climate either; thank goodness radio analyst Jim Wilson finally debunked some of the delusionalism on the air after the loss to California.
The other issue that's apparent is the effect of recruiting that's been uneven at best. Injuries test depth, and expose shortcoming in recruiting.
Everyone realizes recruiting to Corvallis is challenging, though it doesn't need to be as big an issue as it is. Beefing up one of the smallest recruiting staffs in the west, as well as making recruiting ability a more important criteria for assistant coaches would help. So would getting compliance and advising on board with making sure of successful outcomes instead of too often being an obstacle to outcomes.
But here again, scheme comes into play, and moreso on offense than defense. Its a double edged sword, one that cuts both ways when both the overall scheme and the position group scheme of the offensive line is an outlier in the industry.
For a while, some espoused that it created an advantage for Oregon St., in that they recruited to a different target than many other schools. And that was probably true, at least for a while.
But as the prevalent schemes used at most colleges diverge from Oregon St.'s core philosophy, so too has the approach of more and more of the high schools in the area the Beavers recruit from. We have heard about how much there is that newcomers need to learn when they arrive in Corvallis. Of course, because they have been taught something completely different, with different base fundamentals, for years. So it sets back the rate of progress of newcomers.
It also reduces the pool of prospects, as well as discouraging more of them, whether its in the recruiting process, or after they arrive, only to find out they aren't a plug-and-play fit, though they are elsewhere.
"Thinking about looking at adding a little spread and tempo" doesn't exactly send a message that inspires any confidence in impending modernization to recruits any more than it does the programs investors either.
But it also has an impact on the defense, which never sees what they see from almost all of their opponents from anyone but the scout team. And no squad of 4th-stringers is ever going to be as challenging at what they do as 1st-string talent and athleticism will be. There's a reason why they are the 4th string scout team, and the 2-deep are the 2-deep.
It will take a while for improved recruiting to produce better experience and depth, and it will take time to transition a team to another style of play, requiring another style of players in some instances. But it won't get done until after it gets started.
A season-long run of changes have actually been tried, but with mixed results, and that underscores the fact that there is a bigger problem; the small fixes, even in considerable quantity, have had a small impact.
The mixed bag of events from the California game didn't do much to un-muddy the waters, as there were some positives as well as plenty of negatives. And a probable win over a Washington St. team that has some even bigger issues, in front of the bigger crowd that Dad's day seems to be attracting than the relatively lame Homecoming games are anymore, will buoy optimism, but also mask briefly problems that are going to reappear as they have time and again in the process of Oregon St. losing 9 of 10 Pac-12 games.
Some serious systemic changes, whether they are implemented by Mike Riley's current staff, or he imports some new blood to do it, or total new blood is imported in place of Riley (unlikely, at least for now), have to happen. There has been only 1 year that's been an improvement in outcomes since 2006, unless Oregon St. wins at least 3 of their last 4 games AND the bowl game 2 wins may not even get them to. That's not a bad break or a down year due to a poorly planned rebuild; or even maintaining; its sustained systemic deficiency to the point of being able to reasonably predict it will continue. Even if a quarterback controversy wasn't on the horizon (which it is).
Which is troubling, because I'm equally unconvinced that Oregon St. will do better by replacing Coach Riley.
Who are they going to hire? Bryan Harsin from Boise St.? Is he even close to a sure thing? No winning coach from a Power 5 conference is coming to Corvallis, and a losing one isn't likely to suddenly surge when given all of Oregon St.'s advantages to work with.
Unless you think Michigan lightning can strike twice, and Bob DeCarolis can lure Brady Hoke from what is soon to be a former employer of both of them, and he turns out to be as successful in his Wolverine After-life as Rich Rodriguez has been at Arizona.
A Scott Rueck type hire isn't going to fix a Power 5 conference football problem either; a mountain of a post player from a small town no one can find on a map and a rubber-armed shooting guard can be the foundation for a great basketball team, but it takes a lot more recruiting than that to win in the Pac-12. Ask any Coug fan you see visiting this weekend about that.
The odds of finding another Todd Graham at a group of 5 school, or an ACC one, are not as good as the odds of a Lane Kiffen-esque one. And the prospect of a bad cultural fit hire in Corvallis flat isn't going to fly unless that person can deliver double digit wins on an annual basis.
With Stanford's slide, induced by raids on David Shaw's staff of assistants as much as anything, no one not wearing the day's shade of green/yellow/chrome/black/pink/gray/silver/... has been able to do that.
And with half a stadium still to build, the "long-haul" approach won't get the backing from investors it will need to succeed.
So it appears Mike Riley just might be the best bet to turn things around, but it's far, far from a sure thing.
Reality can cause a lot of angst, as Beaver Nation is finding out.