Adv17

Updated: August 14, 2003, 7:49 PM ET

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- It's a lot like deja vu for Mike Riley.

Riley is about to embark on his third season with the Oregon State Beavers -- but the first since he left the program for a shot in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers back in 1999.

"Sometimes I feel like I never left, like there was some kind of void or dream in there for a time," he said.

Riley was rehired by the Beavers in the offseason to replace Dennis Erickson -- who took over at Oregon State when Riley left. Erickson was named the new head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

Riley's second reign on the sidelines for Oregon State opens on Aug. 28 when the Beavers host Sacramento State.

"I'm not a predictor, but I feel good about his team and I'm anxious to see where we can go," he said.

When Riley took over at Oregon State, he inherited a program that had won just three games in the combined 1995-96 seasons.

He was 8-14 during his two seasons with the Beavers, but his recruits -- including quarterback Jonathan Smith and running back Ken Simonton -- found ultimate success under Erickson, who finished 31-17 in four seasons at Oregon State.

In Erickson's second season, the Beavers were 11-1 and went to the Fiesta Bowl where they beat Notre Dame 41-9.

In the meantime, Riley spent three seasons with the Chargers, going 14-34 before he was fired. Last season he was defensive backs coach for the New Orleans Saints.

For his current stint with the Beavers, Riley takes on a sometimes inconsistent but talented team that was 8-5 last season with a loss to Pittsburgh in the Insight Bowl.

"There is no secret that when we first arrived the program had been down. Looking back at my first year, the transition from the wishbone to a balanced attack was as difficult as overcoming the attitude within the program," he said. "It feels a lot different this time around."

The Beavers were projected in the Pac-10 preseason media poll to finish fourth in the conference, behind Southern California, Arizona State and Washington. Oregon was picked to finish fifth.

The winning attitude that Riley instilled and Erickson sustained is apparent in the players, especially tailback Steven Jackson, who led the Pacific-10 Conference with a school record 1,690 yards rushing last season.

With his stats and his engaging personality, all eyes will be on Jackson, and he knows it.

"I want to prove everybody wrong. I think a lot of people think I'm going to be mediocre and last year my be a fluke, because nobody knew who I was," he said. "I'm going to prove them wrong again, that's my determination right now."

Riley is clearly enthralled with Jackson, who is again predicting at least 1,000 rushing yards and the conference title for himself. And there are even whispers he might make a run at the Heisman.

"We have to be balanced with him, so other teams don't load up to stop the run," Riley said. "We have to be able to move the ball consistently. There are a number of factors that will contribute to his success, but he certainly has the talent to be a major factor."

On the day of the team's first fall practice, receiver James Newson displayed his confidence for the coming season by wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with his own picture. On the back, the shirt listed his season-by-season stats, with the words "Stay Tuned" for 2003.

The Beavers' other strength is their defense, featuring linebacker Richard Seigler, end Bill Swancutt and tackle Dwan Edwards.

One of Oregon State's most apparent weaknesses is at cornerback, where Aric Williams -- who has made just one start -- is the expected starter for this season. Williams suffered a brief setback when he twisted his ankle during a fall practice. Brandon Brower, a redshirt freshman, also is expected to start at cornerback.

Riley also expects greater consistency from junior quarterback Derek Anderson, who took over as starter last season and threw for 3,313 yards and 25 touchdowns. But after early season success, he had trouble when he ran into Pac-10 opponents.

His backup this season was expected to be Adam Rothenfluh.

Anderson, who said he tried to "run and run" all summer to improve his speed, said he believes that season of experience -- not all of it good -- will benefit him.

"Now you know what to expect. You have that whole season to see defenses," he said. "There's going to be a lot less surprises."

There probably won't be a lot of surprises for Riley, either. For his second time around at Oregon State, the affable coach can continue what he began to build six years ago.

"All of us in this business have a vision of how they want a program to be," he said. "With his second opportunity as a college head coach, I definitely have a better picture of what I want to do."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index