Blue Ribbon Preview: Oregon State
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You'd be hard pressed to find a better fit for a program than Mike Riley at Oregon State. Not only did Riley grow up in Corvallis and follow the Beavers, his dad was a former OSU assistant coach.
Year after year, Riley's name comes up for high-profile college job openings, the most recent being USC after Pete Carroll departed for the Seattle Seahawks. But by signing a three-year contract extension through the 2019 season, Riley sent a message that he plans on staying in Corvallis for the long haul.
Riley has ties that bind with the program. He remembers the dark years when OSU endured 28 consecutive losing seasons from 1971-1998. While Dennis Erickson is given credit for ending the losing skid in 1999, it was Riley who set the stage by improving the talent level in his first stint as coach in 1997-98.
After a four-year sojourn in the NFL -- he was head coach of the San Diego Chargers from 1999-2001 -- Riley returned to OSU in 2002. The Beavers have played in bowl games the last four years, and Riley has a 64-47 overall record and 5-1 bowl mark in his nine years as coach.
The last two seasons, the Beavers have been on the verge of playing in the Rose Bowl game for the first time since the 1964 season, only to be denied by Oregon in the Civil War.
There are more lucrative coaching gigs, but there's no place like home for Riley.
"I've been around the block and I hope that I've learned," Riley said. "I don't necessarily have regrets, but I do have memories and hopefully more knowledge. What we've garnered here is an opportunity to continue to build, which when I look around our world of college football, professional football, not many guys get to stay as long as we already have."
Riley's on to something. Beginning his 10th season, he is the dean of Pac-10 coaches. With stability comes commitment.
Riley stresses a family atmosphere in Corvallis, and his players have bought into that philosophy.
"We are a family," junior tailback Jacquizz Rodgers said. "When I first came here [from Richmond, Texas] guys just welcome you. You felt like you've been with these guys for years, but really it's your first time meeting them."
Senior linebacker Keith Pankey has an interesting, albeit unique way to describe the closeness of OSU's football team.
"Somebody could be sitting in the bathroom with the door shut," Pankey said. "Someone could walk in, and as that person is talking, you know exactly who that person is. It's just a bond."
Attend any football practice -- they're open to the public during the season other than Civil War week -- and Riley routinely thanks media members and fans for showing up as he leaves the field.
Riley is proof that nice guys don't have to finish last.
OSU has put more than a decade between its years of futility. These days, anything less than a bowl game would be considered a disappointment in Beaver Nation.
"If you look at Oregon State and what's taken place, I think it's a top 10 story of the growth of college football in the last 50 years when you consider history," Riley said.
When Riley sells OSU football to recruits, he's speaking from the heart. Players realize that Riley isn't looking for a pot of gold in another locale.
With longevity and commitment comes peace of mind. For Riley, the glass is always more than half full.
"We have a good life here and I have a new motto that I came up with the last time I left," Riley said with a smile. "If you're happy, stay happy."
Head Coach: Mike Riley (Alabama '75)
Record at school: 64-47 (9 years)
Career record: 64-47 (9 years)
• Jay Locey (Oregon State '78) Assistant Head Coach/Wide Receivers
• Danny Langsdorf (Linfield '95) Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
• Mark Banker (Springfield College '78) Defensive Coordinator/Safeties
• Mike Cavanaugh (Southern Connecticut State '86) Offensive Line
• Reggie Davis (Washington '98) Running Backs
• Keith Hayward (Oregon State '01) Cornerbacks
• Greg Newhouse (Nevada '75) Linebackers
• Bruce Read (Portland State '86) Special Teams Coordinator
• Joe Seumalo (Hawaii '89) Defensive Line
After three years of Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao running the Beavers' offense, the time has come to turn the page. OSU enters the 2010 campaign with uncertainty at quarterback.
Canfield, a first-team All-Pac-10 selection last season, won't be an easy act to follow. In 2009, he threw for 3,271 yards and 21 touchdowns with seven interceptions, and he set a single-season school record for completion percentage (67.9).
Sophomore Ryan Katz (6-1, 209) solidified his grasp on the starting job in spring practice. As Canfield's backup last season (Moevao was injured), Katz completed 51.9 percent of his passes for 232 yards and a touchdown. He appeared in four games but has not seen action with the outcome in doubt.
Katz needs to learn the intricacies of the game, but his mobility gives the Beavers a dimension they did not have with Canfield. Riley said Katz is "probably as athletic as any quarterback I've had since I've been here.
"He has a really good arm and can throw the balls easily. What he has to do is kind of harness that strength and make some throws that are a good fit for the rout. I tell him, 'you don't always have to throw your 99 mile per hour fastball.' "
Katz has no qualms about taking off if the play breaks down. He is by no means a finished product, but the ability is there.
Recent OSU quarterbacks have taken their games to the next level. Derek Anderson had a pro bowl season with the Cleveland Browns in 2007 and Matt Moore is the projected starter for the Carolina Panthers.
"We're not ready to play a game now, [but] we'll go into fall camp running," Katz said after the spring game.
Katz separated himself from junior Peter Lalich (6-4, 222) during spring practice, and he won't be looking over his shoulder. Lalich was dismissed from the team in late May, about three weeks after he was arrested on suspicion of drunken boating at Shasta Lake in Northern California.
Lalich, who transferred to OSU in 2008, had two alcohol-related incidents at Virginia which led to his dismissal from the program.
"It came to a point where it would be very difficult for him to compete and play here," Riley said, adding that red-shirt freshmen Cody Vaz (6-0, 200) "was definitely competing hard to be the number two quarterback anyway."
Redshirt freshman Jake Lomax (6-2, 175), who is the son of former NFL quarterback Neil Lomax, is the No. 3 quarterback. He was a first-team all-state pick two seasons ago at Lake Oswego (Ore.) High School, where he completed 236-of-342 passes for 3,738 yards and 46 touchdowns.
Known as "Quizz" by teammates, junior Jacquizz Rodgers (5-7, 188) is one of the most versatile running backs in college football.
A third-team Associated Press All-American last season, Rodgers rushed for 1,440 yards and 21 touchdowns, and had 78 receptions for 522 yards and one score. He also threw a touchdown pass out of the Beavers' version of the Wildcat formation.
While not considered a burner, Rodgers has excellent cutting ability, makes tacklers miss, has surprising power for his size and toughness when it comes to blocking.
"Quizz is a Heisman Trophy candidate," Riley said. "He's among the best football players in America overall."
Seven of the last eight seasons the Beavers have produced a 1,000-yard runner. Rodgers has followed in the footsteps of Steven Jackson and Yvenson Bernard.
Riley has a history of riding one running back, but he has hinted that the workload might be shared more this season. Junior Ryan McCants (6-1, 228), and sophomores Jovan Stevenson (5-11, 183) and Jordan Jenkins (6-1, 211) are waiting in the wings.
McCants is a between-the-tackles power runner, Stevenson is a breakaway threat who ran for 137 yards last season, and Jenkins is a dependable runner, receiver, and blocker.
"I don't make the calls, but if I can take some plays off and actually come into the game fresh, I can run better I think," Rodgers said.
Junior fullback Will Darkins (6-1, 230) is used as a blocker.
The other half of the dynamic Rodgers brothers, senior flanker James Rodgers (5-7, 188) is probably the fastest player on the roster and can hurt teams in a variety of ways.
Last season Rodgers had 91 receptions for 1,034 yards and nine touchdowns, ran for 303 yards and one score primarily on the fly sweep, and returned punts and kickoffs. He accumulated 2,328 all-purpose yards to rank seventh in the nation and was chosen a second-team All-American as an all-purpose player.
"He is one of the best all-around football players I've ever been around, and he might be the hardest working player I've ever coached," Riley said.
Junior H-back Joe Halahuni (6-2, 252) had a breakout season in 2009 with 35 catches for 486 yards and three touchdowns. He has the speed to be effective on intermediate routes.
"Sky's the limit for him," Riley said. "A very talented big guy that can run and catch."
Sophomore Jordan Bishop (6-3, 199), who was a state high jump champion, figures to assume a bigger role this season after catching 13 balls for 156 yards and a touchdown in 2009.
Junior split end Darrell Catchings ((5-11, 164) was considered the heir apparent to Sammie Stroughter last season, but he was derailed by injuries and played in just two games. After receiving a medical hardship, Catchings is back in the starting lineup.
Sophomore Markus Wheaton (6-0, 178) will split time between end and flanker.
Four starters return on the offensive line, led by senior center Alex Linnenkohl (6-2, 303) and junior right tackle Mike Remmers (6-4, 305).
Linnenkohl has made 26 consecutive starts and anchors the line. Remmers, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship after the 2008 campaign, is a returning starter.
Junior left guard Grant Johnson (6-3, 280) missed spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery but is expected back for fall camp.
Sophomore left tackle Michael Philipp (6-3, 307) was the first true freshman to start on the offensive line since 1997.
The Beavers must replace first-team All-Pac-10 selection Gregg Peat at right guard. The top candidates include junior Burke Ellis (6-4, 280), senior Ryan Pohl (6-3, 284), and sophomore Colin Kelly (6-4, 285).
Seniors tackles Timi Oshinowo (6-6, 288) and Wilder McAndrews (6-4, 282) provide depth.
Pass protection, always a top priority, will be even more important early in the season while a first-year starting quarterback gains experience. The Beavers allowed 29 sacks a year ago.
The Beavers have one of the strongest players in the country in senior left tackle Stephen Paea (6-1, 311). A first-team All-Pac-10 selection last season, Paea is poised to set NFL Combine records next year. In a YouTube video, Paea is shown bench-pressing 225 pounds 44 times.
"It's hard to explain how strong he is," linebacker Keith Pankey said.
Paea filed papers for an NFL draft evaluation after the 2009 season and elected to return for his senior year. That's good news for the Beavers.
In 2009 Paea contributed 8.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and forced four fumbles.
"He's pretty phenomenal physically," Riley said. "He has tremendous explosion and is very strong and quick. He's elevated himself to a possible first-round [NFL] pick."
Paea is joined by senior left end Gabe Miller (6-3, 249) and senior right tackle Brennan Olander (6-1, 276) as returning starters.
Olander, who was involved in a stolen golf cart incident in May along with former OSU players Lyle Moevao and Keaton Kristick, will be cleared for fall practice after completing 65 hours of community service. Senior right end Matt LaGrone quit the team before spring practice for personal reasons, but the Beavers appear to have a solid replacement in sophomore Taylor Henry (6-1, 240). Henry had a strong spring and shined in the spring game with four sacks.
Much is expected from junior college transfer Dominic Glover (6-4, 280) who arrives for fall camp.
Junior Kevin Frahm (6-2, 267) started eight games last season and has been moved from end to tackle.
Others vying for playing time in the front four include sophomores Castro Masaniai (6-2, 311) and Andrew Seumalo (6-3, 262), senior Mitchel Hunt (6-2, 287), and red-shirt freshman Devon Kell (6-3, 228).
A position of strength took a hit in the off-season when junior middle linebacker David Pa'aluhi quit the team for personal reasons. Pa'aluhi was second on the team with 77 tackles last season.
Sophomore Tony Wilson (6-1, 231), who missed last season with a torn ACL, has the inside track on the starting job but there is competition from sophomore Reuben Robinson (6-1, 222).
Senior Keith Pankey (6-0, 231), who missed the spring with an Achilles injury, is due back in July. He is expected to move from weak-side to strong-side backer and replace the departed Keaton Kristick, a first-team All-Pac-10 selection a year ago.
Pankey (44 tackles in 2009) and senior Dwight Roberson (55 tackles) split time at "Will" backer last season. They'll be on the field at the same time in 2010 with Roberson on the weak side.
The Unga brothers, sophomores Feti (6-1, 236) and Uani (6-1, 219), freshman grey-shirt Michael Doctor (5-11, 216), and sophomore Zane Norris (6-2, 223) provide depth.
"Before spring ball we lost a pair of starters, and that's a lot of plays between those two guys," Riley said. "We think we have the ability there to replace Pa'aluhi, but we don't have the experience and that is something we can't replace. The group overall will look pretty good athletically. We are optimistic that [Pankey] will be ready for fall camp, which would be a huge plus."
The Beavers have a wealth of experience in the secondary with the return of three starters -- senior left corner James Dockery (6-1, 176), and junior safeties Lance Mitchell (6-2, 207) and Cameron Collins (6-2, 230).
Mitchell was third in tackles last year with 72 and had a team-high three interceptions to go with seven pass breakups. Collins had 70 stops.
Dockery led the Beavers with eight pass breakups and had two picks.
Junior Brandon Hardin (6-2, 219), who could be the biggest cornerback in the Pac-10, is the starter at right corner. Hardin started three games in 2009.
Sophomore Jordan Poyer (5-11, 189) can play corner or safety and is expected to contribute on defense after being a special teams standout last season.
Senior Suaesi Tuimaunei (6-1, 205), who has made six career starts and had 41 tackles in 2009, figures to be a valuable contributor.
Sophomores Keynan Parker (5-11, 177), and red-shirt freshman Rashaad Reynolds (5-10, 177) also are vying for playing time.
"We will have better depth at corner and should have some great competition," Riley said. "We have an excellent group of safeties, with many of them playing special teams."
James Rodgers is a threat every time he touches the ball on punt and kickoff returns. He averaged 11.6 yards on punt returns and 23.3 on kickoff returns with a long of 84 yards.
Poyer also could get a look on kickoffs and had a 70-yard return in the USC game.
Senior Justin Kahut (5-8, 178) returns to handle the kicking duties. Last season Kahut converted 22-of-27 field goals, including 9-of-11 between 40 and 49 yards. He scored 111 points and finished fourth in the Pac-10 in scoring (8.5 ppg) and first in kick scoring. His 22 field goals were second in the league to UCLA's Kai Forbath's 28.
Freshman Trevor Romaine (6-0, 185) arrives for fall camp. He kicked a 52-yard field goal last season at Centennial High School in Corona, Calif. and also set the state record for career extra points (217).
Junior Johnny Hekker (6-5, 223) has handled the punting duties since his freshman year. He averaged 40.1 yards on 51 punts last season with 19 downed inside the 20-yard line.
Riley's recruiting classes are annually rated in the bottom half of the Pac-10, yet the Beavers have finished second in the conference the last two seasons. Two- and three-star recruits often excel at OSU before their careers are over.
Junior defensive lineman Dominic Glover, the only junior college transfer in the class, "has got to be a guy that comes in here in fall camp and impacts our program," Riley said.
Last season at Saddleback (Calif.) Junior College, Glover contributed 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He started his career at Oregon, where he red-shirted as a freshman. Glover is the nephew of La'Roi Glover, a six-time Pro Bowl selection for the St. Louis Rams.
Sean Manion is the only quarterback recruit and he is expected to red-shirt.
Riley played six true freshmen last season and does not expect that number to be as high in 2010. A player to watch is outside linebacker Shaydon Akuna (6-3, 210). He owns Kapolei High School (Nanakuli, Hawaii) records in dead lift, squat and bench press.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
A team that was a Civil War victory away from the Rose Bowl game the last two years is capable of making another run with 16 returning starters.
The Rodgers brothers give OSU instant credibility on offense, and Paea is a force on the defensive line. But inexperience at quarterback makes the Beavers a dark horse to win the Pac-10.
Katz will be tested immediately in the season opener against TCU at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and in game three at Boise State. TCU and Boise State were a combined 26-1 last season.
"You can't put the whole season on the development of a quarterback, but it's a fact that teams that have returning quarterbacks have historically done better," Riley said. "We've got to overcome that."
Playing the season opener in Cowboys Stadium should help the Beavers focus during fall camp. It will be a homecoming of sorts for the Rodgers brothers, who are from the Houston area.
"Just being able to go back home and seeing some of my family that doesn't get to make it up [to Corvallis] during the year, it makes me very happy," James Rodgers said.
OSU will probably not be among the favorites in the Pac-10, but that's no different than recent seasons. Count Jacquizz Rodgers among the players not swayed by preseason prognostications.
The Beavers are accustomed to defying expectations.
"That's why we play games," Rodgers said. "To see who is gonna come out on top at the end. It's about how you finish."