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Kurt Kragthorpe and Kyle Goon
Kurt Kragthorpe and Kyle Goon cover the Pac-12 for The Salt Lake Tribune.

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Oregon State head coach Mike Riley takes questions at the 2014 Pac-12 NCAA college football media days at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles Thursday, July 24, 2014. (AP Photo)
Pac-12 football preview: Riley, Mannion appear to have OSU primed for bowl run

The rational Utah fan has to have a healthy respect for Mike Riley.

This is a guy who, in his second stint in Corvallis, has taken the state’s second-banana school and won seven or more games in eight of 11 seasons.

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While locally we debate whether a seemingly improved Utah team is capable of seven wins, it seems almost a given that with as many as eight returning starters and a potential first-round draft pick at quarterback, Riley will squeeze seven out of the Pac-12 North.

And amazingly, he’s kept up with the Joneses without changing all that much.

Unlike Utah and most other schools, Riley isn’t trying to play faster and spread the field more than anybody else.

They’re "a little bit of a dinosaur," he told reporters at Pac-12 Media Days in late July. "We still huddle. But we try to put pressure on the defenses by changing personnel groups and doing some stuff like that."

This year’s Beavers have some lingering questions — offensive line health, the departure of Brandin Cooks, the defense (see below) — but in Sean Mannion they have a dark horse Heisman candidate who, if he replicates his 2013 season, could wind up as high as fifth among the NCAA’s all-time passing leaders (surpassing BYU’s Ty Detmer) and be remembered as one of the conference’s greats.

2013 IN REVIEW » 7-6, 4-5 Pac-12

RETURNING STARTERS » 14 total (8 offense, 6 defense)

TOP RETURNING PLAYER » It was a tale of two halves for Sean Mannion last season. Without question, he made a huge leap forward from freshman and sophomore seasons in which he passed for as many touchdowns (31) as interceptions, but through the first seven games he had 2,992 yards, 29 touchdowns and three interceptions. In his final six: 1,670, 8 touchdowns, 12 interceptions. That was no accident, as the Beavers faced a back-loaded schedule, but if the big-armed senior wants more than gaudy stats, he’ll have to step his game up against an elite defense or two.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK » The Beavers were 94th in total defense last season, allowing 428 yards per game, and gone are both defensive tackles and one end. On the bright side, touted junior college transfer tackle Kyle Peko has been granted temporary eligibility by the NCAA while Oregon State awaits his paperwork.

SCHEDULE OUTLOOK » They dodge UCLA. Portland State, Hawaii and San Diego State isn’t exactly an out-of-conference murderer’s row. They’re on the road against No. 15 USC, No. 11 Stanford and No. 25 Washington, however, and they host No. 19 Arizona State and (of course) No. 3 Oregon. Five of their final nine games come against ranked teams, and they end with three straight.

— Matthew Piper


Twitter: @matthew_piper

PAC-12 Links
Links from around the Pac-12
Arizona (Tucson Citizen)
» Free weekly Wildcat sports magazine covers UA-Oregon game
» Wildcats prepare for game at No. 2 Oregon
» Hansen's Sunday Notebook: Strong season will help "Hill Mary" be remembered
» UA football: Pair of defensive players leave team

Arizona St. (Arizona Republic)
» ASU football practice report from Tuesday
» Haller's Pac-12 power rankings
» Graham breaks down ASU's defensive woes
» Rankings: Colleges by AZ high school players

California (East Bay Tribune)
» Cal could face Title IX suit with field hockey now homeless
» Cal's struggling pass defense better gets its act together quickly
» Cal's Oct. 11 home game vs. Washington set for 3 p.m. kickoff
» Cal outlasts Colorado 59-56 in two overtimes

Colorado (Denver Post)
» Speedy freshman Donovan Lee gives CU Buffs another playmaker
» Colorado coached to avoid coin-toss glitches, MacIntyre says
» Colorado's MacIntyre gratified Buffs practiced hard Monday
» CU Buffs tackle Jeromy Irwin might play vs. Hawaii after concussion

Oregon (The Oregonian)
» Oregon Ducks open up Autzen Stadium doors for Fan Fest: Photo gallery
» Elijah Holyfield, son of boxing champ Evander Holyfield, receives offer from Oregon Ducks
» Thomas Tyner looking to turn a corner as Oregon Ducks prepare for Arizona
» Mark Helfrich on ribbing Marcus Mariota, the Oregon Ducks' defense and facing Arizona

Oregon State (Corvallis Gazette-Times)
» Oregon State roundup (Sept. 19)
» OSU men's basketball: Tinkle says positive steps being made
» Spencer to become new AD at Evansville
» BeaversSalute program gives tickets to military personnel and veterans

Stanford (San Jose Mercury-News)
» Stanford's Shaw shoots down interest in Raiders job
» Stanford beats Washington with fourth-quarter touchdown
» Matchup: No. 16 Stanford at Washington
» Stanford facing must-win game at Washington's noisy Husky Stadium

UCLA (Los Angeles Daily News)
» UCLA Football Notebook: Running back Malcolm Jones loses appeal for extra season
» COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Improving UCLA has questions to answer during preseason football camp
» COLLEGE FOOTBALL: UCLA's prized recruit Eddie Vanderdoes cleared to play by NCAA after leaving Notre Dame
» Pac-12 Media Day: Eyes on Anthony Barr for UCLA's 2013 hopes

USC (Los Angeles Daily News)
» USC Football Notebook: Marqise Lee's injury not too serious
» USC Football Notebook: QBs Max Wittek, Cody Kessler present dilemma for Trojans coach Lane Kiffin
» USC FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel thinks Trojans might not miss QB Matt Barkley
» USC FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Dion Bailey says it's 'now or never'

Washington (Seattle Times)
» Washington football: A progress report after five games
» Storm 2014 Exit Interviews: Tanisha Wright had a memorable 10th WNBA season
» UW progress report: What we know, what we don't know about the Huskies after five games
» Are Pac-12 quarterbacks conference's best class ever?

Washington State (Spokane Spokesman-Review)
» WHL notes: Paddock breaks through
» Defending option Idaho's next challenge
» Defense rebounds from a slow start
» Robert Franks joins WSU 2015 recruiting class

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