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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)
» Wildcats gear up for Cal
» UA football: Former SDSU QB commits to Arizona
» Hansen's Sunday Notebook: Pueblo turns to ex-UA standouts for coaching help
» UA football: My AP Top 25 ballot

Arizona St. (Arizona Republic)
» Confident Mike Bercovici takes over as ASU's starting QB
» Boivin: Move a good sign for ASU athletics
» ASU QB Kelly expected to miss 1-2 games
» Is ambiguity over injury disservice to fans?

California (East Bay Tribune)
» Cal, Stanford Pac-12 men's basketball schedules announced
» Oakland Soldiers set tone for college basketball recruiting in Bay Area
» Cal-Colorado game set for 1 p.m. kickoff
» Local sports digest: Stanford sweeps Santa Clara

Colorado (Denver Post)
» 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
» Colorado holds heads high after 38-24 loss to No. 16 Arizona State

Oregon (The Oregonian)
» Oregon Ducks open up Autzen Stadium doors for Fan Fest: Photo gallery
» Oregon Ducks release 2014-2015 men's basketball schedule
» Walter Thurmond, New York Giants CB, out for season with torn pectoral muscle
» Marcus Mariota takes a golf break, then starts preparing for Washington State Cougars (video)

Oregon State (Corvallis Gazette-Times)
» 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
» Beavers promote McCoy to assistant athletic director for equipment operations

Stanford (San Jose Mercury-News)
» Cal, Stanford Pac-12 men's basketball schedules announced
» Local sports digest: Stanford's Maverick McNealy ties for medalist honors
» Local sports digest: Stanford sweeps Santa Clara
» Stanford sweeps Santa Clara

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)
» Marcus Peters back with Huskies after sitting out one game
» Washington begins Pac-12 play at California
» Video: UW's Chris Petersen on Marcus Peters, Cyler Miles, Georgia State and more
» UW quarterback Cyler Miles was 'honored' to be named team captain against Illinois

Washington State (Spokane Spokesman-Review)
» WSU men's basketball schedule revealed
» Video: Cyrus Coen, Dom Williams and Toni Pole
» Video: Mike Leach during Monday press conference
» Cougars must make the most of every opportunity

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