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Mike Riley and Oregon State: (No Longer) A Love Story

With losses in 3 of their last 4 games, Oregon State fans are as unhappy as ever headed into the last month of the season. Let's take a look at how we've gotten here and where we're going.

A disappointing 2014 has many fans calling for Mike Riley to be fired.
A disappointing 2014 has many fans calling for Mike Riley to be fired.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon State is 4-4 overall, owning wins over Portland State, Hawaii, San Diego State, and Colorado, who is their lone conference victory. They've taken beatings from USC and Stanford, and close(r) losses to Utah and Cal. It would be generous to say the Beavers have a significant chance at getting to bowl eligibility, and with 9 other Pac-12 teams very likely to reach 6 wins, "bowl eligibility" might not equal "bowl appearance" for the Beavs.

Oregon State isn't a perennial contender, so some down years are to be expected, if not accepted. However, assuming Oregon State doesn't pull an upset and get to 6 wins, this would be the 3rd season in 5 years in which Oregon State fails to reach bowl eligibility. It would be, by far, the worst 5 years of Oregon State football since the dark ages of the late 20th century. Futility for this length of time eliminates the possibility of an underwhelming recruiting class or two being the cause of problems, and points to a more systematic failure.

In terms of the 2014, the simplest explanation for Oregon State's struggles is in fact the correct one; they're just not that talented. There's no severe injury bug to speak of. Sean Mannion is a 5th-year senior and a 4-year starter. 9 of 13 starters on defense (2 positions officially have co-starters) are seniors. 3 of the last 4 are juniors. Both lines have been hit with some injuries, but nothing more than to be expected.

The statement that Oregon State isn't very talented should probably include the coaches' talent level. There were the early season refusals to run the ball. There's a lack of defensive adjustments, as evidenced by Cal's constant ground attack last week while Oregon State often left 6 guys in the box, 2 of which were dropping into deep coverage. Not much has gone right for the Beavers in conference play.

Oregon State, and more specifically Mike Riley's, M.O. has been to recruit a lot of solid prospects and coach one or two of them every season into NFL-caliber players. The currently prospering NFL wideouts Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton are the latest examples of that. There's not one of those types on this year's team, and the only player likely to garner significant attention in the NFL draft this year is a JUCO-transfer; Steven Nelson is everything you want in a shutdown corner.

If the theory is that the 2010 and '11 recruiting classes were disappointing, then one would assume we'd be seeing the 2012 and '13 class stepping up and overtaking those upperclassmen, but, as we've already covered, the seniors are still starting, despite not exactly setting the world ablaze with stellar play. It's beginning to appear that this is a severe, prolonged downturn for Oregon State, who from 2006-2009 never won less than 8 games. This, of course, leads to people calling for the head of Mike Riley and some of his staff.

Many say the university can't fire Riley because he's the perfect fit for the university and its town. He's nice, inoffensive, but, yes, could be called a bit vanilla. People also say that Riley's not to blame, but Corvallis itself, whose sleepy nature is supposedly difficult to recruit to. Both are at least partially right, but the question few seem to ask is "Why?" Is Mike Riley only the perfect fit for Oregon State because he's held it back over the past decade? Would another coach have moved Oregon State farther ahead by now? Could the facilities, an area where Oregon State is woefully overmatched both nationwide and within the conference, be improved and help get recruits? It's hard to say.

As Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel pointed out earlier this week, one of the scarier aspects of getting a new, talented coach in Corvallis is the high chances he or she leaves for the NFL or a bigger school once they have success. That's valid, but his (and many other's) claim that "the risk outweighs the reward" is something that is beginning to appear questionable. In 2011, Oregon State supposedly hit rock bottom, going 3-9, but with a very young and inexperienced team. It's been 3 years, the team is insanely experienced, and they've improved maybe 3 wins. 2011 might have been rock bottom, but this year has certainly been more disappointing, and more damning for the coaching staff. How long will this slide last? How far will it go?

Yes, as of now, it seems the risk may outweigh the reward; I'm not sure Oregon State can afford to fire Mike Riley. But I'm growing unsure Oregon State can afford to keep him, either.