Athlon Sports No. 16

Mike Riley returns to a program he coached in 1997 and '98 before a four-year engagement in the NFL. In the meantime, Oregon State has risen to the status of a player on the national stage.

After backing up Jonathan Smith as a freshman in 2001, Derek Anderson took over as the Beavers' starting quarterback last season and threw for 3,313 yards and 25 touchdowns, but he needs to work on his accuracy (47-percent completions). His receivers, led by the explosive James Newson, are among the fastest humans on the planet. But Riley might employ the passing game just to loosen up defenses for tailback Steven Jackson, who returns after rushing for 1,690 yards and 15 touchdowns last fall.

There are holes to fill on defense, but the returnees include end Bill Swancutt, who posted a team-high 21 tackles for loss, and safety Mitch Meeuwsen, who led the team with five interceptions. Linebacker Richard Seigler is the linchpin in the middle with 36 consecutive starts.

The non-conference schedule isn't particularly challenging, though Fresno State on Sept. 6 could present problems. The Beavers will close out 2003 on the road at Oregon and USC.

Riley the Rebuilder: Riley ended his first stint at Oregon State in 1998 following a 5–6 season, the best in Corvallis in 27 years.

Ground assault: The Beavers paced the Pac-10 in rushing last fall at 148.7 yards a game.

Stubborn: Oregon State's defense was the league's best on third down, with an opponents conversion rate of just 25.6 percent.

2002 results: 8–5 (4–4 Pac-10)

Bowl Game: Lost to Pittsburgh 38-13 in Insight Bowl

Returning starters: 9 offense, 6 defense, both kickers

2003 Schedule:

A. 30 Sacramento State
S. 6 at Fresno State
S. 13 New Mexico State
S. 20 Boise State
S. 27 Arizona State
O. 4 at California
O. 18 Washington
O. 25 at Washington State
N. 1 Arizona
N. 15 Stanford
N. 22 at Oregon
D. 6 at USC

Schedule Analysis: Fresno State could be a bit of a trap for the Beavers, who may be overconfident after last year's 40-point win. Boise State is another tougher-than-it-looks non-conference game. Oregon State has open dates before its two toughest games, Washington and USC. A split of those two games and the Beavers could be looking at a Pac-10 title.

Final Word: Mike Riley is immediately going to be under some pressure to live up to the standard created by Dennis Erickson. A bowl-less season will not play well after Erickson went to three in four years. But keeping the momentum should not be a problem with the offensive talent Riley will have at his disposal. Anderson needs to be more efficient at quarterback and the defense needs to slow some of the high-powered attacks it will face for the Beavers to be in the hunt at the end of the year.

To pre-order the 2003 Athlon Sports Southeastern edition, click on the magazine icon below. The Southeastern and National editions are set to hit newsstands June 6.

#16 Oregon State

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