Mike Riley knows how tough it can be in Death Valley. The Oregon State coach played his college ball at Alabama, and more than a quarter-century later, he distinctly recalls one trip to play LSU.
“I remember the tiger in the corner, that’s the first thing,” said Riley, whose Beavers open their season against the defending national champions on Saturday. “And I remember taking the field when we took our pre-game walkaround the stadium. The student section was filled, probably close to three hours (before kickoff). They were throwing oranges at us. We were in position to go to the Orange Bowl if we won the game. We got bombarded and everybody was running away.”
The coach knows the famously festive and hostile atmosphere hasn’t changed much since then. But he still agreed to take on the Tigers in February when the opportunity arose, providing his team what’s sure to be their stiffest test on the road this season.
Oregon State will also be playing its first game after the graduation of first-round draft pick Steven Jackson. The Beavers plan on using three running backs in a committee to replace him, and they’ll probably need to be productive if Oregon State is to have a chance.
“When the athletic director approached me with this game, he said, ‘Don’t do it because of money. It’s just a matter of whether you want to do it or not,’ ” Riley said. “The most daunting thing is their physical ability, their speed and athleticism all over the field. Their special teams are outstanding, and of course defensively and offensively they’ve got a lot of athletes.”
No matter what the opposition looks like, Riley insists his team isn’t just going to Baton Rouge to see the sights and hang out with the tailgaters.
“We are preparing to win the game, and I think our kids are pretty tough-minded. This will be a test of that for sure,” Riley said. “All the obstacles are great, but the opportunities are great. Our kids are not prepared to just take a trip.”
On second thought
Two Pac-10 coaches are among the four nationwide who have said no thanks to instant replay in non-conference games against Big Ten teams. The Big Ten is serving as a test balloon this season with an instant replay system, but gave out-of-conference foes the ability to opt out.
“The system they’re experimenting with is not the NFL system, the coaches have no say in it,” said Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter, whose team plays both Iowa and Northwestern this season. “Our thought is, if we have no say as a coaching staff and their league is appointing somebody that is going to determine which plays are reviewed or not, we just don’t know who those people are.
“It just doesn’t seem like it would be worth it to us.”
For the naysayers
USC coach Pete Carroll bristles at some of the criticism levied at his team after an 11-point win again Virginia Tech in the first game of the college football season.
The Trojans, a preseason No. 1 in both polls, were almost a three-touchdown favorite, but faced a hostile environment at FedEx Field, much closer to the campus of opponent Virginia Tech. USC trailed at halftime before quarterback Matt Leinart and running back Reggie Bush helped kick start the USC offense in the second half.
“It seemed like it was their place,” Carroll said. “This was a total away game for us. We wore our home jerseys, but it wasn’t a home game. It was across the country; it was a major trip.
“People that want to take something away from USC because of what they saw can do whatever they want. We are thrilled about getting a win over a terrific program.”
Arizona State opens the season Thursday night against UTEP and head coach Mike Price, making his first sideline appearance since the 2003 Rose Bowl with Washington State. “All you really have to go on in a game like this, you have to go on Coach Price’s track record,” Koetter said. “Ever since he coached many years ago at Weber State and then on at Washington State, his offense has been pretty much the same thing.” … Oregon plans to wear a sticker on its helmet to honor Terrance Kelly, an incoming freshman from De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., who was murdered on Aug. 12. … Stanford coach Buddy Teevens confirmed that Trent Edwards is his starting quarterback.
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