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December 31, 2013

Bowl game means more than a win

Mike Riley realizes the value of the ancient saying in athletics that you are only as good as your last game.

If true, Oregon State will happily spend the next eight months feeling they're as good as any team elsewhere, as the convincing 38-23 Hawaii Bowl win over Boise State scrubbed the sour taste of a five-game losing streak from their collective mouths and set the stage for a constructive off-season for the Beavers.

The last thing Riley wanted heading into the off-season was a distressing six-game losing streak hanging over the Beavers.

"We've had plenty of disappointment and quite a bit of adversity through the year," Riley exclaimed following Oregon State's first bowl win since the 2008 Sun Bowl. "But I've always enjoyed coaching them because every week they came back and went to work. We had some clunkers, we had some good football. In the end, we came together, played a good football team, played a good game and won it."

Prior to the Hawaii Bowl, the last time the Beavers had experienced the thrill of victory was October 19 at California, the final piece in a 6-1 start that had OSU fans dreaming of another big year. However, consecutive losses to Stanford, USC, Arizona State, Washington and Oregon nullified the solid start and left the Beavers with a mediocre 6-6 record that threatened to leave them home in Corvallis for the holidays.

Now, Oregon State gets to celebrate.

"Coaches particularly like to spin it when you win, but it was a good ending and a good beginning," Riley said. "You hate losing a bowl game because it's the last game you play and it just hangs over you for a long time. Confidence-wise, to win this game against Boise, a team we have so much respect for in college football, that's a good thing headed into the offseason."

Riley insisted in the wake of the disappointing last-minute Civil War loss that his team needed - and deserved - to play in a bowl game. Three decades in college coaching have taught him that bowl preparation is as much about developing young and inexperienced players as anything else.

"No question the extra practices (helped) and the fact you get to bring kids on a trip that have never really traveled before," Riley said. "Our redshirts had never been to a (road) game, so they didn't know what the night-before meeting is about. They got to see all this and got to experience a game week away from home."

Best of all, Riley said, the redshirt freshmen experienced up close and personal how veteran players such as senior offensive linemen Michael Philipp, Grant Enger and Josh Andrews went about the business of preparing for a game.

"They got to watch some real pros," Riley said. "This senior class has a bunch of guys that are real good examples for our young kids. Those three senior offensive linemen are men. I love those guys. They mean so much to us. They played a lot of football for us. They are stable people, so I like our young guys to be around those guys."

Defensively, the same young players watched senior cornerback Rashaad Reynolds close out his career in style with a pair of fumble returns for touchdowns, tying an individual NCAA record.

"Rashaad has had a great career. Watching him grow has been outstanding," Riley said. "His development, his maturity, his play. . .he is a big-time player and a big-time guy. He was fun to coach."

Of course, the fact the young players' bowl experience happened to occur in Hawaii didn't hurt, either. Oregon State sweated out Selection Sunday until being officially told they would travel to the middle of the Pacific Ocean for the Christmas Eve encounter with Boise State.

When word finally came down the Beavers would face perhaps the most notable opponent from a non-automatic qualifying BCS conference in the country at Aloha Stadium, Riley was elated.

"We loved where we landed to get to play a bowl game," Riley said. "We did not know what was going to take place. We knew we were bowl eligible. We hoped somebody was going to pick us. We were not picky. We wanted to play and get extra practices for our young guys.

"We wanted to be a bowl team. We waited and were pleasantly surprised with a trip to play in Hawaii and play a good team like Boise. I thought it was one of the good looking matchups out there after you got through the BCS games."

Oregon State has about a half dozen players from the Hawaiian Islands on its roster, and has spent considerable time, effort and money recruiting feverishly inside the state. Typically, the Beavers sign at least one or two players from Hawaii every February on National Signing Day.

Ironically, OSU again makes the five-hour flight to Honolulu next September for the back half of a home-and-home series with the Rainbow Warriors, giving the Beavers another golden opportunity to strengthen ties with a fertile recruiting region that consistently - and surprisingly - produces an eye-opening number of Pac-12 caliber prospects.

"We have a great history here," Riley said. "We've had a lot of players we've coached from here. We have commitments from here for future teams and we will continue to recruit here as long as we are at Oregon State. I love the (high school) football here. It is well-coached. There is a lot of passion to it. There is talent.

"Those kids bring a sense of family into our program that we particularly like. So, it's a big deal for us to play here."


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