By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Spirits were down. The fan base was restless. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel was beginning to look like a train.
We’re not just talking about the University of Washington football program after last Saturday’s tail-kicking in Arizona left the Huskies’ losing streak at three games — all by double-digit margins. Things might be bad for UW right now, but they’re nothing compared to what the Oregon State program was feeling as it headed into the 2012 season.
The Beavers were coming off a 3-9 campaign and their first back-to-back losing seasons since the mid-1990s. Coach Mike Riley’s seat couldn’t have been hotter.
If this year’s Huskies (3-4) are looking for a light of inspiration — not to mention a possible season-turning win — they need search no further than the team they face tonight at CenturyLink Field.
Seventh-ranked Oregon State has been the most surprising story in college football. The Beavers (6-0) are off to their best start since 1907, they’re already bowl eligible and they’re rising up the rankings.
Oh, and Riley’s so-called hot seat might as well be a throne in downtown Corvallis.
Riley, who has coached 11 years during two stints at OSU, is trying to soak it all up while still keeping the Beavers on the right path.
“It’s a funny feeling,” Riley said this week. “Sometimes I’ll see it on TV, the rankings. I’ve always, good or bad seasons, felt like we’ve lived in a bubble of one week. Our focus immediately turns to the next game.
“But I do enjoy this team, and I do enjoy the ride. And I do have enough perspective to be thankful for what we’re doing and what we’re getting to experience.”
Riley knows all too well how far one game can go to turn things around. The 2011 Beavers were 2-8 heading into a November meeting with UW, and that OSU victory helped restore some sort of order in Corvallis. Oregon State ended the season with a loss to rival Oregon but has since gone on a win streak that no one saw coming.
Riley said one of the keys to turning things around was for OSU to stay the course after last season.
“We felt like what we had was a pretty young group,” he said. “What we needed was hard work and development. We didn’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
While the trigger-happy Pacific-12 Conference has found a way to trump nearly every flashy coaching hire in recent memory, the understated Riley has shown that patience can reap rewards.
Playing against a UW team that has a history of top-10 upsets, Riley might see his Beavers’ unexpected run of success come to an end tonight. But even getting to this point, after the way things were going for the OSU program this time a year ago, has been quite a ride.