CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

College football top 25 countdown: No. 19 Oregon State

Despite losing some key players and having questions at quarterback, the Beavers should win at least nine games.

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 Mike Riley

Oregon State coach Mike Riley greets cornerback Chris Hayes during a team practice session Monday. Oregon State is poised to make an impact in the Pac-12 this season. (Amanda Cowan / Associated Press / August 5, 2013)

If you don't like Mike Riley you don't like ice cream or dogs. The man who could have been USC's coach at least once has comfortably settled into Corvallis, Ore.

He is 60 now and the Pac-12's longest tenured coach entering his 13th year.

Riley played for tough-guy Bear Bryant at Alabama, but he is really more like a teddy bear.

While other coaches become more paranoid, closing down ranks and shuttering doors, Riley welcomes everyone into his practices.

Last year, after Oregon State beat UCLA at the Rose Bowl, Riley treated the entire team to In-N-Out burgers.

The worry going into 2012 was that this nice guy was about to finish last and lose his job to an ogre or a drill sergeant.

Oregon State's stock price was progressively dropping: The Beavers followed the 9-4 season of 2008 with years of 8-5, 5-7 and 3-9.

But then, completely out of the orange, Oregon State bounced back with last year's 9-4 campaign. The Beavers lost a great Alamo Bowl against Texas and are set up for another nice season.

Oregon State finished No. 20 in the final Associated Press poll, so we were happy to bump the boys up this year to No. 19.

The Beavers lost some key players, namely star receiver Markus Wheaton (91 catches, 11 touchdowns) and star cornerback Jordan Poyer.

"Every team has to form their new identity," Riley said at Pac-12 media day.

It helps when the school kids can identify with the headmaster.

Oregon State returns enough talent, 15 starters, to challenge Oregon and Stanford in the difficult North division.

There is plenty of wide-receiver depth to absorb the loss of Wheaton, starting with 1,000-yard receiver Brandin Cooks.

Running back Storm Woods returns after rushing for 940 yards and 13 touchdowns last season despite nagging injuries that limited his practice time.

The defense, which finished 30th overall last year and No. 22 in scoring, should be solid again.

The question again this year is who will start at quarterback, Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz?

Mannion won the job last year and led his team to a 4-0 start before he suffered a knee injury that put him out for two games. Vaz took over and won both of his starts, but then Riley went back to Mannion. Then it was back to Vaz after Mannion had four passes intercepted against Washington. Then it was Vaz after Mannion got hurt.

Mannion had more yards, 2,446, but had only two more touchdowns (15) thanpasses intercepted (13).

Vaz finished with 11 touchdowns and only two passes intercepted. Riley said he won't make the final quarterback call this year until just before the team's Aug. 31 opener against Eastern Washington.

Oregon State got off to a 6-0 start last season against a much tougher schedule. The Beavers shocked Wisconsin at home, 10-7, and followed with wins at UCLA and Arizona. Oregon State also scored an impressive win at Brigham Young.

This year's schedule could get Oregon State to 7-0 before hosting Stanford on Oct. 26.

After the Eastern Washington opener, Oregon State hosts Hawaii before consecutive games at Utah and San Diego State. The Beavers then host Colorado before trips to Washington State and California.

Oregon State needs to pile up wins before a gnarly November stretch: USC, at Arizona State, Washington and at Oregon.

Bottom line: There's no reason Oregon State shouldn't win nine games.

Top 25 so far: 25. Oklahoma; 24. Wisconsin; 23. Fresno State; 22. UCLA; 21. Texas A&M; 20. Notre Dame.

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