It is a little funny because at the end of last season it seemed like a few talking heads were mentioning Riley as one of their “surprise” guys on the hot seat, but it was still treated like a surprise choice. But apparently after an offseason of heavy coaching turnover in the Pac-12, pundits are playing musical coaching chairs and they figure someone has to go and it is Riley’s turn. The “Riley on the hot seat” meme has been growing this offseason and the above makes it pretty clear that the chatter has gone into overdrive. The difficult thing for Riley is that these memes have a way of infecting the fanbase. When the talking heads keep drilling it into people’s heads that Riley should be on the hot seat, it eventually sinks through (as these rankings indicate).
It certainly is possible that Riley could be fired, but I’d be a little surprised if it actually happens. I actually think Oregon State could have a pretty nice bounceback this season. I expect them to at least get bowl eligible. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go on a nice little run, either. The first game is a likely win against FCS Nicholls State.
Oregon State’s first test is a home game against Wisconsin. I expect the Badgers to be heavy favorites, but I’m not sure they should be. I expect this to be a year that Wisconsin falls back to the pack a fair bit, while I expect the Beavers to be pretty well improved. Oregon State was a young team last year. (They’ll actually still be a little young this year.) While I’m not ready to call the upset yet, I think that game will be much closer than people think, and I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see Oregon State take the game.
Whatever happens with the Wisconsin game, the rest of the schedule is pretty manageable. They get UCLA, Arizona, and Arizona State from the Pac-12 South – all three will have first year coaches trying to rebuild. All three programs will also be installing new offensive systems (UCLA will abandon the pistol, Arizona will be going to RichRod’s run spread, and Arizona State will be going to the hurry up, no huddle spread). They also get the Utes from the South. Utah is a decent team with a ton of experience, but that game is played at Reser Stadium, so the game should be pretty much a toss-up.
From the Pac-12 North, Washington State is another team that will be rebuilding with a new coach. Mike Leach has a reputation amongst fans as a miracle worker (he’s a good coach; people that think he worked “miracles” at Texas Tech, however, have no clue). But he’ll need to be a miracle worker with the lack of talent on Washington State’s roster (particularly on defense).
I do not have high expectations for Cal. I actually suspect Jeff Tedford is more likely to be fired this season than Riley. Will Washington improve its defense significantly with a new coordinator? I suspect Washington should be the slightly better team, and this game gets played in Seattle. It shouldn’t be considered a lock, but I’ll project it as a likely loss. At Stanford should be a projected likely loss. The home game against Oregon is another projected loss, although one never knows with a rivalry game, especially at home.
I’m going to throw in the road game at BYU as another projected loss, although the Cougars hardly outclass the Beavers talent-wise.
Given the schedule, I think 6 wins and a bowl berth is well within reach. If things break right, I would not at all be surprised to see the Beavers push through to 9 wins. At even just 6 wins and a bowl, I don’t think there is any reason to fire Riley. Doing so would be little more than a panic move designed to assuage fans that are jealous of other programs’ shiny new coaches. If Riley gets a bowl game, there’s zero reason to deny him the opportunity to take this team into 2013 and see if they can hit their peak then. If the team hits 8 or more wins, then there is absolutely no way they could reasonably fire the guy.
Of course, if things break wrong, a losing season is in the realm of possibility. Less than 6 wins and things may get very interesting in light of the growing public sentiment about his future. Riley will face off against four conference teams with first year head coaches. If he doesn’t do well against that group, then there likely is going to be a lot of pessimism about the future that sets in and some major calls for a firing from the fanbase. If Riley misses a bowl and, on top of it, doesn’t win at least three of that set of four games, then there probably isn’t anything that can save him. The perception will be that the program has fallen too far behind and Riley isn’t the guy to keep up with the new guys.
Personally, I’m going to predict that Oregon State hits 7-5, puts a scare into Oregon, and makes it to a bowl game. Riley isn’t completely safe, but I definitely would not have Riley as #2 on my hot seat ranking.