ANNE M. PETERSON
AP Sports Writer
Inevitably the first question Beavers coach Mike Riley faces these days is about who is going to start at QB, Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz.
Both players traded off often last season when the Beavers went 9-4 and finished third in the Pac-12 North. And both will compete for the starter's job when fall camp opens for Oregon State on Monday.
Aware that it could be one of the most pressing issues for the Beavers heading into the opener, Riley suggested he needed to find a way to keep everyone updated about the competition without it becoming an everyday distraction during camp. Oregon State opens at home with Eastern Washington on Aug. 31.
"We know that they both can win games," he said, adding that the coaching staff will have to "project" which player will be more consistent.
Mannion started Oregon State's first four games last season, averaging 339.5 yards passing a game, which at the time ranked him sixth in the nation. But the 6-foot-5 quarterback injured his left knee and required arthroscopic surgery, and that meant that Vaz would make his first start since high school.
Vaz competently stepped in and won two games, giving the Beavers their best start since they also went 6-0 in 1907. Oregon State climbed to No. 7 in the AP's Top 25, its best ranking since 2001.
In the end, Mannion threw for 2,446 yards and 15 touchdowns, with 13 interceptions in 10 appearances. Vaz, who was hampered down the stretch by an injury to his left ankle, threw for 1,480 yards and 11 touchdowns, with three interceptions while appearing in seven games.
Riley spoke to reporters via conference call on Thursday, addressing a wide range of issues. The tone was a lot different last season, when many were saying Riley's job was at stake after going 3-9 in 2011.
But the Beavers' eventual six-game turnaround was the best in school history, and only Ohio State and Middle Tennessee could boast the same improvement last season. Oregon State's only losses came against Washington, Stanford, rival Oregon in the Civil War and ultimately to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
This season, Oregon State will miss two key contributors from that team, receiver Markus Wheaton and cornerback Jordan Poyer.
Wheaton, who was a third-round selection by Pittsburgh in the NFL draft, caught 11 touchdown passes and averaged 95.7 yards receiving a game, while sophomore Brandin Cooks caught five TDs and averaged 88.5 yards a game. Wheaton's 1,244 total yards last season rank sixth in Oregon State history, while Cooks places seventh with 1,151 yards receiving.
Poyer, a seventh-round selection by the Philadelphia Eagles, had seven interceptions and was an All-American.
Riley said he believes the Beavers have a good foundation for weathering the changes this season.
"I actually think this team learned a lot about what it took to win games and hopefully they'll continue that growth," he said.
Riley said he would like to see Oregon State improve its running game -- a tradition was established by the likes of former Beavers Ken Simonton, Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers.
The two players who appear most likely to step into a productive role are Storm Woods and Terron Ward. Ward was so bold as to say this past spring that the duo is aiming to run for 1,000 yards apiece this season, which would be a first for a tandem in Oregon State history.
Overall, Riley said the Beavers are healthy going into camp, though linebacker Josh Williams has been dismissed from the team for "disciplinary reasons." He did not elaborate.
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