- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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ESPN college football insider Travis Haney thinks Mike Riley and Jim Mora did bang-up jobs coaching this year. Call Ted and me biased, but we tend to agree.
Haney ranked what he believed to be the 10 most underrated coaches in the nation in 2012, and a pair of Pac-12 coaches finished in his top five.
At No. 5 was Mora, who guided UCLA to a 9-4 season, a legitimate No. 1 finish in the Pac-12 South Division and a date with Baylor on Dec. 27 in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl in San Diego.
Here's what I know: When I visited the Rose Bowl in May for UCLA's spring game, I noticed a departure in negative energy, especially for the team's previously bogged-down offense. Those feelings transitioned to the season, too. The Bruins finished fourth in the Pac-12 -- just ahead of USC -- in scoring offense; that's serious progress. They might have a 2013 Heisman contender in quarterback Brett Hundley.
And coming in at No. 3 on Haney's list was Oregon State's Riley, who orchestrated one of the finest turnarounds in college football this year. After a 3-9 campaign last season left his seat on the toastier side, the 9-3 record this year has his fanny colder than a rainy Corvallis December day. Speaking of December, the Beavers are back in the postseason, where they'll face No. 23 Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29.
I remember Riley most this season for his ability to keep things light, like when he took the team to In-N-Out after the win at UCLA. It reminded me of postgame food stops on the bus in high school. Sometimes it's nice to see that somewhere the game still looks like a game. That's easier said than done when guys are sometimes coaching for their livelihoods under intense pressure, as Riley probably felt he was, heading into this season.
Haney's assessment also seems to run parallel with what folks on the Pac-12 blog think. In a poll last month, 31 percent said Riley should have been the Pac-12 coach of the year. That honor, of course, went to Stanford head coach David Shaw for the second consecutive season.