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The Oregon State Beavers take the field at Reser Stadium in 2016. They hope to take down their in-state rival, the Oregon Ducks, this Saturday in Eugene.

When the Oregon State Beavers square off against the Oregon Ducks on Saturday for their annual football game, this will be the most meaningful such game for OSU players and fans in nearly a decade.

The last time the Beavers had a winning conference record going into this game was in 2012, under then-coach Mike Riley. That year the team went 6-3 in conference play, was 9-4 overall, and was ranked in the Top 25, including at one point reaching number 13.

Since then, the Beavers have gone winless in conference play twice, had a one-win season, and two seasons with only two conference wins, including last year’s team, which was 2-5.

Clearly, it’s been tough sledding. But this year the team is 5-3 in conference play and has a chance to match the Beavers’ 2012 season with a win Saturday. To do that, coach Jonathan Smith might want to look back at a secret weapon Riley used to motivate and reward his team in big games: In-N-Out burgers.

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Former Oregon State football coach Mike Riley with his favorite: In-N-Out’s double-double and fries.

Specifically, its best-selling double-double — two patties, two slices of cheese — with fries of course.

Riley’s unique motivational ploy was such a hit that other teams started trying it, and it made national headlines, including a story in Sports Illustrated.

As I mentioned, the Beavers were good — really good — in 2012, and were fighting for a spot in the Rose Bowl. They started the season with six straight wins, including victories over No. 13 Wisconsin and No. 19 UCLA. They romped in their final regular season game of the season, beating Nicholls St. 77-3.

The team featured the quarterback tandem of Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion, who combined threw for nearly 3,800 yards and averaged over 316 yards a game, ranking 15th best in the nation.

That success drew a national spotlight to the Beavers, which only grew brighter with Riley’s runs to In-N-Out burger establishments in California.

The Beavers opened the 2012 season with a 10-7 upset win over No. 13 Wisconsin Badgers in Corvallis. The next week the team was heading to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena for a showdown with the No. 19 UCLA Bruins.

To get the team motivated, Riley promised the players a trip to In-N-Out burger if they won. The Beavers did prevail in a 27-20 squeaker, and Riley made good on his promise. The team stopped off at an In-N-Out near the Los Angeles airport following the big win, and the team feasted on more than 200 orders of double-doubles and fries.

Riley let the world know about it, too.

“Just finished our business in LA, now it’s time for a little fun, headed to In-N-Out as a team! #GoBeavs2012” Riley tweeted after the game.

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Former Oregon State football coach Mike Riley stands outside an In-N-Out burger restaurant in Southern California in 2012, following a big win over UCLA.

An hour later, Riley tweeted a picture of himself — holding his wallet — outside the Southern California In-N-Out.

“We weren’t joking, double-doubles for everyone! Great win!” Riley tweeted.

The coach was later asked if he really did buy food for the team.

“Of course, these guys deserve it!” Riley tweeted.

The media ate it up. Newspapers and sports shows on the West Coast and even throughout the country picked up the story. Sports Illustrated and Sporting News, back then the biggest sports publications in the nation, both ran stories on it, as did the Seattle Times.

The In-N-Out magic didn’t last, however. After starting the season with seven straight wins, the Beavers lost four of their last seven games, including a 48-24 beating by the Ducks.

The season ended with a 31-27 nail-biter loss to the Texas Longhorns in the Alamo Bowl. OSU led 27-17 before Texas rallied late to win the game.

Riley tried to revive the In-N-Out tradition the following year, for a while anyway.

To get the team up for an Oct. 19 showdown with the Cal Bears, he again promised the team a double-double feast should they win. The Beavers did just that, dismantling the Bears 49-17 for their sixth straight victory of the season.

Because it was a night game, Riley arranged to have the 200 or so orders waiting for the team at the Oakland airport afterward.

After Riley did it, other coaches tried to find the In-N-Out magic, too.

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Other teams copied Riley. Here, the USC football team feasts on In-N-Out meals provided by former coach Ed Orgeron in 2013.

In 2013, USC coach Ed Orgeron surprised the team with a delivery of In-N-Out meals and the players flipped out. In 2016, Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre made “the mother of all burger runs” to celebrate a victory over Stanford.

Unfortunately for the Beavers, the good luck burgers magic wore off. The team lost its next five games in 2013, before pulling out a win against Boise State in the Aloha Bowl. The Beavers finished 7-6 that year, its last winning season since this one.

The following year the team dropped to 5-7, with a 2-7 conference record. That was Riley’s last season as head coach of the team.

Scott Carroll can be reached at scarroll@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4204. Or follow him on Twitter @scottcarroll15.

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