A first bowl appearance for Oregon State in three years looms Saturday when the 9-3 Beavers ranked 13th by the BCS, 14th by USA Today and 15th by Associated Press take on 8-4 Texas.
OSU is a slight favorite over the Longhorns, who are No. 23 in the BCS, No. 25 in USA Today and unranked by AP.
There is much to be gained by victory for the Beavers. For one thing, it would mean the third 10-win season in Oregon States 117-year football history.
Especially for us seniors, its our last Beaver game this is huge, receiver Markus Wheaton says. For the young guys, it would carry some momentum into next season. Its very important that we win.
OSU coach Mike Riley is 8-1 in bowl games, including three as offensive coordinator at Southern Cal in the mid-1990s. He lost his last outing, though 44-20 to Brigham Young in the 2009 Las Vegas Bowl.
Texas is among college footballs most-storied programs, with a rich tradition. Its brand provides a little extra motivation for the Beavers.
Its a great opportunity for us to get to play a program like that, with a name known all across the country, Wheaton says. Its even more exciting.
There is a mutual admiration society with Riley and Texas Mack Brown, who forged a fast friendship through their position on the same NCAA committees and through Nike coaching vacation trips over the past five years or so.
Brown planned a trip to Corvallis with his coaching staff two springs ago to spend time with OSU coaches. For whatever reason, it never materialized.
We were just going to visit about football, Riley says. I love to visit with other coaches about how they practice and how they set up their routine. I think Macks the same way.
Texas is 21-16 since losing to Alabama in the 2009 national championship game, including 5-7 in 20-10. After a 4-0 start this season, the Longhorns finished 4-4, including losses to Oklahoma (63-21) and Kansas State (42-24). At different times, offense and defense has been a problem.
Like Oregon State, Texas has gone with two quarterbacks, sophomore David Ash and junior Case McCoy. Ash, the better runner, has seen much more time than McCoy and has been tabbed as the starter against the Beavers.
The Longhorns have a pair of able running backs in 5-11, 205-pound freshman Johnathan Gray (683 yards, 4.8 average, three touchdowns) and 6-1, 230-pound sophomore Joe Bergeron (565 yards, 4.6 average, 16 TDs).
Mike Davis (54 receptions, 909 yards, seven TDs), a 6-2, 195-pound junior, is the top aerial target.
Co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin departed earlier in the month to become head coach at Arkansas State, leaving the other co-offensive coordinator, Major Applewhite, as offensive coordinator. Thats not likely to have much effect on the Texas offense, but it never helps to lose a key member of a coaching staff.
The Longhorns employ a 4-3 base defense and mix it up with a three-man front in long-yardage and passing situations. Safety Kenny Vacaro, who has 100 tackles, is the Longhorns premier player on defense.
He is really physical, runs and hits, is good in press coverage against receivers, OSU offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf says. He will jam you up he's one of the better players weve seen at that position all year long. They also have two strong defensive ends (Alex Okafor, with a team-high eight sacks, and Cedric Reed) who are good pass-rushers. Well have our work cut out for us.
Oklahoma rushed for 343 yards versus Texas, and five other foes have gained 200-plus yards on the ground against the Longhorns this season. The Beavers want badly to establish a run game in the Alamo Bowl to provide balance, because they are confident theyll be able to move the ball through the air.
Whether its Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz at the controls, Oregon State needs solid play at the quarterback position. It will be about getting the ball to Wheaton, Brandin Cooks and Storm Woods in space.
The Beavers defensive plan is to stop the run and force the Longhorns to get things done with an aerial attack that has averaged 265 yards a game.
Plenty is at stake for both teams. The Beavers want to close out a successful 2012 campaign on a high. In Austin, there is some pressure on Brown, who could use a win to quiet those suggesting his time as a big-time coach has passed.
This will be about Oregon State taking care of business. Though Texas owns a flood of four-star recruits, the Beavers are the better team this season. If they play a crisp game on both sides of the ball, there will be plenty of happy campers in Beaver Nation Saturday night in San Antonio.
THE PICK Oregon State 34, Texas 24