There are 35 bowl games. Here's everything you need to know about one of them.
Oregon State DE Scott Crichton was a first-team All-Pac-12 pick as a sophomore. (AP)
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Oregon State Beavers (9-3 Overall; 6-3 Pac-12)
At 59, Mike Riley is far from a dinosaur, but a decade into his second stint as Oregon State's head coach, he must be beginning to feel like one. Of the dozen coaches in the Pac-12 this year, seven of them were in their first, second or third year on the job, two more were in year four, and the only colleague who had been in his current position longer than Riley, California's Jeff Tedford, was fired at the end of the year. After back-to-back losing seasons in 2010 and 2011, Riley seemed to be in danger of the same fate.
Instead, OSU found new life in Riley's 10th season, riding a revived passing game and a rapidly maturing defense to one of the most dramatic single-season turnarounds in the nation. At 9-3, the Beavers are virtually assured of a spot in the final polls for the first time since 2008; with a 10th win over a name-brand opponent, they can clinch their place as the best team in Riley's tenure.
Poyer led the Pac-12 in INTs. (US Presswire)
At Their Best. Nowhere was the turnaround more apparent than the front seven, which transformed itself from the Pac-12's worst defense against the run in 2011 to one of the best in the nation in 2012. And nowhere was that transformation more apparent than in the first two games of the season, when OSU held two teams that had run them over a year earlier, Wisconsin and UCLA, to season lows on the ground in a pair of season-making upsets. Between them, All-American tailbacks Montee Ball and Johnathan Franklin managed just 106 yards on 3.9 per carry against the Beavers in two of their most underwhelming performances of the year.
At Their Worst. Two of Oregon State's three losses were November defeats at the hands of the best teams in the conference, Stanford and Oregon, which proved only that the Beavers aren't quite ready for a BCS game. The third, though, a 20-17 stumble at Washington in late October, is harder to fathom. In contrast to his usual efficiency, sophomore quarterback Sean Mannion served up four interceptions, opening the door for junior Cody Vaz to challenge for the starting role.
Headliner. Texas' receiving corps includes a 2012 Olympian, Marquise Goodwin, but the more relevant track star on Saturday plays for Oregon State: Before he finished second in the Pac-12 in receptions, Markus Wheaton finished second in the league in the 100-meter dash last spring, outrunning Sports Illustrated's "Fastest Man in Football," De'Anthony Thomas, in the process. For his effort in pads, Wheaton picked up a first-team all-conference nod from Pac-12 coaches and a solid second-round grade from NFL scouts.
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Texas Longhorns (8-4 Overall; 5-4 Big 12)
On paper, Texas has the makings of a complete, balanced team on both sides of the ball, which was true on the field to an extent: Everything worked, but it rarely worked at the same time.
The offense showed up early against Oklahoma State and West Virginia; the defense did not, running for cover in a pair of down-to-the-wire shootouts. By the time the defense pulled it together for late-season slugfests against TCU and Kansas State, the offense had gone into hibernation. Starting quarterback David Ash was occasionally brilliant, and occasionally found himself benched for ineffectiveness. Three different guys had their turn as the feature back, delivered a big game or two, and spent the rest of the season struggling for carries. The defense managed to lead the Big 12 in tackles for loss while also finishing dead last against the run. Twice, the mounting optimism of a four-game winning streak was dissolved by the reality of back-to-back losses.
The sum was the most maddening campaign yet in an ongoing, three-year rebuilding project that seems to be measuring progress in inches. The only clear difference between the 2012 Horns and the disappointments of 2010 and 2011 was the end of two-year losing streaks against Baylor and Oklahoma State. If the next step is a Big 12 title, lopsided losses at the hands of co-champs Oklahoma and Kansas State were sobering reminders of just how far the Horns still have to go.
Alex Okafor led UT in tackles for loss. (US Presswire)
At Their Best. The closest Texas came to putting all the parts together was a 66-31 romp at Ole Miss in September, a fleeting vision of the Longhorns' explosive potential. After punting on its opening possession in Oxford, the offense scored on 10 of its next 11 chances with the ball, the only exception coming on a missed field goal in the third quarter. Ash, just one week removed from his first 200-yard passing game in a win over New Mexico, turned in the night of his life with a 326-yard, four-touchdown effort, connecting on six passes that covered at least 20 yards. Meanwhile, Malcolm Brown (21 carries, 128 yards, 2 TDs) led a stable of backs to 350 yards rushing, marking the Longhorns' first game over 300 yards by ground and air in more than three years.
At Their Worst. Any remaining delusions came crashing down a month later, when UT followed up its first loss – a close, 48-45 decision against West Virginia – with a humiliating, 63-21 flop against Oklahoma that wasn't nearly as close as the final score: At halftime, Oklahoma led 36-2 and had more yards in two quarters (407) than the Longhorns allowed in seven entire games this season. Worse, it was the second year in a row the Sooners had detonated Texas' season in a lopsided blowout, and the fourth time since 2000.
Headliner. On a defense ravaged by injuries and inconsistency, defensive end Alex Okafor was a rock, starting every game for the second year in a row and earned a repeat appearance on the coaches' All-Big 12 team. Okafor and safety Kenny Vaccaro were the only senior starters on the defense, the only Longhorns voted first-team all-conference and may be the only Longhorns off the board in the 2013 draft.
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What: Alamo Bowl.
When: Saturday, Dec. 29, 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Where: Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas
Weird: Oregon State enters the game ranked 15th in the Associated Press poll, with Texas residing just outside the top 25 in "Also Receiving Votes" purgatory. If the Beavers finish ahead of the Longhorns in the final poll, it will be for only the second time since 1967, the last year balloting was held prior to bowl games.
Line: Oregon State (–3.5)
Prediction: Cody Vaz will start the game for Oregon State over Mannion, but the bigger question will be Texas' ability to establish the run. Ash is an entirely different quarterback with the benefit of a reliable ground game, and there are no shortage of options between Joe Bergeron, Johnathan Gray and Brown, who should be as healthy as he's been in months. But none of the three has stuck as a consistent, go-to back, and Oregon State has spent the entire season ranked among the best run defenses in the nation.
Oregon State 24, Texas 19