27 Dec

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HEADING SOUTH FOR THE WINTER

BOWL PREVIEW 2012Alamodome at Twilight

AFTER WINNING FOUR STRAIGHT GAMES, TEXAS SET THEIR SIGHTS ON a BCS bowl game. They didn’t remember the Alamo, let alone the game taking place just south of Austin. No one spoke about playing in the little old Valero Alamo Bowl down in San Antonio.
But that was a time before Thanksgiving.

After the Longhorns lost their final two contests and the smoke lifted from the machinations of the BCS bowl selection process, Texas landed — quite abruptly — in the Alamo Bowl. The team will square off against Oregon State, a hungry squad that finished third in the Pac-12 Conference. The Valero Alamo Bowl — which is celebrating its 20th anniversary — will kick off Dec. 29 at 5:45 p.m. in the Alamodome. ESPN will televise the game.

In reality, a berth in the Alamo Bowl is likely the correct spot for Texas after an 8-4 regular season. Texas finished the season ranked 23rd in the final BCS poll, behind Northern Illinois, two four-loss teams in UCLA and Michigan, as well as Utah State. Texas coach Mack Brown said his players are excited about the challenge that Oregon State will bring to the Alamo City.

“This will be a real upper for our players and coaches,” he said.
“You always want to play somebody who’s ranked high. It worked out perfect for us.” Oregon State was ranked 13th in the BCS poll and went 9-3 this season, after a 3-9 campaign in 2011. “We’re excited about this opportunity for Oregon State and the Beaver football team,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. “We’re proud to be selected for the Alamo Bowl.”

Texas’ loss to Kansas State Dec. 1 cost the team a chance at a potential spot in one of the big-money games, hurting Oklahoma as well. The Sooners had already
clinched a share of the Big 12 Conference title by the time Texas and Kansas State met on the field. In a perfect world, where the Longhorns beat Kansas State, all three teams may have ended up in the top 16 of the final BCS standings.

Once Texas lost, other teams — most notably Northern Illinois — moved up in the polls, allowing the Huskies to move into the BCS and push down the Big 12 teams. Northern Illinois was ranked 15th in the final BCS standings. The Mid-American Conference champions will head to the Orange Bowl, bumping Oklahoma out of a BCS game and into the AT&T Cotton Bowl, where they’ll face Texas A&M. The Longhorns fell to the Alamo Bowl.

During the month prior to the end-of-season bowl announcements, the media continually
and erroneously rumored that the Cotton Bowl wanted to pair the Longhorns and Texas A&M together at the Cowboys’ stadium. Alamo Bowl officials said they considered
matching UCLA with Texas. But after its selection committee deliberated until the final
hours of Dec. 2, they decided on the Beavers, who defeated UCLA earlier this season and
are ranked higher in all the polls.

The contest will mark only the third time the Longhorns and Beavers have played each  other. Texas leads the series 2-0 with victories in 1980 (35-0) and in 1987 (61-16), both in Austin. Predicting how the Longhorns will perform in the offseason is impossible, based on their roller coaster performance during the regular season. Either way, the team knows they need to step up and send the seniors off in the proper fashion — with a bowl win.

“My class, the upcoming seniors, has to step up,” quarterback Case McCoy said. “We want to send off these guys right. They’ve done everything right for the program.  It’s time for us to repay them with a good bowl game.” The Longhorns’ only other appearance in the Alamo Bowl came in 2006, when Texas stormed from behind under the leadership of redshirt freshman quarterback Colt McCoy to beat Iowa 26-24. Texas and Iowa attracted a capacity crowd of 65,875 to the Alamodome (the second-largest attendance in Alamo Bowl history) for that game.
The game finished with a television rating of 6.0, which equates to the second-most
watched contest in Alamo Bowl history.

THE LONGHORNS HAVE BOWL CREDIBILITY

NINE OF TEXAS’ final 10 games were against teams that earned bowl invitations, with the Longhorns winning six of those contests. The Alamo Bowl marks the team’s 51st bowl appearance, second to Alabama who’ll play its
59th bowl game against Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship game.

“I’m excited to go back to a bowl,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “A couple of years ago we
didn’t get to do that, so you can’t take these opportunities for granted. Because we’ll play in
San Antonio, a lot of our players’ families will get to go the game and enjoy seeing their kids play in their last game of 2012. It’s going to be [like] a home game for us.”

The Longhorns have a 26-22-2 mark in bowl games and have gone 9-4 in Brown’s 15
years as their head coach. Texas has victories in eight of their last 10 appearances; last year they beat California 21-10 in the Holiday Bowl. Brown’s personal string, including his coaching stint at North Carolina, goes back even further. He has directed his teams to
20 bowls in the last 21 seasons, tying for the longest active streak in the nation with Frank
Beamer of Virginia Tech.

In the 15 years prior to Brown’s arrival, Texas went to eight bowls and was 2-6. Brown is the first Texas coach since Darrell K Royal— who was 8-7-1 in bowl games — to post a .500 or better bowl record. “Our mentality is that next year starts now,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “Everything will be built through the practices for this bowl game, to use as a springboard for a run at the championship next season.”

The Longhorns rank 24th in the nation in scoring offense (36.1 points per game) and No. 37 in total offense (441.0 yards per game). Texas posted more than 400 yards of total offense in nine games this season and scored 40-plus points in five contests. Mike Davis leads Texas in receptions (54) and receiving yards (909), while Johnathan Gray has a team-high 683 rushing yards, the highest among freshman backs in the Big 12. Davis is seeking to become just the sixth player in school history with 1,000 receiving yards.

The Longhorn defense improved over the second half of the season, allowing an average of 330.4 yards over the last five games — more than 140 less than the first seven contests. Defensive end Alex Okafor and Vaccaro are the stalwarts of the Texas defense. Vaccaro leads the team in tackles (99) and is tied for first in forced fumbles (3). Okafor also has three forced fumbles and is among the best in the nation in sacks (0.67 per game, tying for 33rd).

THE BEAVERS CONTINUE TO SUPRISE AND IMPRESS

The Alamo Bowl will serve as the most prestigious postseason game for the Beavers since they beat Notre Dame 40-9 in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl. Preseason prognosticators predicted that Oregon State would finish last in the Pac-12 North Division. The Beavers’ turnaround in 2012 came despite playing the third-toughest schedule in the country, as determined by the final Sagarin ratings.

Oregon State began the season by upending No. 13 Wisconsin and then No. 19 UCLA in its Pac-12 opener. The team also logged a non-conference victory at BYU and beat five teams headed to play in their own bowl games this season. The Associated Press ranked the Beavers in its poll a school-record 11 consecutive weeks.

The team escalated to as high as No. 7 this season in the AP and BCS polls. “It’s a tremendous honor for the Beavers to play in such a prestigious bowl game,” Riley said. “We’re looking forward to playing a good Texas team and spending part of the holiday season in San Antonio.”

This season will mark the Beavers’ first appearance in the Alamo Bowl, as well as the team’s first postseason game since the 2009 MAACO Bowl in Las Vegas. Oregon State is 6-2 in bowl games since the 2000 season, including 5-1 with Riley at the helm of the program. The Beavers will be the sixth team from the current Pac-12 Conference to play in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

“This will be a great conclusion to my Beaver career,” Oregon State cornerback Jordan Poyer, a first team All-American and team cocaptain, said. “I’m excited to play in a great game and against an outstanding opponent.” Oregon State ranks No. 22 in the FBS in scoring defense (19.8 points per game) and 17th in pass efficiency defense (110.8 rating). The Beavers are among the best teams in the country in forcing turnovers. They tied for sixth for interceptions (19) and tied for 12th with 30 forced turnovers.

Quarterback Sean Mannion leads an Oregon State offense that ranks 15th in the nation in passing yards (316.5 yards per game) and 38th in scoring (33.0 points per game). The Beavers’ leading rusher is Storm Woods, a Pflugerville native, with 822 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season.

Wide receiver Markus Wheaton ranks 11th in the nation in receiving yards per game and is the school’s all-time receptions leader (224). He needs 43 receiving yards in the Alamo Bowl to become the third player in Oregon State history with 3,000 yards or more. Oregon State started the season 6-0 and lost three of its final six outings.

But the Beavers will come to San Antonio on a huge positive — they set a new school record by scoring 77 points against Nicholls State Dec. 1. It was the fourth time in school history that the Beavers surpassed 70 points and the first time since 1931.