Bowl projections by Brad Edwards, Jerry Palm and others have the Ducks slated for the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas versus the Texas Longhorns.
All fired up: assuming he survives his message-board crucifixion between Saturday and Monday night, Mack Brown will take his 13-6 bowl record into a December 30th tilt versus the Ducks in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
The politics and financial arrangements are complicated, but bowl matchups come down to money rather than competitive merit, worth of the matchups or fairness. Oregon lost the ability to control their bowl destiny when they flopped by 26 versus Arizona the weekend before Thanksgiving. The ACC has an agreement with the Orange Bowl, and the Big-12 and SEC have ties to the Sugar that are formalized next year. Oregon falls to the Alamo due to both the blemishes on their record, and ticket-buying, suite-booking cash, the fragrant grease of the bowl season.
Now that their destination is set, they’ll have to embrace it as an opportunity.
The matchup works for the Ducks on a variety of levels. It’s a game they can win against an 8-4 Texas team that just fell 30-10 to Baylor. The Longhorns have a storied history but an embattled coach, and some of the heat leading up to the game will be on them and Mack Brown.
The Ducks have an opportunity to begin to rebuild their image after being “exposed” (in Kirk Herbstreit’s words) during their November stumble, losing 26-20 at Stanford and 42-16 at Arizona. After penalties, turnovers and poor starts, and a harrowing come-from-behind 36-35 victory against the Beavers in the Civil War, many fans and media critics wrote off the Ducks as undisciplined and poorly prepared, labeling their 10-2 season a disappointment.
The Alamo Bowl represents a chance to end the season 11-2 and finish in the Top Ten for the fifth time in five years. It’s also a homecoming for a growing contingent of Texas Ducks, senior Josh Huff, Bralon Addison, Chance Allen, and redshirt freshmen defensive backs Eric and Stephen Amoako. Texas has become a key recruiting ground for the Oregon coaching staff. This year’s recruiting class includes verbal commits 5-star defensive back Arrion Springs from San Antonio’s Roosevelt High, and defensive end/outside linebacker Justin Hollins from Arlington Martin, the alma mater of the Amoako twins.
Two of the Ducks all-time stars, running back LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas, also came from Texas, Texarkana and Houston respectively. Other Texas connections, like Lache Seastrunk, Tra Carson, Anthony Wallace and Dontae Williams, ended with attrition and failure as each of these highly-touted prospects transferred out after one season. Seastrunk and Williams never saw the field at UO.
For Mark Helfrich, it’s an opportunity to show he can prepare and focus a team that lost its direction and discipline after reaching 8-0 and #2 in the country. Bowl games frequently come down to which team wants it more and shows up with a desire to compete. A good effort in the bowl game can set the tone for next year, a season in which the Ducks have Marcus Mariota returning at quarterback, a total of 10 of 11 starters on offense.
They’ll be among the early favorites for the PAC-12 Championship and even the national title, but that will be tested early. They host Big Ten Champion, Rose Bowl-bound Michigan State on September 13th next fall.
Getting their minds right against Texas is the first test for this team going forward. How this team rebounds from the disappointment of missing the BCS is a key indicator of Helfrich’s ability to lead, motivate and establish discipline as a coach of a team that fell short of lofty expectations in 2013.
Meanwhile Mack Brown and Texas have big question marks of their own after surrendering 27 points in the second half in a 30-10 loss to Baylor Saturday afternoon in Waco, falling to 8-4 for the second year in a row, also the second year in a row they’ll play in the Alamo Bowl against a team from the state of Oregon. They topped the Beavers 31-27 in San Antonio last year.
Against Baylor the Longhorns went 2-17 on third down, with starting quarterback Case McCoy (Colt’s younger brother) completing just 12-34 passes for 54 yards, intercepted twice. The defense surrendered 508 yards to Baylor’s high-powered spread offense. Running back Malcolm Brown, a 6-0, 225-lb. workhorse, was the lone bright spot with 131 yards on 25 carries in a game that was tied 3-3 at halftime.
Texas lost to BYU and Ole Miss early in the year, rallied for 6 straight win to start Big-12 play, but then fell hard at home to then-#12 Oklahoma State 38-13. They were still alive for the league title going into Saturday’s regular season finale in Waco.
As high as expectations are for the Ducks, they are even higher at UT, where Brown routinely hauls in one of the top recruiting classes in the nation, benefitting from the prospect-rich hotbed that is the Lone Star State. Brown won a National Championship in 2005 with Vince Young at the helm, made the title game in 2009 with Colt McCoy at quarterback, losing 31-27 to Alabama in the championship game, Nick Saban’s first title with the Crimson Tide.
Since that 13-1 season, UT has gone 5-7, 8-5, 9-4, and 8-4 this year, far short of acceptable in football-mad Texas. Brown makes regular trips to the hot seat despite winning the 2011 Holiday Bowl and the Alamo last year. The boosters in Burnt Orange want Crystal Footballs, and the eyes of Texas look coldly on mediocrity. 158-46 in 16 seasons, the pressure grows on the 62-year-old coach despite winning 7 of his last 8 bowl games, and earning final Top Ten rankings six times.
Ranked 23rd before the loss to Baylor, Brown’s squad scores around 30 points a game and allows 26. The team lost starting quarterback David Ash for the season after he suffered a severe concussion in the loss to BYU back in September. Offensive coordinator Major Applewhite and the offense have struggled for consistency, although they did shock #12 Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry on October 12th, 36-20. The younger McCoy has thrown 11 tds and 11 interceptions as the emergency starter.
On the web, rumors have been swirling since the Oklahoma State loss that Brown would be forced out. Texas has the biggest revenue stream in college sports due to their Longhorn Network and long history of success, and speculation has been rampant that the university was attempting to lure Nick Saban away from Alabama. The rumors were so persistent that University of Texas president Bill Powers issued a denial on Thursday. Brown’s current contract, which pays him over $5.4 million, runs through 2020.