GAME NOTES: A pair of top-level programs with go toe-to-toe in the 21st annual Valero Alamo Bowl, as the 10th-ranked Oregon Ducks play the Texas Longhorns at the Alamodome.
Even with the departure of Chip Kelly last offseason, Oregon came into the 2013 campaign with sky-high expectations and appeared to be one of the favorites for the BCS Championship Game after an 8-0 start. The Ducks stumbled in November however, with a pair of losses at Stanford (26-20) and Arizona (42-16) to finish up 10-2.
"We had a tough four-game stretch here at the end of the season, stubbed our toe a little bit," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "But we'll be hungry to get back out there."
"(This season) was tough and it was unfortunate," quarterback Marcus Mariota added. "But we kind of put ourselves in this position."
Even with the disappointing finish, Oregon still reached the 10-win mark for the sixth straight season and has played in a bowl game in 21 of the past 25 years.
After a slow 1-2 start to the season, Texas played itself back into the picture in the Big 12 with a six-game winning streak, and even with a Nov. 16 loss to Oklahoma State (38-13), it was still in position to win the league outright on the final day of the season but ultimately lost at Baylor, 30-10. Following the regular season, Mack Brown announced his resignation after 16 years at the helm, although he will finish out his tenure by coaching this matchup.
"It's sad to see him go," Texas running back Malcolm Brown said. "At the same time, he's told us that it was his decision and that we just need to focus on beating Oregon. That's the main priority right now. Like I said, that was his decision, and it'll work itself out."
"(Brown's departure) can't change the way we prepare," quarterback Case McCoy said. "We've got to go prepare like we have most of the year...It's a big bowl game for us."
Texas leads the all-time series with Oregon, 4-1. The only meeting in the past 42 years came in the 2000 Holiday Bowl, when the Ducks defeated the Longhorns, 35-30.
Although the Ducks' offensive attack came up small in their two losses this season, for the most part the unit has been nothing short of outstanding, ranking second in the nation in yards per game (573.0) and third in points per game (46.8).
Marcus Mariota orchestrated the offense under center and was one of the nation's best, completing 63.1 percent of his passes for 3,412 yards with 30 touchdowns with just four interceptions, adding 582 rushing yards and nine more scores on the ground. Mariota, once a projected first round pick in May's NFL Draft, decided to return for his junior season in 2014, which is sure to make the Ducks a top contender once again.
Oregon's rushing attack has been potent (278.3 ypg), but it might be without Byron Marshall (995 yards, 14 TDs), who's listed as questionable with an ankle injury. Luckily the team has plenty of horses in the stable, as Thomas Tyner (689 yards, nine TDs) and De'Anthony Thomas (581 yards, eight TDs) have both been impressive as well, each averaging at least 6.2 yards per carry.
Mariota has a couple of big-play receivers to rely on out wide in Josh Huff (57 receptions, 1,036 yards, 11 TDs) and Bralon Addison (56 receptions, 842 yards, seven TDs).
Atypical of such a high-scoring team, Oregon played great defense this season, allowing just 21.6 points per game while generating 27 turnovers.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (78 tackles, three INTs) earned First Team All-Pac-12 honors and proved to be one of the nation's best shut-down corners. Derrick Malone leads the unit with 102 tackles, while Tony Washington anchors the defensive line with 12.0 TFL, 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.
As for Texas' offense, despite coming up small in the season finale against Baylor (217 yards, 10 points), it still enjoyed a stellar season in scoring 31.2 points per game.
With David Ash lost for the season in mid-October, Case McCoy took over as the full-time starting quarterback to middling success, completing less than 58 percent of his passes for 1,885 yards, 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
The Longhorns were also bit by the injury bug in the backfield when Johnathan Gray (780 yards, four TDs) went down for the year with a calf injury. Malcolm Brown has taken over as the bell cow in his absence, turning 188 carries into 774 yards and nine touchdowns. Joe Bergeron (341 yards, four TDs) is also mixed in, but he's listed as questionable with a foot injury.
Jaxon Shipley (55 receptions, 581 yards) acts as the top receiving target, but he's scored just one touchdown. Meanwhile, Mike Davis has caught 49 passes for 715 yards and eight scores.
Facing the high-flying offenses of the Big 12, the Longhorns' defense held their own in allowing 25.5 points and 402.1 yards per game while forcing 26 turnovers.
Jackson Jeffcoat was a unanimous First Team All-American selection at defensive end, as he racked up 80 tackles, 21 TFL, 12.0 sacks, three fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, an interception and a blocked kick. Cedric Reed (18 TFL, 9.0 sacks, four FF) was also dominant up front, while Duke Thomas led the squad with three interceptions.
The Longhorns will certainly be playing with a chip on their shoulder in this one wanting to give their head coach a strong bowl win to go out on, and that incentive could be enough against an Oregon squad clearly disappointed with its season and possibly already looking forward to 2014. In the end, however, McCoy and the Texas offense simply don't have enough firepower to keep pace with Mariota and company.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Oregon 38, Texas 28