Only days separate the clash between the No. 23 Texas Longhorns (8-4, 5-4) and the No. 13 Oregon State Beavers (9-3, 6-3) in the 2012 Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, and the matchup features two teams with plenty to play for come Saturday evening.
The Beavers are looking to cap off a fantastic surge in 2012. After finishing 2011 with a 3-9 mark, OSU has a chance to reach the 10-win plateau against one of college football's most storied programs.
The Longhorns can soothe themselves with a win to finish a roller coaster season. Since losing the 2009 BCS Championship Game, Texas is a mere 21-16 over that span. But as the rebuild continues for Mack Brown's Longhorns, a second trip to the Alamo Bowl can be another stepping stone back to the top.
Here is a breakdown of five keys to the game on Saturday.
A standout characteristic of this Oregon State team is its offensive capabilities.
The introduction of freshman running back Storm Woods has helped distribute the production between the ground and the air. Although the Beavers are much more potent through the air, the key to their offense comes in creating space over the middle by establishing a sound running attack.
This is where the Longhorns need to curtail OSU's gains.
Quarterback Cody Vaz and receivers Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks will be expected to get their numbers as part of a dynamic passing attack, but Texas would do well to limit the Oregon State offense to just one dimension.
As the game plan has been all season, the defensive strategy starts with controlling the line of scrimmage.
Keep it simple, stupid.
There will be no secret as to how the Longhorns will look to create some rhythm early on. With a running back corps that features Johnathan Gray, Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown, Texas figures to be running the ball early and often to soften the Oregon State defense.
This is an approach that could open things up on the back end later in the game.
The contest could easily turn into a shootout, but the Longhorns will need to stick to what has worked all season.
Texas has the speed to get to the edge, but will they have enough looks to create the type of mismatches needed to be successful?
The Longhorns played a clean brand of football early on in the season, but coughed up the ball too many times of late. And for an offense that has not always been completely there, coupled with a defense that has had its own source of misfortunes, leaving points on the field or delivering short fields to the Beavers is just bad news.
Oregon State boasts a nasty defensive backfield that has snatched up 19 interceptions on the season, seven belonging to cornerback Jordan Poyer. So, while plenty will have ball security in mind, David Ash will have to be on point to avoid OSU's ball-hawking secondary.
Likewise, the Longhorns will have to create some momentum for themselves by securing some turnovers. Stopping the run comes first, and as the Beavers look to open things up down the field, Texas needs to take advantage.
The battles in the trenches will be a critical piece for both teams on Saturday, but the challenge will be to find the positive hidden yardage created mostly on special teams.
The Longhorns have had good success with their punter Alex King, and although the senior had some sputters late in the season, his overall body of work has been fantastic.
Blocked kicks have been a historical strength for Texas, and it has managed to get back on track this season.
The tangible yards should be simple to find, but it will be the small things that really add up towards a successful evening in San Antonio.
It could be Nick Jordan. It could be Anthony Fera.
It could be anyone, in fact. The Longhorns just need to get some sort of production from their kicking game, an area that has proven to be extremely troublesome this season after what seemed like decades of success.
Whoever earns the start, securing points at every opportunity is a recipe for long-term success. Confidence cannot be too high for either Jordan or Fera, but the chance to be a huge difference maker is there for the taking.