The 2012 Alamo Bowl (Saturday, Dec. 29 at 6:45 p.m. ET on ESPN) pits the Oregon State Beavers against the Texas Longhorns, two teams who improved upon underwhelming 2011 campaigns.
Texas has rebuilt its program with remarkable efficacy. Just two years removed from the debacle of 2010, when the Longhorns went 5-7 and failed to make a bowl for the fist time in over a decade, they are already back on the verge of a nine-win season.
Oregon State is just one year removed from its own debacle, the 2011 season, where it opened the season with an overtime loss to FCS Sacramento State and stumbled to a 3-9 record.
The Beavers were one of 2012's most pleasant surprises, however, opening the year with wins over 13th-ranked Wisconsin and 19th-ranked UCLA before reversing last year's record and finishing 9-3.
Here are three matchups that will determine the outcome.
WR Mike Davis vs. DB Jordan Poyer
The Longhorns' passing game isn't the powerhouse of years past, but it's still good enough to get the job done. And despite the revolving door under center, wide receiver Mike Davis has been one of the main reasons why.
The junior from Dallas has tailed off in his past two games, but he averaged 121 yards and a touchdown in his previous four. He's a bona fide deep threat, averaging 16.8 yards per catch on the season.
He'll likely be matched up with Oregon State senior Jordan Poyer, who made the All-Pac-12 first team in 2012.
Character concerns hurt Poyer's draft stock, but he still projects as a mid-round selection in April. He's got the size and speed requisite to match up with a variety of receivers, and his coverage skills are markedly ahead of the curve.
With NFL scouts keeping a close eye on how he fares against Davis, Poyer will be duly motivated to play a career-best game. And if he does, the Beavers might just be able to stifle Texas' passing game.
RB Storm Woods vs. S Kenny Vaccaro
Woods, a tepidly recruited freshman from Pflugerville, Texas, has—wait for it—stormed on to the scene during his first year at Oregon State.
Granted, he hasn't exactly set the world on fire, but he's topped 1,000 total yards and 11 rushing touchdowns, which has to be more than the Beavers expected right out of the gate.
He'll have his work cut out for him against Texas, where arguably the nation's top safety will be waiting for him on the second level.
Kenny Vaccaro is a linebacker in safety's clothing, totaling 10-plus tackles four times this season. He was voted to the Big 12 first team and is, by most accounts, a good bet to be the top safety selected in the 2013 NFL draft.
If he can shut down Woods before the freshman has a chance to get going, Vaccaro could force the Beavers to become one-dimensional. And that's rarely a fruitful plan of action.
OG Mason Walters vs. DT Andrew Seumalo
With fellow guard Trey Hopkins injured and doubtful to play, Mason Walters will be counted on to control the A-gap for Texas.
The All-Big 12 second-teamer has had a marvelous season for the Longhorns, but he'll need to be in peak form for the Alamo Bowl.
He'll be going up against plucky Oregon State senior Andrew Seumalo, an All-Pac-12 honorable mention with a remarkable motor.
Seumalo was a semifinalist for this year's Burlsworth Award, given annually (since 2010, at least) to the nation's top former walk-on. The award eventually went to Penn State QB Matt McGloin, but being nominated was a testament to Seumalo's remarkable tenacity.
If Mason Walters isn't up to the task of blocking him, he'll spend 60 minutes poking a thorn in Texas' side.