The Ducks and Longhorns will face off in the Valero Alamo Bowl for the first time since the 2000 Holiday Bowl.
Both teams began the season with national title hopes but finished 7-2 in their respective conferences and now find themselves on the outside of the final BCS puzzle.
Oregon (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12) is just 2-2 in its last four games after an 8-0 start that had them at No. 2 in the BCS standings. Even after the loss to Stanford, the Ducks regained control of their own destiny thanks to USC's win over the Cardinal. It didn't last long, however, as the Ducks blew their shot at another Pac-12 title and BCS bowl with a stunning 42-16 loss to unranked Arizona.
Texas (8-4, 7-2 Big 12) has been up and down all year after a No. 15 ranking in the preseason polls. After a 1-2 start, the Longhorns won six straight games to become a threat to win the Big 12 title. But the Longhorns have lost two of their last three games, with losses to then-No. 12 Oklahoma State and then-No. 9 Baylor. A win in either of those games would have sent them to the Fiesta Bowl as the Big 12 champion. Instead, they return to the same game as last year, a game in which they defeated the Ducks' in-state rival, Oregon State.
This matchup has been a long time coming for both programs, who last faced off in the 2000 Holiday Bowl. The game was an instant classic, and Oregon's dramatic 35-30 win helped put the Ducks on the national radar.
This year's matchup should be an exciting intersectional showdown with plenty at stake for both programs. Here is everything you need to know about the 2013 Valero Alamo Bowl, with TV info, depth charts, predictions and much more.
Date & Time: Wednesday, Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m. ET
Place: Alamo Dome (San Antonio, Texas)
Radio: ESPN Radio, Oregon Sports Network, Longhorn Radio Network
Mack Brown could be coaching his final game for Texas when he leads the Longhorns onto the field in San Antonio.
The Old and the New
The Longhorns represent the old guard in college football, and their long-time head coach could be coaching his final game on the Texas' sideline when he leads his team against the Ducks.
The Ducks represent the new wave of college football and are led by a first-year head coach who needs to prove himself to the fans by having the Ducks prepared for the game, despite the disappointment of missing out on a fifth consecutive BCS bowl.
Texas has not taken kindly to Oregon's recruiting in the Lone Star State, and there is plenty of disdain for the Ducks coming from the Longhorns sideline. The Ducks already have one of the state's top high school players, cornerback Arrion Springs of San Antonio (Roosevelt), verbally committed in their current recruiting class.
The Ducks would like nothing more than to strengthen their recruiting foothold in the Longhorns' home state. With the eyes of high school players and coaches from around the state sure to be focused on this game, a big win over the state's flagship program could give the Ducks a boost. If nothing else, it gives the coaches more time in the state to build relationships with coaches, families and the recruits themselves.
Oregon will need its offensive line to open up holes for its playmakers to exploit against the Longhorns' defense.
For the first time since the 2008 season, the Ducks will not be playing in a BCS bowl game. After having their season crumble over the final four games, the entire Oregon program, from the staff to the players, will be tested, both physically and mentally, leading up to the game.
There is plenty at stake for the Ducks, who will be looking for a fourth consecutive season of at least 11 wins and a top-10 finish. Head coach Mark Helfrich will need to keep the team focused and hungry to show that they are closer to the team that started 8-0, rather than the one that finished 2-2.
Oregon fans might have a familiar feeling entering the game, as the Ducks have been in a very similar situation once before.
In 2007, the second-ranked Ducks fell apart when their star quarterback and Heisman favorite Dennis Dixon was lost for the season with a torn ACL. After losing their final three games, the Ducks had some players return from injuries, and they bounced back with a resounding bowl win in the state of Texas with a blowout win over South Florida in the Sun Bowl.
As the season wore on, the Ducks began to look tired and banged up. Quarterback Marcus Mariota was the leading Heisman Trophy candidate before spraining his MCL against UCLA. He didn't look the same from that point on, especially in the loss to Stanford.
For the Ducks to operate at the level they are used to, Mariota needs to be at full-strength. A month of non-contact drills and game-planning should have him back at the top of his game, and if so, the Ducks should follow suit.
Texas has a roster loaded with speed and talent, but Oregon has no problem playing a wide-open game against teams made up of similar athletes. If the Ducks trust their talent and execute the way they have proven so many times, their playmakers will lead them to the win.
Oregon wants another top-10 finish and an 11-win season, but those are just numbers. The Ducks have nothing to lose, and they need to play like it.
Texas RB Malcolm Brown will need to heat up against Oregon, who has proven to be susceptible to the run game.
After their 1-2 start, which featured a shocking 40-21 loss to BYU, during which the Longhorns gave up a mind-boggling 550 rushing yards, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was fired and replaced with Greg Robinson.
Through the first four games, the Longhorns defense ranked 111th in the country in yards allowed per game allowed. Despite playing in the offense-heavy Big 12, the Longhorns moved up to No. 63 in yards per game by the end of the regular season. That improvement was due in large part to a stretch in which Oklahoma, TCU and Kansas all gained 306 total yards or less against the Longhorns.
Since that time, Texas has given up more than 400 yards in just two games. They held rival Oklahoma to 263 total yards, Oklahoma State to 380 total yards, Texas Tech to 396 total yards, and as ridiculous as it sounds, they played well in holding Baylor to just 505 total yards.
Make Big Plays in All Three Phases of the Game
The Longhorns will have a crowd that will be decidedly burnt-orange, and getting them involved in the game will only increase their chances of beating the Ducks. The best way to do that is to play smart, fast and physical football.
If the defense can create turnovers and cause the Ducks to punt the ball after some early three-and-outs, the crowd will be fired up, and so will the team. They will need to improve their coverage in order to limit Oregon's success on returns.
Led by native Texan, wide receiver Bralon Addison, as well as running back De'Anthony Thomas, the Ducks return game is strong. They rank 16th with an average of 13.14 yards per punt return and 50th with an average of just over 21 yards per return on kickoffs.
The longhorns rank 87th in the country in average yards per return allowed on punt coverage and 118th on kickoff coverage, with the average return against them being 25.29 yards.
When they get the ball, Texas will need a spark to come from dynamic return man Daje Johnson.
The longhorns rank 28th in the country with an average of 11.45 yards per return on punts and 79th on kickoff returns at just more than 20 yards per return.
On offense, Texas will need quarterback Case McCoy to be at his best if they want to keep it close. The Longhorns average 423 yards per game on offense, with a pretty even split between rushing and passing yards.
In two losses, the Ducks were beaten by dominant ground attacks, as Stanford's Tyler Gaffney carried the ball 45 times and Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey topped that with 48 carries, respectively.
Running back Malcolm Brown has averaged 108 yards per game on 25 carries in the Longhorns' past five games, and he will probably need to improve upon both of those numbers in order to keep the ball away from the Ducks.
In what will likely be his final collegiate game, De'Anthony Thomas wants to go out with a bang.
Players to Watch
Everyone knows that Mariota was a leading contender for the Heisman Trophy before two losses and a sprained knee slowed him down. Despite his solid draft stock, the redshirt sophomore recently announced that he will return to the Ducks in 2014.
Mariota's numbers are staggering, and a month of rest should help his knee get back to 100 percent. On the season, the 6'4", 215-pound dual-threat quarterback completed 63.1 percent of his passes for 3,412 yards, 30 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
When healthy, he adds an element to the Oregon offense that makes them nearly unstoppable. For the season, Mariota has rushed for 582 yards and nine touchdowns on 81 carries.
In two seasons, Mariota has gone 457-of-696 (65.6 percent) for 6,089 yards, 62 touchdowns and 10 interceptions through the air, while also rushing 187 times for 1,334 yards and 14 touchdowns.
All of that makes him Oregon's highest-rated NFL prospect, considered by most to be a top-five pick in the NFL draft when he decides to turn pro.
Thomas is an electric playmaker with the ability to change a game in a heartbeat. He has been at his best in bowl games, as he had 155 yards and two touchdowns on just two carries in the 2012 Rose Bowl and also returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl.
He has been up and down this season and missed four games with an ankle injury. The Alamo Bowl will likely be his final game in an Oregon uniform, so look for him to make a statement with another big bowl performance.
Even as a junior, Ekpre-Olomu is the third-rated cornerback prospect in the 2014 NFL draft, according to nfldraftscout.com. He will likely take the responsibility of facing off with Texas wide receiver Mike Davis in a matchup that scouts will have a close eye on.
WR Josh Huff
The Houston native leads the Ducks with 57 receptions, 1,036 yards, an 18.18 yards per catch average and 11 touchdowns. The senior saved the best game of his career for his final game at Autzen Stadium. In the "Civil War" with Oregon State, Huff caught nine balls for 186 yards and three touchdowns.
He came up huge when the Ducks needed it the most, catching a 12-yard touchdown on 4th-and-goal to give the Ducks the lead with just over 10 minutes remaining. Even better, he caught another 12-yard touchdown pass, only this time it was the game-winning play that came with just 29 seconds left on the clock.
Grasu joined Mariota in announcing that he will return to Oregon for another year, despite being the top NFL prospect at center, regardless of class, by most experts.
QB Case McCoy will need to be on top of his game if he hopes to lead the Longhorns past the Ducks in San Antonio.
Players to Watch
The 6'4", 250-pound Jeffcoat is the Longhorns' top defensive player, as he leads the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks. He will need to disrupt the backfield against the Ducks, who will likely use a game plan that avoids Jeffcoat as much as possible.
QB Case McCoy
McCoy took over as the starter after David Ash was unable to play following concussion-like symptoms that have kept him out of the past nine games. In his place, McCoy has led the Longhorns to a 7-2 record. He has completed 57.4 percent of his passes for 1,885 yards, 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
He'll need to be much better than that to keep the Longhorns in the game against the high-powered Ducks.
After leading rusher Jonathan Gray was lost for the year, Brown took control of the Texas ground attack and has shown flashes of what made him such a highly regarded recruit. For the season, Brown has 774 yards and nine touchdowns on 188 carries.
WR Mike Davis
The senior wideout has 49 receptions for 715 yards and eight touchdowns in 11 games this season. He is the Longhorns' top receiving threat and will be matched up with one of the nation's top cornerbacks in this contest. He will need to finish his career in style and impress NFL scouts by having a strong performance against Oregon's elite secondary.
Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich knows that he has a challenge ahead as the Ducks prepare for the Longhorns.
We are so excited to be playing Oregon. Great challenge, (Oregon head coach) Mark (Helfrich) has done a tremendous job and we can't wait to get down there because we know it is a tremendous challenge to be representing the Big 12.
We didn't finish the way we wanted to but we are going to go back to work and get after these guys because these guys are like Baylor, they can score fast and they do a tremendous job.
They have been one of the best football teams in the country for the past four years.
After learning of the matchup, Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat shared his thoughts with on facing the Ducks, via the same article:
I'm very excited to play Oregon. My dad (Jim Jeffcoat, Colorado assistant coach) and them actually played Oregon during the year so he was giving me some pointers about them already. I'm excited to play them, Marcus Mariota at quarterback and their running back De'Anthony Thomas. It's going to be a fun challenge and they are a team that people were talking about being in the national championship. It'll be a lot of fun to square off with them.
As reported by The Oregonian's Andrew Greif, quarterback Marcus Mariota said that he is aware of how far this program has come since the Ducks beat the Longhorns in the 2000 Holiday Bowl. "I think those guys set the foundation for what we’ve built around here,” Mariota said. “It says a lot when a team goes 10-2 and is disappointed and says a lot about where we’ve come as a program."
Like they did in 2000, things should be looking up for the Ducks after their bowl matchup with the Longhorns.
A disappointing end to the season for both teams shouldn't lessen the excitement this game could bring. Both teams are loaded with talent and will be playing for pride as they look forward to the 2014 season.
Oregon has built a powerhouse that wants to have the long-term success of a program like Texas. The Longhorns want to re-establish themselves as a dominant program in college football.
Whoever wins this game will have a lot to brag about heading into the offseason. The two teams have a combined record of 3-4 in their last seven games, but both have the talent to play with anybody.
The Longhorns turned things around during the season and could set the tone for a return to glory in 2014 with a win. The Ducks started to slip and are in danger of seeing their status as one of the premier programs in the country take a step backwards if they let this one get away.
This should be an entertaining game from the opening kick, but if the Ducks come to play, they should be able to fly home happy with a second consecutive bowl win over the Longhorns.
Prediction: Oregon 41, Texas 20