This game might has well be titled The Zoloft Consolation Prize Bowl.
Texas comes into San Antonio after losing the season finale with a chance to win the Big 12 title outright. Oregon — who probably deserved to be playing Alabama in the Sugar Bowl instead of Oklahoma — was one win away from the Pac-12 North championship before crumbling under the pressure (twice).
This game will be Mack Brown’s much talked about (and much anticipated by some) swan song as the Texas head coach. He is familiar with the Alamodome as his Horns’ topped Oregon State in dramatic fashion in last year’s edition. On the flip side, Mark Helfrich is coaching in his first career bowl game as a headman. And with Marcus Mariota already announcing his return for 2014, the first-year coach needs a critical win to build momentum and expectations for next season. A third disappointing upset in his final five games of this season would leave a bitter and unusual taste in the mouths of Ducks everywhere.
These two powerhouses have played only five times previously. Oregon topped Texas 35-30 in the 2000 Holiday Bowl in the only game between the two since 1971. Texas won the first four meetings between 1941 and 1971.
Oregon vs. Texas
Kickoff: Monday, Dec. 30. at 6:45 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Oregon -13
Three Things to Watch
Texas' emotional goodbye to Mack
Mack Brown is 18-17 in the Big 12 in the last four seasons at Texas, so his time had come in Austin. But he has coached for 16 years at Texas with class and dignity, gaining respect for his persona along the way. Will his players rally around him in his final time to stalk the sideline in the Burnt Orange? Motivation is a huge determining factor for most bowl games as it is nearly impossible to pinpoint what the attitude is like in either team’s locker room — or on the practice field for the last month. Especially, for two teams that are likely disappointed to be in this bowl game. Can his counterpart Mark Helfrich get his team up emotionally to play in a game that largely means nothing for the Ducks? Who holds the focus and motivational edge in this game will go a long way in determining a winner.
The Ducks relentless running game
Texas’ struggles stopping the run has been a major issue for the past few seasons and it reached a low point earlier this season when BYU totaled 554 yards rushing against the Horns. They finished 81st nationally in rushing defense and are now charged with stopping one of the most powerful ground games in the land. Oregon can throw Byron Marshall, De’Anthony Thomas, Thomas Tyner and Marcus Mariota at a defense in endless formations and play calls. And it all happens at a tempo matched by few teams in the country. Has Texas improved under “new” defensive coordinator Greg Robinson? Yes. Are they capable of stopping the Oregon Ducks rushing game that averages nearly 300 yards per game?
The Horns' depleted roster
The Longhorns are a two-touchdown underdog in this game for a variety of reasons and Texas’ depleted roster is one of the big reasons why. Starting backfield David Ash and Johnathan Gray have been out for most of the last few months, as defensive stars Jordan Hicks and Chris Whaley were lost for the season a month ago as well. To literally add insult to injury, Texas had to suspend Kennedy Estelle, Daje Johnson and Jalen Overstreet due to academic issues for this game as well. This depth chart has taken major hits over the last few weeks and only continues to crumble. Can the backups — most of whom are big-time recruits in their own right — step in against an elite opponent and answer the bell for Bevo?
Key Player: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
If the Ducks quarterback is fully healthy and firing on all cylinders, this Ducks team could roll up a big number on the Longhorns. Mariota’s ability to run and pass is second to none in the nation when he is operating at full speed and Texas won’t have an answer for him. However, if his knee isn’t 100-percent (which is likely) then he will become a one-dimensional passer (albeit a very talented one) that is easier to gameplan for defensively. Mariota holds the keys to victory for both teams.
The Ducks are a better team. They have a healthy, more talented roster, a better quarterback, a better defense and boast a significantly better winning percentage this year and over the past few seasons. But the Longhorns have a clear edge in the motivation department as they attempt to send their head coach out as a winner. Expect the Horns to play much better than anticipated (i.e., the Vegas point spread) but simply don’t have the horses (or steers) to keep up with the mighty Ducks. Oregon pulls away in the end and catapults itself into a critical offseason for a team eyeing a preseason top 5 ranking in 2014.
Prediction: Oregon 38, Texas 28