51F Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
Oregon State has completed one of the country's biggest turnarounds, while Texas is trying to salvage a season considered a disappointment by its lofty standards.
Both the 15th-ranked Beavers and the Longhorns have dealt with uncertain quarterback situations leading up to Saturday's Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.
Oregon State (9-3) won six more games than it did last season, tying the largest improvement in the FBS. As a result, the Beavers are heading to their first bowl game since 2009, when they lost to BYU in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.
Their three victories in 2011 were the fewest under coach Mike Riley since they won three in 1997 - the first season of Riley's initial tenure at the school.
"It was really just a combination of two very simple things, but not easy to accomplish obviously," said Riley, who owns a 5-1 record in bowl games. "The fact that we had some good, young, talented players, and they had a very good offseason. They stayed together, worked out together, had great intentions. So just development and hard work put together I think were the key elements in getting better."
The Beavers' quarterback situation was in flux all season due to injuries. Sean Mannion led the team to a 4-0 start before the sophomore suffered a knee injury that required surgery, paving the way for junior Cody Vaz to take over before he succumbed to a high ankle sprain.
Mannion regained the starting job - and struggled with four interceptions in a 48-24 loss to Oregon - but still started in the team's finale, a 77-3 blowout of Nicholls State.
Mannion went 20 of 23 for 231 yards and two touchdowns, but Vaz, who completed 14 of 17 passes for 190 yards and three TDs, also saw extensive action.
The duo helped the Beavers rank 15th nationally with 316.5 passing yards per game, and Riley named Vaz as his starter on Dec. 22 just prior to the team traveling to San Antonio.
Texas has gone 8-4 - a success for most - but a third consecutive season without a BCS bowl appearance had some questioning coach Mack Brown's job security. University president Bill Powers wrote in his blog Dec. 6 that Brown has his "full support," and will remain as coach.
The Longhorns are 9-4 in bowl games under Brown, but are 21-16 overall since losing the 2010 BCS championship game to Alabama.
"I'm fortunate to be at a place where the standards are very high and we're going to fight to make sure we get back to those standards," Brown said.
"If you ask me if I'm happy with three years of non-BCS games, I would say no. That's for me, much less everybody else."
David Ash started Texas' first 11 games under center but was benched in favor of Case McCoy during the team's Thanksgiving loss to TCU.
McCoy won't see the field Saturday, however, after he and injured linebacker Jordan Hicks were sent home for violating team rules. The players broke curfew and KENS-TV reports that police were investigating two unidentified Texas players in an alleged sexual assault at a San Antonio hotel.
Even before the suspensions were announced, Brown had decided to will go back to Ash, who has completed 67.7 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
"You look at some of the things David did this year and I think he's still in the top 10 in passing efficiency," Brown said. "When he started poorly, he had more trouble than when he started right but he had some great games and we need to build on those."
The sophomore faces a difficult challenge.
Oregon State intercepted 19 passes this year, tied for sixth-most in the country, and the Beavers' 30 forced turnovers are tied for 12th. Seven of the Longhorns' 15 turnovers this season came in their last two games, including five interceptions.
Texas' defense struggled through the first seven games, allowing 35.0 points per game and 472.1 yards, but improved late, trimming those numbers to 21.6 and 328.4 in the final five contests.
The Longhorns' secondary will be tasked with slowing down Markus Wheaton, who ranks 11th nationally with 100.6 receiving yards per game.
Wheaton caught 12 passes against Nicholls State, bringing his career total to 224 and surpassing James Rodgers' school record of 222, set last year.
"I looked up to James when I got here - he was amazing," Wheaton said. "I knew he was as good as they get - his work ethic, his dedication, and I really wanted to be just like him as far as what he did on the field. And breaking the record I feel like I have worked, all of the hard work paid off."
This will be the third meeting in this series, with Texas winning the previous two. The most recent was Texas' 61-16 rout in Austin in 1987.
To stay perfect against Oregon State, the Longhorns will have to win without one of their co-offensive coordinators. Bryan Harsin has been named coach at Arkansas State, leaving Major Applewhite to handle the play calling.
Texas also announced that wide receivers coach Darrell Wyatt will be promoted to co-offensive coordinator.
The Longhorns won their only previous appearance in the Alamo Bowl, defeating Iowa 26-24 in 2006.