NCF Nation: alamo bowl 2013

SAN ANTONIO -- The final moments of Mack Brown’s career at Texas were neither triumphant nor tearful. Just quiet.

He walked off the Alamodome field surrounded by noise but not saying a word. He gathered his team for his final locker room speech. And one hour later, he was gone.

He left the building as Texas’ former head coach, his hellish 16th season finally complete with a 30-7 loss to No. 10 Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl. And there was unmistakable finality to this.

[+] EnlargeBrown
Soobum Im/USA TODAY SportsMack Brown congratulates QB Case McCoy after a first-half TD, but little else went right for Brown and the Horns in his final game as Texas coach.
He lost his last game in burnt orange in many of the same ways Texas lost four other games in 2013. His quarterbacks struggled, a slim margin of error killed by two interceptions for Oregon touchdowns. The run game couldn’t win all by itself. The defense fared admirably but couldn’t shut down Marcus Mariota.

“I thought they tried as hard as they could tonight,” Brown said. “We played a really good football team. I thought that quarterback looked like one I saw play for us a while back.”

A once-great program that now has no on-field identity and few discernable advantages lost to a powerhouse. This, quite simply, was why Brown’s time is finished.

Much of the fan base bolted to the exits in the middle of the fourth quarter. Those who stayed did so to chant and clap for their coach.

When it was over, Brown did what he always did: He walked to the sideline and threw up the horns as “The Eyes of Texas” blared. As the cameras and reporters engulfed him, he could barely see the band.

A few players lingered to hug Brown and the woman they called Miss Sally. A sea of cameras clicked and flashed. Brown and his wife were surrounded. Slowly they made their way, arm in arm, to the exit, throwing up the horns again to an admiring orange crowd above.

While balloons dropped and the Ducks reveled, Mack and Sally Brown began their long, slow march to the end. Their coaches, players and reporters followed, through a concrete hallway and uncomfortable silence.

They found the home locker room, the crowd so large it spilled into the halls, leaving some Longhorn players stuck on the outside. They seemed too despondent to care.

Brown’s final speech began, his words soft enough to not reach the hall.

At 9:09 p.m. CT, he was done. The clapping inside the locker room lasted no more than 15 seconds. Secondary coach Duane Akina frowned as he trudged in late.

The locker room doors closed a minute later. Retired athletic director DeLoss Dodds was the first out, with a sigh and a brisk walk toward the exit. Then David Ash left. Case McCoy and Malcolm Brown headed off to interviews. Sally led Mack off to join them five minutes later. The staffers they passed along the way offered meek thank-yous.

Brown said he was disappointed. Defense played great. Offense couldn’t move the ball. Kids fought hard. He had few regrets.

“I told them tonight, the only regret I had is we didn’t win enough games this year,” Brown said. “We didn’t win as many games as we had good players. A lot of great players are coming back. New energy, new staff, new ideas will really, really help these kids.”

The reality that he’s no longer the coach hasn’t sunk in yet. He joked that he might wake up at 6 a.m. Tuesday and review film. Finding his new normal will take time.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown's car
Max Olson/ESPNAs Mack Brown and his wife, Sally, drove off after Texas' loss in the Alamo Bowl, what's next for both Brown and the future of the program he guided for 16 seasons remains uncertain.
No more questions. He stood, said thanks and walked back to the locker room. Players began filing out, grabbing sandwiches before hitting the buses. Assistant coaches came out and hugged their families.

As her husband packed up, Sally perused the halls greeting and hugging anyone she recognized. Brown eventually emerged, a young grandson named Mack in his arms, flanked by more family. His face was red, his smile forced.

His final hour was up. Time to go. Where they’re headed, they don’t know.

“We’ll take a nice trip somewhere warm,” Sally told a reporter, “and figure out what’s next.”

She was ushered off and rejoined her husband on the way out. He was finally outside, but stopped one more time to pose for pictures with fans. He threw up the horns. He’ll have to do these the rest of his life, no matter where he goes.

A few more hugs, a few more handshakes. Brown always had time for those. Then, just after 10 p.m., he slipped into the front seat of a taupe Audi A8 parked near the exit.

Sally, his passenger, offered one more wave before rolling up her window.

And then they drove away, just the coach and his wife, off into the dark.

Instant Analysis: Oregon 30, Texas 7

December, 30, 2013

SAN ANTONIO -- No. 10 Oregon beats Texas 30-7 in the Valero Alamo Bowl. A few thoughts on the game:

It was over when: Oregon safety Derrick Malone picked off a Case McCoy pass over the middle midway through the fourth quarter, then went 39 yards for the score. The Ducks went up 30-7 on McCoy’s second pick-six of the night.

Game ball goes to: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was masterful both on the ground and through the air, throwing for 253 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 133. A month off to heal a nagging knee injury did him plenty of good.

Stat of the game: McCoy finished with 48 passing yards and no touchdowns. The two passes he completed to Oregon defenders were returned for a total of 75 yards and two touchdowns.

Unsung hero: Oregon safety Avery Patterson, who gave the Ducks a 7-0 lead just 68 seconds into the game when he picked off a McCoy pass and scored on a 37-yard return. The senior added nine tackles in his final game.

Best call: The Ducks’ first score on offense came when Mariota, with Jackson Jeffcoat fast approaching, flipped to Josh Huff on a shovel pass and he found the end zone from 16 yards out. Huff finished with 104 receiving yards and a school-record 1,140 in 2013.

What Oregon learned: If Mariota makes good on his promise to return in 2014, Oregon should once again have a preseason top-10 team and plenty of firepower to make a run at a college football playoff bid.

What Texas learned: Nothing it didn’t already know, really. Its Case McCoy-led offense can pound the rock but couldn’t keep up with elite teams and capitalize on opportunities. The Longhorns couldn’t give Mack Brown a satisfying sendoff. Now it’s time to find his successor.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Valero Alamo Bowl, click here.

Valero Alamo Bowl roundtable

December, 30, 2013
Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell and Texas reporter Max Olson break down the biggest storylines in Monday’s Valero Alamo Bowl matchup featuring Texas and No. 10 Oregon:

How do you think Mack Brown's resignation affects this game?

Max Olson: Throughout the past few weeks, Brown has stuck to the same message publicly: Texas players should win this game for themselves, not for their coach. They’ve had a brutal season, overcome plenty and have a chance to cap it with a ninth win and a few good memories. Brown keeps saying he wants this to be about the kids, not him.

What we’ll get out of kids, though, I just don’t know. They’ve been big underdogs before. They came out firing against Oklahoma and built real momentum. They held Baylor to 3 points in the first half but ran out of gas. Which Texas team shows up Monday? They’ll need plenty of motivation and good fortune.

Kevin Gemmell: My first thought was that this was going to be a huge motivation advantage for Texas -- and I’m a big believer that the bowl season is all about which team is motivated to be there. But I think the recent news that Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is also retiring balances things out in the Oregon locker room. While he’s not as big of a name nationally as Brown, he’s as much an Oregon institution as Brown is to Texas.

Both pregame speeches will be rousing. Heartstrings will be tugged. But ultimately it comes down to what happens on the field. If Oregon is able to set aside its disappointment of not being in a BCS game, then who is coaching on which sideline shouldn't matter because on paper Oregon is the stronger team.

What should be expected of a 100-percent healthy Marcus Mariota?

Gemmell: For starters, an extra element to the Oregon offense that makes them that much tougher to stop. Consider Mariota in the first seven games of the season before his knee injury. He averaged 70.4 rushing yards per game and scored nine touchdowns -- including at least one rushing touchdown in all seven games. Since hurting the knee against UCLA, he’s averaged just 17.8 rushing yards with zero rushing touchdowns.

He also threw four interceptions in the final two games after going pick-free for the first 10, so aside from his rushing abilities -- which are substantial -- his throwing mechanics should be much stronger. I’m of the belief that when he’s 100 percent healthy, Mariota is the best football player in the country. And if Texas gets a 100 percent Mariota, he’s going to be very, very difficult to stop.

Olson: Mariota is one of the many reasons why this is just not a good matchup for Texas, especially considering its defense has had legitimate issues defending the option against mobile quarterbacks. Of quarterbacks who started the last two seasons, nobody in the country has a better Total QBR than Mariota at 89.0. He’s the real deal. I fully expect him to put up big numbers in the Alamodome, and it’ll be interesting to see how Texas defends him, probably with Jackson Jeffcoat reprising his freestyle “spinner” role.

Who will be the key player in this game?

Olson: If you’ve been following this Texas team, you know the key isn’t getting a huge performance from Case McCoy. Yes, he needs to play relatively mistake-free and hit on the big passes when they’re there. But Texas doesn’t stand a chance in this one without a big night from Malcolm Brown.

The San Antonio native had rushed for 421 yards in the four games since Texas lost Johnathan Gray, including 118 in the first half against Baylor. He did a terrific job of hitting cutback lanes against the Bears, and run defense hasn’t been a strength for Oregon. Brown needs to get rolling or Texas could fall behind quickly.

Gemmell: Take your pick from any number of superstars on both sides of the ball for Oregon. Be it Mariota, Josh Huff or Byron Marshall. Defensively, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is as lockdown as they come. But the guy who always seems to show up in the postseason is De’Anthony Thomas.

Last season against Kansas State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, he returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, caught four balls for 60 yards and a score and rushed twice for 15 yards. In the 2011 Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, he carried twice for 155 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Wisconsin. He also caught four balls for 34 yards and returned five kicks for 125 yards. Thomas is a big-game player with blazing speed and scary elusiveness. When he’s hitting on all cylinders, he’s a difference maker.

Valero Alamo Bowl preview

December, 30, 2013
No. 10 Oregon and Texas face off Monday (6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN) in the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. A few key players and matchups to watch:

Who to watch: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota says he’s 100 percent healthy, and that’s very good news for the Ducks. A knee injury suffered against UCLA in October limited his ability to run in Oregon’s final five games, two of which were losses. Now that he has had time off to recover, expect the Ducks’ high-tempo option attack to be back to full speed. Mariota is coming back for 2014 and has a chance to end his sophomore campaign with a big game against a Texas defense that has proven vulnerable to running quarterbacks.

What to watch: What can Texas do up front to grab control of this game from the Ducks? These Longhorns are capable of big upsets when their offensive line owns the line of scrimmage, and they’re reshuffling to put All-Big 12 left guard Trey Hopkins at right tackle. On defense, defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed must be disruptive, and you could see Jeffcoat play all over the field in a hybrid role. Texas can’t win this game without being the more physical team.

Why to watch: Mack Brown’s last hurrah after 16 seasons as head coach of the Longhorns. Texas has won seven of its past eight bowl games dating back to 2004, and its players want to send Brown off with one final victory, the 245th of his career. When everybody counted them out, Brown’s players rallied and knocked off No. 12 Oklahoma 38-20 in the Red River Rivalry this season. Can the Longhorns pull off another stunner?

Prediction: Oregon 38, Texas 17. Oregon simply has too much firepower for Texas, whose four losses have come by an average margin of 21 points. Retiring Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti gets the celebratory final Gatorade bath.

Farewells not focus of Brown's last stand

December, 30, 2013
SAN ANTONIO -- When Mack Brown gathered his team Christmas night upon arriving in San Antonio for the start of Texas’ bowl week leading up to the Valero Alamo Bowl, he says he issued a directive.

“This is not about farewells,” Brown said Sunday. “This is not about where I am in life. It’s not about where the coaches are in life.”

He would prefer to shift the attention to his players, to their reward for a trying, tumultuous season. Brown says this should be about his seniors’ finale and the challenge of facing No. 10 Oregon.

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Erich Schlegel/Getty ImagesA loose Mack Brown is concentrating on his players and Monday's Alamo Bowl matchup with Oregon, not the circumstances surrounding his resignation at Texas.
But all eyes and cameras will be on him Monday, whether he likes it or not. This is Mack Brown’s last stand, his 16-year career as the coach at Texas down to its final 24 hours.

He goes into his final game as the leader of the Longhorns just as he has nearly all of Texas’ 2013 games, trying to put blinders on and focus solely on one day and one game. That day has arrived.

“We have been totally focused on Oregon,” Brown said, “and nothing else.”

The Ducks are 14.5-point favorites and, at 10-2, probably belong in a BCS bowl game, not matched up with the Big 12’s fourth-best team. On paper, this game shouldn’t be close.

But this Texas team is used to being underestimated and has already been a two-touchdown underdog twice in 2013. The first time came in the Cotton Bowl, in a game against No. 12 Oklahoma that was sure to doom Brown's chances had Texas taken another blowout rivalry loss. The Longhorns took care of business.

The stakes were far greater against No. 9 Baylor in Waco, with a Big 12 championship on the line. Win that game and, well, wouldn’t Brown be back in 2014? Baylor pulled away in the second half for a 30-10 win and a Tostitos Fiesta Bowl trip.

The pressure in those two games couldn’t have been any higher. This time is different. This time, the Longhorns have practically nothing to lose.

In his final bowl news conference Sunday, Brown seemed the opposite of tense. He joked around with Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, offered up a few facetious answers to serious questions and had little interest in discussing what Monday really means for him.

His most telling answer was a sardonic one, when Brown was asked to reflect on what he would’ve changed about the 2013 season in hindsight.

“I would have won all the games,” Brown said. “That would have been the better thought for me if we could have done that. By a lot. Played a lot of guys, had happy moms and dads and happy media and happy fans. That would have been fun. We've done that, and it's a lot more fun.”

The questions about his buyout negotiation and reports that his resignation was forced were, predictably, shot down.

“We are excited about Oregon and Monday night,” Brown said, when his buyout was broached. “So I can't wait. Great week. I said at the first of the week we would focus on these kids and this game, and that's absolutely what I'm going to do. Every ounce of my energy will be doing the best I can do to coach this game on Monday night.”

Texas has won seven of its eight bowl games since 2004 and four in a row against Pac-12 teams, including in each of the past two seasons. Brown has a chance to nab the 11th bowl win of an era that began with a school-record 12 straight bowl appearances.

“We understand what’s at stake,” quarterback Case McCoy said. “We’ll play hard. Coach Brown will coach hard. If we play that way, we take care of the ball, I think it will be a good night for us.”

Brown says he won’t be any more emotional than usual, but the opportunity is unmistakable. After a rough month and a rocky season, Brown gets one more chance to shut up his critics before walking away. He can have the last laugh.

Reality will set in Tuesday. Texas' assistant coaches will go back to hunting down their next jobs. Even though the next coach hasn’t been selected, the transition will begin.

How Brown will spend the first day of his future is anyone’s guess. How he'll spend the final night of his Texas tenure is up to his team.

Take 2: Must-win bowl game

December, 13, 2013
For obvious reasons, the more bowl games a conference can win, the better it is for the league’s national reputation. But is there one game that is more important? Your Pac-12 reporters debate.

Ted Miller: While you could make a strong case that Oregon State needs to win it's bowl game in order to take some heat off of Mike Riley, just down the road at Oregon there's already significant pressure on Mark Helfrich to guide the Ducks into the offseason on an up note.

[+] EnlargeMark Helfrich
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesWould a loss to a struggling Texas team signal trouble in Eugene for Oregon coach Mark Helfrich?
If Oregon beats Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl, which it is favored to do by two touchdowns, you could spin Helfrich's first season after replacing the much-ballyhooed Chip Kelly as a moderate success. Sure, the Ducks didn't get picked for a fifth consecutive BCS bowl game, but it did finish with 11 wins and a top-10 ranking, neither of which Kelly achieved in his first season. Keep in mind that Kelly did inherit a very good team, one that went 10-3 and finished ranked 10th in 2008, Mike Bellotti's last season.

If Oregon beats Texas, it can trace its late-season swoon to QB Marcus Mariota's sprained knee. An excuse? Absolutely. But a legitimate one when assessing what went wrong during the season. The Ducks can look at 2013 and say, "Hey, we lost to a very good Stanford team on the road with our QB hurt, and we had one weekend at Arizona when we didn't show up. Could be worse. Stanford lost two games, too, by the way."

If Oregon beats Texas, it sets Mariota up as the leading 2014 Heisman Trophy candidate and it likely ensures a preseason ranking near the top 5 or at the very least the top 10. That means it starts 2014 squarely in position to play its way into the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff.

If Oregon beats Texas, it will still seem all Win the Day-y.

But what if Oregon doesn't beat Texas?

If the Ducks go down, some of the more demanding Ducks fans will see Helfrich's seat as warming in only Year 2. If the Ducks go down, there will be quite a few smirks in the Pac-12 and across the nation. Folks in SEC country will talk about a "gimmick team" whose run is over. Washington fans will look at their coach -- Chris Petersen -- and then Helfrich and start to make plans for a breakthrough after 10 years of woe. Oregon State fans will start to see a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

If the Ducks go down, that might give more than a few recruits pause. They might wonder if signing with Oregon means signing with a program that has plateaued and might be headed in the wrong direction. A disappointing recruiting class would give frustrated Ducks fans more to fret about during the long offseason.

If the Ducks go down, it will seem like a lost season.

Stanford is going to the Rose Bowl for a second consecutive year, and Washington just got a Big Fish coach. UCLA and Arizona State are rising in the South, and USC will emerge from scholarship reductions a year from now. The Ducks position in the North Division and the Pac-12 as a whole is being challenged.

Beating a middling Texas team that still has a marquee name will answer that challenge and slow the offseason handwringing to a manageable level.

Losing to a middling Texas team will put the program on red alert.

Kevin Gemmell: The Pac-12 is at a critical juncture, and nationally speaking, it can ill afford to drop its BCS game. That’s why the Pac-12’s must-win game has to be Stanford vs. Michigan State in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio.

Right now the rest of the country is looking at the Pac-12, top to bottom, and thinking, "Gosh, that is a tough league. Hard to believe they only have one BCS game." Which is exactly why Stanford has to win. Because if they don't, the "overrated" chants will rain down heavy and hard for the next nine months.

The Pac-12 is better off when Oregon is ranked in the top five and going to BCS bowl games every year. And the Pac-12 needs the Ducks -- or UCLA -- or ASU -- or USC -- or Washington -- or Arizona -- or someone else to pick up the slack next year as we head into the playoff era. Easier said than done, of course, given the way the league’s nine-game conference schedule plays out.

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Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsStanford will be playing for the Pac-12's reputation in the Rose Bowl against Michigan State.
National perception is forged on how you do against teams from other conferences. In that regard, the Pac-12 had a stellar year in terms of regular season nonconference play. The league went 31-6 against out-of-conference competition with seven of the 12 teams posting a perfect record and 11 of 12 teams posting a winning record.

That’s all well and good for the end of September. But no one cares about that if you don’t do well in the bowl season.

If the Pac-12 goes 8-1 in the bowl season, but loses its BCS game, the league takes a massive PR hit; because, let’s be honest, outside of Pullman Wash., or Fort Collins, Colo., there won't be a ton of buzz if Washington State beats up on Colorado State -- which it should. Opinions won’t be swayed too much if UCLA beats Virginia Tech or Arizona beats Boston College. And even if Oregon wins, it won’t make a huge dent.

Right now, Stanford carries the flag for the rest of the conference. The Pac-12 needs all of the national credibility it can get its hands on because the last Top 25 poll is usually a starting point for the first poll of the 2014 season. Oregon getting inside the top 10 is important. UCLA and ASU getting in the top 15 is important. USC getting into the top 20 is important. But Stanford getting in the top two or three is more important right now. And from a league perspective, beating a Big Ten team in the 100th Rose Bowl Game is the most important.

Humble Alamo Bowl win a must for Ducks

December, 11, 2013
From a public relations standpoint, Oregon lost too many days in 2013.

From former tight end Colt Lyerla leaving the team and his subsequent drug-related arrest to high-profile players making verbal miscues -- and of course the world’s most watched snowball fight -- the Ducks had more drama than their first-year coach probably would have preferred. A bad November on the field didn’t help, either.

[+] EnlargeMark Helfrich
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesCoach Mark Helfrich and the Ducks could get to 11 wins with a victory over Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
So it was no surprise that after a disappointing bowl placement -- disappointing in the fact that it’s not a BCS bowl game -- Oregon had two of its most respected and well-spoken ambassadors handle the talking.

In the first five minutes of chatting with the media following Sunday’s bowl selection, quarterback Marcus Mariota and center Hroniss Grasu -- both who have decided to pass up the NFL for one more season -- couldn’t work in the words “honor” and “blessed” enough when talking about their spot in the Valero Alamo Bowl against Texas.

Maybe that’s how they really feel. Maybe it’s not. But from here on out, as the Ducks look to rehab their image, the message has to be one of sheer elation and excitement to be playing in a bowl game. Any bowl game.

“This season has been a blessing and an honor to be able to play for such a great team,” Grasu said. “It’s been a lot of fun. A couple of things didn’t go our way but there is no one to blame for that but ourselves. We wouldn’t be in this position if we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot. But it happened. You have to move on. Now we have to worry about what we can control and that’s getting better. Going through finals and then preparing to play Texas in the Alamo Bowl, which is a big honor to play in. That’s all we can control right now.”

Another word they both used a lot was “opportunity.” That’s the key.

This is a big opportunity for Oregon. It’s an opportunity to get coach Mark Helfrich his first bowl victory and reach the 11-win mark, something Chip Kelly didn’t do in his first year. It’s an opportunity to show the recruits that the month of November was simply a hiccup and Oregon football isn’t going anywhere. It’s an opportunity to show the rest of college football that Oregon has neither been exposed nor is on a downward trend.

“It was tough and it is unfortunate,” Mariota said. “But we put ourselves in this predicament. We didn’t give ourselves a lot of room. We had the opportunity. But we’re blessed and it’s a great opportunity and we’re looking forward to it … I think for the most part guys are going to be exited. We have a lot of guys from Texas. A lot of guys that haven’t been to Texas. It’s going to be an awesome, awesome venue. We’re playing one of the most traditional programs in the country.”

Almost every college football fan in the country -- yes, even a few in Oklahoma -- wanted to see Alabama-Oregon in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Even if it weren’t for a national championship, it’s still a dream matchup that has been speculated on for years. But geography, travel and the fact that the SEC and Big 12 have a schedule alliance coming were all contributing factors to the Ducks being on the outside -- despite only losing to Pac-12 champion Stanford and the nation’s best running back in Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey. That those losses came in November magnifies their impact.

If there is disappointment in the ranks, and there has to be, now isn’t the time to let it show. Now is the time to exude confidence and humility at the opportunity placed before them. Now is the time for Mariota, who said he hopes to be 100 percent for the bowl game, to go out and show why he deserved to be in New York as a Heisman finalist. He could also start off his 2014 campaign with a bang.

“I don’t think anyone is disappointed,” Grasu said. “It’s an honor to play in this bowl game against Texas. Getting a bowl win in the Alamo Bowl against Texas would a big momentum boost in the offseason and getting ready for next season. It’s really exciting. We have a lot of guys coming back, but we can’t look to next season because we’re preparing to play Texas.”

Oregon’s reputation as an elite program, combined with a bowl win, likely gets them into single digits in the final rankings. Mariota’s return makes them a preseason top-10 team in 2014. There will be many, many more days to win. And it has to start on Dec. 30.

Preferably, quietly.

Valero Alamo Bowl

December, 8, 2013

Oregon Ducks (10-2) vs. Texas Longhorns (8-4)

Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m. ET, San Antonio (ESPN)

During an 8-0 start, Oregon fans had only one thought in coach Mark Helfrich's first season: We want Bama. During a 2-2 finish, they started missing Chip Kelly.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota should be at full strength and ready to run in the postseason.
That 8-0 start was a thing of beauty, as the Ducks climbed to No. 2 in the nation, dominating on both sides of the ball. They hung 59 points on both Virginia and Tennessee. They turned a precarious seven-point fourth-quarter lead into a 45-24 stomping of hated rival Washington, a 10th consecutive victory in the series by at least 17 points. They showed some grit in the second half against UCLA, swamping the Bruins 42-14.

Not only were the Ducks again in the thick of the national title hunt, but QB Marcus Mariota was also the nation's leading Heisman Trophy candidate.

But in that win over the Bruins, Mariota sprained his knee. While the injury didn't force him to miss a game, it severely limited his ability to run either on designed plays or scrambles. That put a major part of the Ducks’ offense on ice.

Stanford dominated the Ducks on both sides of the ball in a 26-20 win on Nov. 7, the Pac-12's marquee date of the year. Mariota struggled mightily, but the real issue was the line of scrimmage. The Cardinal owned it.

The low point, however, was a 42-16 defeat at Arizona that proved the death knell of the Ducks' BCS bowl hopes. It was Oregon's first loss to an unranked team since 2009. The 26-point margin of defeat was their biggest since losing 44-10 to USC in 2008.

The Ducks bounced back with a victory in the Civil War, but that 36-35 nail-biter at home over a reeling Beavers team was hardly suggestive of the team that dominated foes through the first eight games. It will be interesting to see how the Ducks respond in the postseason. It should help that Mariota should be close to full health. -- Ted Miller


The Longhorns had everything on the line against Baylor, including a Big 12 title and a trip to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. They couldn’t get the job done. The bowl matchup that the 30-10 loss leads to is immaterial to Texas fans now. All they want to know is whether the Mack Brown era is over.

[+] EnlargeCase McCoy
John Albright/Icon SMITexas will lean on its run game but will need Case McCoy to make a few plays to close out the season with a win.
If that ends up being the case, we’ll know before Texas takes the field for its bowl game later this month. These Longhorns could have plenty to play for in their finale, even if at 8-4 they’ve ended up in the same Valero Alamo Bowl they played in last year.

Despite losing five starters to season-ending injuries, the Longhorns turned around a rough start with a 7-2 record in Big 12 play. They made that run with a potent power run game, now led by Malcolm Brown (774 yards, nine touchdowns). Whether or not Mack Brown is done, this is the final game for nine senior starters and an opportunity for Case McCoy to end his up-and-down career on a high note.

Texas’ defense underwent a revival in 10 games under Greg Robinson and did hold Baylor’s top-ranked scoring offense to three points in the first half. Jackson Jeffcoat finished with a Big 12-leading 12 sacks in his senior season and anchors a unit that has plenty of experience defending high-tempo spread offenses. -- Max Olson