Pac-12: Case McCoy

Instant Analysis: Oregon 30, Texas 7

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
10:05
PM ET


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.

Bowl primer: Valero Alamo

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
5:30
PM ET
We continue our look at each of the Pac-12’s opponents during the bowl season.

Valero Alamo Bowl
San Antonio, Dec. 30, 3:45 p.m. (PT), ESPN
Oregon (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4)

Texas Longhorns

Coach: Mack Brown (16th season)
Record: 8-4, 7-2 Big 12
Combined opponents' record: 76-68 (.527)
Common opponents: None.
Leading passer: Case McCoy, 179-312-1,885 (57.4 percent) with 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Leading rusher: Johnathan Gray (injured), 159-780 with four touchdowns.
Leading receiver: Mike Davis, 49-715 with eight touchdowns.
Leading tackler: Jackson Jeffcoat, 80 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks.

What to know: Texas has been in the news lately. Perhaps you’ve heard? After compiling a 158-47 record at Texas, Brown is stepping down after the Alamo Bowl. That heaps a healthy dose of emotion on to this game as his players will no doubt be looking to win one last one for Mack.

Even before Gray went down for the rest of the year with an Achilles injury in the OT win over West Virginia in early November, Malcolm Brown was already starting to get a good chunk of the running workload. He has rushed for 774 yards and nine touchdowns on 188 carries (4.1 average).

After starting the year 1-2, which included losses to BYU and Ole Miss, the Longhorns rallied to run off six straight -- including a seemingly-unlikely win (at least at the time) over No. 12 Oklahoma.

But they lost two of their last three to ranked Oklahoma State and Baylor, giving them a mark of 1-3 against ranked teams this season.

This is a question of motivation for the Ducks, who have to be lamenting missing out on a fifth-straight BCS bowl game after Oklahoma was selected ahead of them for the Allstate Sugar Bowl. On paper, the Ducks are the superior team. It’s just a question of whether they can suppress that disappointment and not let Texas get too caught up in the emotion of Brown’s departure.

Key matchup: As is always the case when you play Oregon, how are you going to stop the run? That’s something Texas hasn’t been very good at this season. The Longhorns rank 80th in the country, yielding 180.3 yards per game on the ground. They’ve also given up 21 rushing touchdowns and allow 4.2 yards per carry. The Ducks average 278.3 yards per game on the ground, which ranks ninth nationally. And all eyes should be on Jeffcoat. Depth-wise, the Longhorns are hurting defensively and are down to about three linebackers and a couple of defensive tackles. Brown said at one point he feels like they lost eight to 10 of his best players to injury. But Oregon shouldn't get too cocky. Jeffcoat is legit. Lest we forget another defensive end from Texas who spoiled the bowl hopes of a team from Oregon last year.

Best case/worst case: Pac-12 bowls

December, 13, 2012
12/13/12
9:00
AM ET
Our assignment is to pose a best-case and a worst-case scenario for every Pac-12 bowl team.

So here goes.

Arizona

Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque, N.M., Dec. 15: Arizona (7-5) vs. Nevada (7-5), 1 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Arizona rolls 40-28, as quarterback Matt Scott goes out with a bang that raises NFL eyebrows, and running back Ka'Deem Carey rushes for 195 yards to sew up the national rushing title.

Worst case: Scott gets knocked out of the game early and backup B.J. Denker looks overwhelmed, raising questions about the future at QB. Carey rushes for 35 yards and loses the rushing title as Nevada rolls 42-21. Michigan fans hit the message boards with a litany of "I told you so" about Rich Rodriguez.

Washington

MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Dec. 22: Washington (7-5) vs. Boise State (10-2), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: In a "Welcome back!" performance, QB Keith Price throws for 295 yards and three touchdowns -- matching the total TD passes the Broncos have yielded all season -- and runs for another score as the Huskies end 2012 with a statement victory that bodes well for 2013. The Huskies' hot offseason topic is how high the preseason ranking will be.

Worst case: Washington starts slowly as it has much of the season, then gives up a double-digit fourth-quarter lead as Price throws multiple interceptions. Boise State wins going away 38-17, and the Huskies' hot offseason topic is whether coach Steve Sarkisian has plateaued.

UCLA

Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, San Diego, Dec. 27: UCLA (9-4) vs. Baylor (7-5), 9:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: That the Bruins score 45 points is not unexpected. That Baylor is held to just 17 points is unexpected. UCLA dominates on both sides of the ball, and quarterback Brett Hundley looks like a budding Heisman Trophy candidate. After the game, linebacker Anthony Barr and guard Xavier Su'a-Filo both announce they are returning for the 2013 season. Says Barr, "Unfinished business? Naaah. I just like playing with these guys."

Worst case: Baylor rolls over UCLA in a 55-30 win, as the Bruins' defense can do nothing to slow the Bears, while Hundley throws three picks. Barr and Su'a-Filo opt to leave for the NFL, as does coach Jim Mora, who is hired by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Oregon State

Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio, Dec. 29: Oregon State (9-3) vs. Texas (8-4), 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Oregon State throttles the Longhorns 31-13 with stifling defense, but the big story is Cody Mannion -- or is it Sean Vaz? -- throwing four touchdown passes and making a strong case to be the 2013 starter.

Worst case: The Beavers become the only team that couldn't run on Texas this year, and Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz both throw two interceptions in a 30-10 defeat. Meanwhile, Oregon State makes both Case McCoy and David Ash look like superstars. "Well," say all the national commentators. "This makes a strong case for the Big 12's superiority over the Pac-12. But we've still got to see the Fiesta Bowl."

Arizona State

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, San Francisco, Dec. 29: Arizona State (7-5) vs. Navy (7-4), 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Best case: Arizona State uses its superior speed on both sides of the ball to throttle Navy 48-17. After the game, consensus All-American defensive tackle Will Sutton announces he's returning for his senior year.

Worst case: Navy's triple option wears down the Sun Devils in a 28-17 victory. Even worse, the Sun Devils turn the ball over five times and commit 12 penalties for 105 yards, including two personal fouls. They look like the 2011 team, not the 2012 version under new coach Todd Graham.

USC

Hyundai Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas, Dec. 31: USC (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7), 2 p.m. ET, CBS

Best case: Matt Barkley looks like, well, Matt Barkley, throwing five touchdown passes as the Trojans roll 40-10. As for the defense, coordinator Monte Kiffin goes out in style, with the Trojans holding Georgia Tech's option to just 225 total yards. Head coach Lane Kiffin announces after the game that he has hired Bob Diaco away from Notre Dame to be his defensive coordinator.

Worst case: Barkley tries to play but reinjures his shoulder, and the Trojans fold thereafter, ending a horribly disappointing season with a 38-17 loss. After the game, receiver Robert Woods, running back Silas Redd and cornerback Nickell Robey announce they will enter the NFL draft. Lane Kiffin also announces the hiring of Nick Holt to run the Trojans' defense.

Stanford

Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 1: Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5), 5 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Stanford dominates on both sides of the ball in a 30-10 victory, holding the Badgers to just 79 yards rushing and 210 total yards. Quarterback Kevin Hogan throws two touchdown passes and runs for another, while running back Stepfan Taylor rushes for 145 yards and a score. After the game, linebacker Shayne Skov, defensive end Ben Gardner and tight end Zach Ertz announce they will be returning for their senior seasons.

Worst case: Montee Ball rushes for 197 yards and two scores as Wisconsin pushes the Cardinal around in a 24-17 win. The Badgers sack Hogan four times, overwhelming the Cardinal's offensive line. After the game, Skov, Gardner and Ertz announce they will enter the NFL draft. Coach David Shaw is hired by the Philadelphia Eagles, and Walt Harris is rehired.

Oregon

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Ariz., Jan. 3: Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1), 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Oregon starts fast and never lets up in a 51-20 blowout, with running back Kenjon Barner rushing for 187 yards and two scores and quarterback Marcus Mariota throwing for three TDs. The Ducks sack Collin Klein five times and grab two interceptions. "I'm sure glad we didn't play them in the regular season," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder says afterward. Shortly after the game, Ducks coach Chip Kelly signs a lifetime contract, opens practices and promises to be more patient with hypotheticals and other sorts of irritating questions.

Worst case: The Kansas State defense throttles the Ducks' offense, and Klein throws three TD passes in a 30-13 victory. The Ducks rush for only 101 yards. "Oregon struggles in these big games," say the national commentators afterward. "And this really makes the Pac-12 look bad." Kelly is hired by the Philadelphia Eagles. Mariota quits football to become a professional surfer. John Mackovic is hired to replace Kelly.

Pac-12 bowl primer: Valero Alamo

December, 12, 2012
12/12/12
6:08
PM ET
This week we'll be taking a snapshot look at all of the bowl games including Pac-12 teams.

No. 23 Texas (8-4, 5-4 Big 12) vs. No. 13 Oregon State (9-3, 6-3)

Where: San Antonio, Texas, Alamodome

When: Sat. Dec. 29, 6:45 p.m. ET/3:45 PT

TV: ESPN

About Oregon State: What a wild year it's been for the Beavers, who have flipped last season's mark of 3-9 to 9-3. From the strange start of postponing the season opener to the quarterback switches, Oregon State has dealt with some bizarre distractions -- but it has also endured through it all. Quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz continue to be locked in a quarterback competition. But whoever gets the start will have one of the nation's best wide receiver duos to work with. And for as explosive as OSU's passing game has been with Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks (both 1,000-yard receivers), the defense has been just as potent, allowing fewer than 20 points per game. OSU went 2-2 vs. ranked competition this season, topping Wisconsin and UCLA in consecutive weeks, then falling to Stanford and Oregon late in the year.

About Texas: Like the Beavers, the Longhorns have quarterback issues. While we wait for Beavers coach Mike Riley's decision, we too must wait for Texas' Mack Brown to decide between Case McCoy and David Ash. Texas lost its final two games, against TCU and No. 6 Kansas State. Ash, who started the first 11 games, was benched against the Horned Frogs, and McCoy started the season finale against Kansas State. Twice the Longhorns couldn't hold a lead against No. 8 West Virginia (48-45), and they were routed by No. 13 Oklahoma (65-21) and dismissed by Kansas State (42-24). Their only victory against a ranked team was a 31-22 win at Texas Tech.

Key players, Oregon State: It starts with Wheaton and Cooks -- who have combined for 152 catches, 2,327 yards and 16 touchdowns. This pair represents the best mismatch for the Beavers, so whichever quarterback wins the gig, look for them to get this duo involved early and often. Defensively, All-American cornerback Jordan Poyer leads a defense that has 19 interceptions this season, which ranks sixth in the country. He has seven of those interceptions and returned one for a touchdown.

Key players, Texas: The Longhorns can score. They average just north of 36 points per game, and the two-back system of Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron has been pretty successful. Gray, a freshman, is the smaller, speedier back (though he has pretty good size at 5-11, 207). Bergeron (6-1, 230) is a sophomore and has 16 rushing touchdowns. He's the thunder to Gray's lightening. All-conference defensive end Alex Okafor can be disruptive. He's got a team best eight sacks, and 12 tackles for a loss this season.

Did you know: This is the third meeting between the schools and Texas has won both, the last coming in 1987 ... Texas' last and only appearance in the Alamo Bowl was in 2006 when it defeated Iowa 26-24 ... This is Texas' 14th bowl appearance in 15 seasons under Brown ... this is Oregon State's first appearance in the Alamo Bowl and first postseason appearance since 2009 ... The Beavers are 5-1 in bowl games under Mike Riley ... Oregon State has been ranked for a school record 11 consecutive weeks in the AP poll.

Take 2: Best of Pac-12's non-BCS bowls?

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
12:00
PM ET
Kevin and Ted consider which non-BCS bowls they are looking forward to see this bowl season.

[+] EnlargeWill Sutton, Corbin Berkstresser
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonArizona State will be counting on Will Sutton to help stop Navy's fierce rushing attack.
Kevin Gemmell: I love watching Navy play. I love watching the triple option in its purest form. And that's why I'm geeked up for the Kraft Fight Hunger bowl between the Midshipmen and the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Navy runs the true triple out of the double wing (flex-bone), veer, arc motion, midline option, speed option, quarterback isolation. The roots of the offense go all the way back to Missouri in the 1940s with Don Faurot and the Split-T formation. It's just fun to watch. And that's why I think the matchup with Arizona State is so intriguing.

If you haven't heard, the Sun Devils have a pretty good defensive lineman by the name of Will Sutton. Ya' know, the guy who was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. Landed on a couple of All-America lists. That chap.

Watching Sutton, Carl Bradford, Junior Onyeali, Brandon Magee and the rest of the Sun Devils defense square off with the Navy offense is going to be one of the more fascinating chess matches of the postseason. We've heard a lot about Todd Graham instilling discipline this year in the ASU system. And to beat a team like Navy, it takes strict discipline.

There is no freelancing against a Navy team. Defenders have to stick to their option rules like a pilot to a flight plan. Deviation can mean disaster.

It can also be frustrating. Most coaches would prefer to use these extra practices awarded to bowl teams like an extra spring -- giving young guys some work and focusing more on technique and fundamentals. I'm sure ASU will do that. But a team like Navy takes a little extra time to prepare for because it's an offense you don't see in the Pac-12. If the Sun Devils were playing a pro-style or spread team, the prep time wouldn't be as demanding.

And, of course, anytime you play a service academy, there is always the highest level of respect for who the players are and what they will be doing after their football careers. That should resonate particularly loudly with Arizona State -- given the way it embraces the Pat Tillman legacy and the fact that defensive end Jake Sheffield was a Marine who served in Iraq.

We'll start getting into predictions later, but based on pure athletes alone, Arizona State should win this game. They are superior on both lines which is where games are won and lost. But Navy's offense has a way of leveling the playing field. And if the Sun Devils aren't disciplined, this could be closer than at first glance.

[+] EnlargeMarkus Wheaton, Brandin Cooks
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireA win over Texas would surely give Oregon State receivers Markus Wheaton, left, and Brandin Cooks a reason to get excited.
Ted Miller: I'm excited about Oregon State messing with Texas, in large part because one of college football's richest programs -- the Longhorns -- is an underdog to the Beavers.

Texas looks more like a middling Pac-12 team. It scores fairly well -- 36 points per game -- but is questionable on defense. That the Longhorns are so weak on defense when they sit in the middle of some of the richest recruiting land in the nation is utterly baffling.

It will be interesting to see how the Beavers defense, which has been strong all season, matches up against the Longhorns. And how the Longhorns handle receivers Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks, the best tandem they will have seen this season.

Speaking of passing, both teams bring QB intrigue to the game: Will Oregon State go with Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz and what does that mean for next year? And what about Texas with David Ash and Case McCoy? That's another indicator of what the Longhorns might look like next year, in what figures to be a critical year for coach Mack Brown.

And next year is what this one is about.

If the Beavers win, even against a middling Texas team that has disappointed its fans, it will give this turnaround season more credibility, which will boost the 2013 perception. As in nice preseason ranking.

And a 10th win would be nice. That's happened just twice before in program history.

Valero Alamo Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
9:40
PM ET
Texas Longhorns (8-4) vs. Oregon State Beavers (9-3)

Dec. 29, 6:45 p.m. ET, San Antonio (ESPN)

Texas take from LonghornNation's Carter Strickland: The Longhorns stumbled down the stretch, losing their last two games to finish the regular season third in the Big 12.

While most projections called for Texas to finish right around third in the conference -- second was a possibility but thought to be a distant one -- the 8-4 overall record is looked at as a disappointment because of who the Longhorns lost to and how they lost.

Oklahoma and Kansas State, the top two teams in the Big 12, beat Texas by a combined 60 points, but the fact that the Longhorns most likely were going to lose to both of those teams had been accepted prior to the start of the season.

The other two losses -- to TCU and West Virginia -- were seen more as swing games. Texas lost those two by a combined 10 points. That both losses were at home didn't exactly thrill the fan base.

Now Texas is at a loss as to which quarterback, David Ash or Case McCoy, should lead the team. Ash started the first 11 games but was pulled twice due to inconsistent play and turnovers. McCoy started the final game against Kansas State and threw for 314 yards with 17 straight completions at one point. But McCoy had two costly interceptions as well.

On defense, Texas was one of the most porous in both the conference and the nation. But a month of bowl practice may help heal defensive end Alex Okafor and build confidence in replacement linebackers Tevin Jackson and Peter Jinkens.

Texas needs one more win to finish one game better than last season's record of 8-5. If the Longhorns can do that it might lend slightly more credibility to Texas coach Mack Brown's continued stump speeches about the Longhorns having improved from last year.




Oregon State take by Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell: Oregon State head coach Mike Riley has a decision to make. OSU's regular-season finale against Nicholls State was as much an open quarterback tryout between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz as it was a quest for a ninth win. Both have had highs and lows throughout the season, so it will be interesting to see which way Riley goes in the postseason as the Beavers look for their first Bowl win since a 3-0 victory against Pittsburgh in the 2008 Sun Bowl.

Both quarterbacks looked outstanding against Nicholls State -- granted, it was against a one-win FCS team. Yet both made their cases with efficient performances.

But the true stars of Oregon's State's team this year have been seniors Markus Wheaton (receiver) and Jordan Poyer (cornerback). They were catalysts for one of the best turnarounds in college football in 2012. Last season, the Beavers were 3-9 and many questioned whether Riley's job was secure.

Wheaton is one of the most dangerous, yet underappreciated receivers in the country. He's not only made his quarterback better with his sure hands and blistering speed, but his presence also helped give rise to up-and-coming receiver Brandin Cooks. The duo went for more than 1,000 receiving yards each, so they'll test the Texas secondary.

Across the field, Poyer, an All-American, comes in with a Pac-12 best seven interceptions. He's supported by an outstanding defense that was second only to Stanford in points allowed per game. Scott Crichton (nine sacks, 15 tackles for a loss) headlines a front seven that was one of the tougher groups in the conference this season.

Holiday Bowl: California vs. Texas

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
9:00
AM ET
The Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl features two 7-5 teams that went in opposite directions at the end of the regular season, with Texas losing three of its final four games and California winning three of its final four.

WHO TO WATCH: The quarterbacks. Yeah, I know, a real reach saying to watch the QBs. But this is more about players who have been inconsistent this year and are more likely to lose this game rather than win it. Cal seems to have an advantage with Zach Maynard, who played much better at the end of the season after a terrible midseason slump. For Texas, it's two guys who couldn't play well enough to eliminate the other: Case McCoy and David Ash. The Longhorns would rather just hand the ball off, so Cal's defense will need to force the Longhorns to need to throw. Texas might have the best defense the Bears have faced, and they are particularly tough against the pass. If Maynard's mechanics slip again and he's inaccurate, Texas will feast. But if Maynard hooks up with his brother, WR Keenan Allen, a few times for big plays, that could loosen things up for the Bears' running game.

WHAT TO WATCH: Cal LB Mychal Kendricks vs. the Longhorns' running offense. Kendricks is the Pac-12 defensive player of the year. He ranked fourth in the conference with eight tackles a game, including 13 for a loss. The Longhorns don't have a top-50 rusher -- the backfield had injury issues much of the year -- but they nonetheless ranked 19th in the nation in rushing with 210 yards per game. They ran the ball 554 times this year and passed just 334. So it's obvious what they want to do. If Kendricks makes a lot of plays -- instead of defensive backs -- that's a good thing for Cal and not for Texas.

WHY TO WATCH: Both teams want to create positive momentum going into 2012, and Texas fans particularly are on edge after two subpar years. Mack Brown could use some positive momentum. For Cal fans, however, this game also is about revenge. The Old Blues probably won't ever forgive Brown for his aggressive politicking in 2004 that helped the Longhorns leap the Bears in the BCS standings and grab a Rose Bowl berth away from a team that hadn't been to one since 1959.

PREDICTION: Texas 24, California 21. This sets up like a defensive struggle that will be determined by turnovers, special teams and field position. The guess here is the Longhorns will be able to run the ball better than Cal and that will prove to be the difference in the fourth quarter.

Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
11:15
PM ET
California Golden Bears (7-5) vs. Texas Longhorns (7-5)

Dec. 28, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Cal take from Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller: California overcame a horrible midseason lull and finished strong, which is why it's heading to the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl to settle on old score.

The Bears will square off with Texas, which some might recall squeezed Cal out of the Rose Bowl in 2004 after coach Mack Brown openly politicked against the Bears.

As for the present state of Cal, it's much different than it was on Oct. 29, when an embarrassing 31-14 loss to UCLA had the Bears reeling, losers of four of five. They certainly didn't look like a bowl team, and quarterback Zach Maynard didn't look like a Pac-12 quarterback.

Then Cal, leaning on its running game and stout defense, pounded Washington State and Oregon State, allowing just 13 points in the two wins. That allowed Maynard to get his confidence -- and mechanics -- back into form. Though the Bears lost at rival Stanford, 31-28, it could be said that Maynard was every bit the match -- at least statistically -- of Andrew Luck.

Cal concluded its season with a strong 47-38 win at Arizona State, which was particularly satisfying based on how poorly the Bears have played on the road the past few seasons.

A 7-5 finish has taken some of the heat off coach Jeff Tedford. Beating Texas would make the Old Blues extremely happy.


Texas take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: For the Longhorns, it's good to be back. After winning 10 games for nine consecutive seasons, the Longhorns spent the holidays at home last year after going 5-7, their fate sealed by a home loss to rival Texas A&M. Not this year. Texas' 7-5 season is still not up to Longhorns' standards. Their defense was hampered by an offense that found its rhythm in midseason but then promptly suffered debilitating injuries. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron were rarely healthy over the season's home stretch, when Texas lost three of its final four games.

Linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson were the solid anchors of the defense as expected. A solid secondary that refused to give up big plays flanked the pair. It kept opposing offenses from throwing a touchdown pass of longer than 20 yards until Robert Griffin III threw two in the season finale. Nobody in college football went longer, and with the caliber of quarterbacks across the Big 12, that's an amazing feat.

Case McCoy and David Ash are still trading places at quarterback consistently, and McCoy threw the first three interceptions of his career against Baylor. Bowl practices before Texas takes the field again could be interesting, and play a big role in the future of the Longhorns.
Rick NeuheiselAP Photo/Dave EinselThe Bruins are off to a slow start after a Houston loss and a weak performance against San Jose State.
Rick Neuheisel is on the hot seat. Rick Neuheisel has botched UCLA's quarterback situation. Rick Neuheisel questioned whether his team cared at a practice last week. Rick Neuheisel is no longer doing his post-game speech after home games at the Rose Bowl. Rick Neuheisel's team yawned its way through a win over San Jose State in front of a half-full stadium.

There's lots of Rick Neuheisel chatter these days, most of it negative. While such chatter doesn't block and tackle -- or miss blocks and miss tackles -- it certainly doesn't help the rebuilding process in Westwood. And it certainly doesn't make Neuheisel's job easier. Or help him keep it, for that matter.

Neuheisel said he knew it was coming.

"I told our team at the outset of the season that this was going to be one of those years where people were going to make stories that don't have anything to do with us," he said. "That's exactly what's taking place."

Neuheisel, known for his relentless optimism and boundless self-confidence, has flashed moments of frustration this year. Reporters have questioned whether he's lost faith in his team, a position Neuheisel is quick to discount.

"I'm not concerned at all with the passion and energy the football team is bringing to work," he said.

Here's the thing: Momentum in the media and among fans can reverse course in a matter of a weekend or two. If UCLA manages to beat Texas on Saturday and then open the Pac-12 schedule with a road win at Oregon State -- a perfectly reasonable scenario -- the Bruins would be 3-1 and back on track.

A loss at Houston and a lethargic performance against San Jose State doesn't automatically augur a lost season. But something positive has got to happen on the field to reignite belief, both among the fans and inside the locker room.

Recall that no one gave the Bruins a shot at then-No. 7 Texas last year, but the Bruins went to Austin and delivered a physically dominant 34-12 rear-end kicking. Sure, Texas was sloppy. But the Bruins were decisively winning the battle at the point of attack on both sides of the ball. Heck, they outrushed the Longhorns 264 yards to 85.

And, if you recall, quarterback Kevin Prince tweaked his knee late in that game. After masterfully leading the pistol rushing attack, particularly in the second half, he wasn't the same thereafter and he was shelved for the year with a knee injury after a rotten day at California.

Which leads into the next obvious topic: quarterback questions, which is the case for both teams.

Prince didn't play last week against San Jose State, though he was reportedly healthy enough after a concussion and shoulder injury from the opener, and Richard Brehaut was mediocre. Neuheisel has long seemed to prefer Prince, and he probably hasn't forgotten what Prince did at Texas last year. While Brehaut often seems like a more polished passer, the one thing he hasn't done that Prince has is win a few games.

So who starts? Neuheisel won't say.

"If Kevin is healthy, then Kevin will be back in the mix and we'll see how it goes as to how we divide those reps and play the game," he said.

Texas, by the way, also is uncertain at the position. Garrett Gilbert, a 14-game starter, has been benched, and either sophomore Case McCoy or freshman David Ash will get the call. Both played in the comeback win over BYU and it's likely the Bruins will see both on Saturday.

But whatever Texas does or whatever fans say, Neuheisel and the Bruins are looking inward. This game -- and the rest of the season, really -- are about what Neuheisel can get out of his Bruins.

The nabobs of negativity can natter, but it will come down to wins and losses for Neuheisel and the Bruins.

Said Neuheisel, "It's about us. It always has been about us. If we can keep our focus on that, then we're going to be fine."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 10/2
Saturday, 10/4