A look at Mack Brown's future? (Photo courtesy: USA Today Sports)
Oregon Ducks (10-2) vs. Texas Longhorns (8-4)
Mon., Dec. 30 @ 6:45 PM (ESPN)
Line: Oregon by 13.5
How Oregon got here: Early in the year, the Ducks looked like they wouldn’t miss a beat without coaching savant Chip Kelly. The season took a u-turn in November, however, as star quarterback Marcus Mariota suffered a lingering knee injury and UO was upset by its Pac-12 North nemesis, Stanford. The Ducks limped to the finish line with an uninspiring win over Utah, a blowout loss at Arizona and one-point escape in the Civil War versus Oregon State. That landed them outside the BCS for the first time in five years.
How Texas got here: Embattled coach Mack Brown’s big talk before the season fell flat quickly as his team got blown out by BYU and Ole Miss in the second and third weeks of the season. The Longhorns somehow managed to hang around in the Big 12 race until the end of the year, suffering a 20-point loss to Baylor in the final game that gave the Bears the conference crown. In the interim, Brown stepped down as head coach – although the circumstances of the episode are in dispute. Whatever the case may be, this will be his final ride on the Bevo train.
For Oregon to win: Texas is at its best when the offense can control possession with its power running game. In the ‘Horns’ three most impressive performances of the year against Oklahoma, TCU and Texas Tech, they rushed the ball 60, 52 and 61 times, respectively. When Case McCoy has to make plays in the passing game, it usually spells disaster, so the Ducks should look to stack the box to take away the downhill running attack. If UT has to pass to win, this should quickly turn into a rout.
For Texas to win: UT’s defensive line has been its saving grace this year. The Longhorns need to hope that the front four win their battles against Oregon’s offensive line and disrupt the Ducks in the backfield. When Oregon’s skill players get to the second level, Texas’ linebackers and safeties have to tackle well. Lastly, the QB running game has murdered UT’s D, which means the ‘Horns should make sure to be physical with Mariota when he takes off.
Key player (Oregon): Marcus Mariota, QB. An obvious one, but it’s true nonetheless. UO’s dynamic field general presents matchup issues that gave UT fits this year. Assuming he’s fully healthy, Mariota stands to have a huge night in San Antonio.
Key player (Texas): Adrian Phillips, DB. Phillips had his ups and downs this season, but he was one of UT’s most active defenders, finishing second on the team in tackles while picking off two passes on the year. Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson will be counting on Phillips to make plenty of plays in space against Oregon’s explosive weapons at the skill positions.
Key stat: Mack Brown didn’t win enough to satisfy Burnt Orange Nation, but his Texas teams have generally excelled in the postseason. Brown enters his final game as the school’s coach sporting a 10-4 record in bowl games.