Oregon State generated the biggest one-year turnaround in school history and could secure its third 10-win season by beating Texas in the Alamo Bowl on Saturday.
The Longhorns? They are trying to reverse a three-year slide from the days when 10 wins were just a footnote on the way to BCS bowls.
Beating the 15th-ranked Beavers on Saturday night would be another baby step back to the elite for Mack Brown and company, with still a long way to go. Texas followed a loss to Alabama in the 2009 BCS championship game with a shocking 5-7 record — the only losing season in 15 under Brown — and an 8-5 mark last year that included a Holiday Bowl win over Cal.
Lose to Oregon State, and the Longhorns (8-4) will have a second straight eight-win season and a long offseason to think about a three-game losing streak, too.
"I think that at Texas we want to be 13-0," Brown said. "The standards are higher than eight, and that's what the kids need to understand and our coaches do understand. And we are ready to take that next step and get it back to where it should be."
Mike Riley has had to do a little rebuilding of his own after leading the Beavers (9-3) to 10 wins in 2006 and three more winning seasons after that. Oregon State matched Texas at 5-7 in 2010, then slipped to 3-9 a year ago.
The Beavers are six games better in 2012, beating one Rose Bowl team — Wisconsin — in their opener and almost beating the other — Stanford — on the road. Oregon State brings a little momentum into the Alamo Bowl because Hurricane Isaac turned the original opener against Nicholls State into the finale. So after losing to Fiesta Bowl-bound rival Oregon, the Beavers trounced Nicholls State 77-3.
Quarterbacks Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion split the snaps against Nicholls after injuries led to both being starters during the season. Riley picked Vaz, a former receiver who has 11 touchdowns and just one interception, to start against the Longhorns.
"It's been a hard decision," offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. "It's probably been more difficult on the two kids. They have been kind of flip-flopping back and forth. But I think our team understands that there's two guys that can go out and win a game."
The Longhorns saved their flip-flopping at quarterback for late in the season. David Ash was named the starter for the Alamo Bowl after starting the first 11 games before he was pulled in a loss to TCU on Thanksgiving. Case McCoy started the finale against Kansas State. Texas officials originally said Ash sustained a rib injury against the Horned Frogs, but Brown acknowledged this week that Ash was actually injured the previous game against Iowa State and made the start against TCU anyway.
The TCU game was the second time McCoy replaced an ineffective Ash. McCoy came off the bench to lead a comeback win against Kansas in October, but Ash kept his job then.
"I think he's done a great job this year," co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said of Ash. "Has there been a game or two he wants back? Absolutely. That's usually the case for most players. But I think he's improved from last season."
Applewhite, a former Texas quarterback, is taking over as play-caller and quarterbacks coach with Bryan Harsin leaving to become head coach at Arkansas State. Applewhite was the running backs coach and says any significant changes for the quarterbacks can wait.
"The last thing I want to do is scratch the hard drive and try to change a lot of things that he's really been ingrained in over the last two years," said Applewhite, who was Nick Saban's offensive coordinator his first year at Alabama in 2007. "We'll talk more about that kind of stuff in the spring and where we want to go with the position, how we want to grow."
The Longhorns will be without two players who were suspended and sent home on Friday after a report surfaced that police were investigating a sexual assault allegation against them. The players have not been identified.