by Rob Moseley
Back in December of 2000, the Oregon football team was among the nation's top 10 ranked teams but didn't qualify for the Bowl Championship Series, and headed to San Diego for a bowl matchup with storied Texas.
At that point 13 years ago, the UO football program had never won 10 games in a season. The Ducks took out their BCS frustrations on the Longhorns with a thrilling, 35-30 victory.
The win propelled the Ducks into a new era, one in which 10 wins became the norm. Including this season of 2013, Oregon has had nine double-digit win totals in the last 14 years.
But while the Ducks are 10-2 at the moment, and ranked No. 10 in the final BCS rankings released Sunday, they were also left out of the BCS bowls again. The Orange Bowl matched up Ohio State and Clemson, and the Sugar Bowl selected Oklahoma to face Alabama, filling the available slots for at-large teams.
Thus, Oregon will again face Texas in the postseason, Dec. 30 in the Alamo Bowl (3:45 p.m. PT, ESPN). The Ducks' streak of four straight BCS bowls ended in head coach Mark Helfrich's first season, and they'll try to use another bowl game against the Longhorns to kick off a new era in the team's history.
"Getting a win in this bowl game would be huge for us as a program," UO junior center Hroniss Grasu said.
The Ducks' BCS chances took major hits in November with losses at Stanford and Arizona. They were rekindled briefly this weekend when Northern Illinois lost to open up an extra at-large spot in the five BCS bowls. But wins by Baylor and Oklahoma on Saturday gave the Big 12 Conference two entries, and left Oregon as the top-ranked team in the country left out.
"It was tough and it was unfortunate," UO sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "But we kind of put ourselves in this position."
Despite that disappointment, Mariota termed the Alamo Bowl berth "an honor and a blessing," and predicted the Ducks would show up ready to play in San Antonio the last week of December. Initial plans called for Oregon to arrive in Texas on Christmas day.
Seven UO players are Texas natives who will make a homecoming for the Alamo Bowl, including receivers Josh Huff, Bralon Addison and Chance Allen, defensive backs Eric Amoako and Stephen Amoako, quarterback Damion Hobbs and outside linebacker Torrodney Prevot.
"We had a tough four-game stretch here at the end of the season, stubbed our toe a little bit," Helfrich said Sunday evening. "But we'll be hungry to get back out there."
The Longhorns (8-4) are also looking for a positive finish to an inconsistent late-season stretch. Texas had a chance to win the Big 12 after Oklahoma's upset of Oklahoma State on Saturday morning, but the Longhorns lost 30-10 to Baylor later in the day.
"We didn't finish the way we wanted to, but we're going to get back to work and get after these guys," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "These guys are like Baylor — they can score fast and do a tremendous job, and they've been one of the best football teams in the country the last few years."
Texas will play in the Alamo Bowl in consecutive seasons, after beating Oregon State there last year.
Oregon practiced Saturday and Sunday, following "dead week" on the university's academic calendar and prior to the start of final exams Monday. They'll resume workouts Friday, their first with the knowledge that Texas is their bowl opponent.
Helfrich told the Ducks on Sunday afternoon that the day's practice had been perhaps the offense's most physical of the year, particularly in a set of blocking and tackling drills.
"That says a lot" about the team's level of motivation, Mariota said.
On a teleconference with reporters Sunday night, Mariota was asked whether he expects to be 100 percent healthy for the Alamo Bowl, following a late-season knee injury.
"I would like to think so," Mariota said, adding that it was hard to predict how he might feel in three weeks.
Mariota said he will use the bowl practices to focus in part on ball security, after throwing four interceptions and fumbling five times in the final four games of the regular season.
But after Mariota listed that and several other items the offense could clean up in practices, Grasu jumped in quickly and put the onus on himself and the rest of the offensive line.
"We set the tone," Grasu said. "We've just got to be more physical. The effort's there; we never have to coach effort or talk about effort. It's about executing the blocks, and communication."