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December 13, 2012The pressure to win felt by coaches and players at the major college level is often excruciating.
Bowl games, though, sometimes vary in how teams approach them.
Some teams gladly adopt a "We're just happy to be here" philosophy, and then go out and play like it.
However, neither Oregon State or Texas, the schools competing in the Alamo Bowl on December 29 can afford to view the game from that perspective.
The Beavers know this is a golden opportunity to make a splash on the national scene, and legitimize in the eyes of many people a fairy-tale season in which they've reversed records (3-9 to 9-3) from a year ago.
Oregon State has pulled out some eye-opening wins this campaign (Wisconsin, UCLA, BYU) and crushing Nicholls State, 77-3, ended the regular season on a nifty note, but beating Texas by even one point in San Antonio would put the Beavers into another stratosphere.
"The excitement of the bowl game, the opportunity to play a new team, a well-respected program, that's a big deal," OSU coach Mike Riley said recently. "Then it becomes about doing everything you can to prepare and win the game. Putting that all together is our task at hand now."
Ten victories have always been a magical number in college football and beating the Longhorns would allow OSU to reach double figures in wins for just the second time since the Fiesta Bowl season in 2000.
Often, a bowl win produces greater excitement in the off-season. A year ago, Oregon State didn't have the benefit of competing in a bowl game, but they did have some senior players insistent on not making the same mistakes two seasons in a row.
"It's a pretty simple formula, actually," Riley said. "We had relatively young people that just always played hard, even though not successfully, and kind of stayed with it. Then they went into the off season with good senior leadership. We have a core of seniors, good, hard-working guys that didn't like where they were, didn't like 3-9. They led the team."
But 10 wins would also allow the Beavers to counter some of the momentum built up by Oregon over the past few years. A bowl win by the Beavers on December 29 followed by a loss for Oregon to Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl on January 3 means OSU would finish within one win of the Ducks for the first time since 2008.
Next year, with a number of key players returning, Oregon State will try to register more wins than Oregon for the first time since 2006.
Texas, meanwhile, faces burdens on multiple levels. Not only must the Longhorns win in their home state in order to salvage what has been a disappointing season with a blowout loss to Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout, but Mack Brown could be battling for his job heading into what could be a make-or-break 2013 season for the Texas coaching staff.
"Our team will be excited about this challenge. Both of us have young teams. The futures are very important," Brown said. "The futures look very good. Playing the 13th ranked team in the country right now is another challenge for us to play a highly rated team and continue to make progress."
Imagine the pressure Oregon State would feel if they played in a bowl game in Portland, and then multiply it by about 10. Now you have a general idea of what the Longhorn players are experiencing right now.
"We're lucky to play a team that's had a better year than we have and they're ranked higher than we are," Brown said. "I have great respect for Coach Riley and his team. I've known Mike for a long time. He is obviously one of the best coaches in our business ever. His balance offensively going back to his Charger days till now has just been amazing.
"Being the winningest coach at Oregon State, he's done a lot of the things that Bill Snyder has done at Kansas State."
And then there's the Texas A&M headache. The Aggies' much-publicized exit from the Big 12 last year for the greener pastures of the SEC exposed the bitterness of the rivalry between Texas and Texas A&M, and has produced a dream season for the latter school with 10 wins and the Heisman Trophy winner.
Most the momentum and all the buzz in the Lone Star State right now resides in College Station - one of the state's top players committed to Texas A&M on Monday - and Texas is eager to shift the focus back to Austin where they feel it belongs.
"We're at a point where there's such a high standard that really unless you win all the games there's concern," Brown said. "I really believe we're headed in the right direction. Just about everybody's back (in 2013). We'll have some older guys on the team for the first time with only three seniors starting right now. The future looks very, very bright.
"Football coaches don't look back. You don't want to sit back and talk about all the things that you didn't get accomplished. I'm fortunate to be at a place where the standards are very high and we're going to fight to make sure we get back to those standards. If you ask me if I'm happy with three years of non-BCS games, I would say no. That's for me, much less everybody else."
Individually, some Oregon State players will feel the heat of playing in Texas as well. Beavers redshirt freshman running back Storm Woods (team-leading 822 yards on 171 carries) hails from nearby Pflugerville, Tex., a suburb of Austin, and should have plenty of supporters in the stands.
"When the selection was made, you might have heard Storm yelling all the way down here. Even some of the guys on our team had to quiet him down a little bit. But he's all fired up to be able to come back to Texas and play," Riley said.
With final exams over, bowl workouts began Monday and will continue for the next couple of weeks until the Beavers depart for San Antonio on December 23rd.
In the meantime, questions such as who will start at quarterback for Oregon State or whether the three players suspended from the team after being arraigned on misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct charges will be reinstated in time for the bowl game await resolution.
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