Texas Longhorns: Oregon State Beavers
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.
Here's how they did it:
Our methodology was simple: We re-tallied the scores following signing day and ranked the schools based on total number of ESPNU 150 recruits (there have been 900) hauled in over the last six years. Of course, like success on the field, recruiting is cyclical -- and fans of programs both on and off this list might look back on Feb. 1, 2012 as the day their team began its rise (or fall) on the trail.
Here's the top-10.
5. Florida State
6. Notre Dame
T-10. Ohio State
Here's what it says about USC:
Top states: California (36), Florida (six), Arizona (four)
Surprise state: Georgia (three)
Sure, the Trojans have California locked up. But USC has also signed four of Arizona's 12 ESPNU 150 prospects and Georgia's second-best preps in 2008 (WR Brice Butler of Norcross) and 2010 (WR Markeith Ambles of McDonough). In 2012, USC signed seven ESPNU 150 commits -- OT Zach Banner (Lakewood, Wash.) was the lone out-of-state recruit.
(USC actually signed three out-of-state recruits, including receiver Nelson Agholor and DT Leonard Williams, who are both from Florida).
What's clear from this list: Sometimes teams with lots of ESPNU 150 players produce on the field (Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State) and sometimes they do not (Florida, Texas, Florida State, Notre Dame and Miami).
Florida is 15-11 over the past two seasons, when these highly rated classes should have been peaking. Texas is 13-12 over the same span. Miami has lost fewer than six games just once since 2007. Notre Dame's best years came the past two seasons -- both 8-5. Florida State has averaged 4.8 losses since 2007. Georgia was 10-4 this season, but it was a combined 14-12 in 2009 and 2010. Ohio State probably can be forgiven its 6-7 finish this year, based on the NCAA issues and firing of coach Jim Tressel. Oklahoma's lone blip was an 8-5 campaign in 2009. USC's "downturn" came in 2009 and 2010 when the Trojans went 17-9.
Well, it's possible that Florida recruiting -- as good as it is -- is overrated. Perhaps the same can be said for Texas. Or at least these four programs -- Florida, Florida State, Miami and Texas -- aren't doing the best job of evaluating their wealth of in-state talent.
You know: The conference that can count!
But the Pac-12, which has, yes, 12 teams, and the Big 12, which has 10 teams (though it's often hard to keep up with which ones), play each other in three bowl games this holiday season.
Joy to the world.