Despite the disappointing 2012 football season resulting in more losses than expected, the Longhorns still have a chance to write the narrative for the offseason on Saturday.
Ending the season on a strong note with a bowl game win has been as common for Texas Longhorns head coach Mack Brown and his teams as losing to Oklahoma in October -- during the last 10 years, the only two bowl losses were in the 2003 Holiday Bowl to Washington State and the 2009 national championship game against Alabama, a remarkable run of success for a coach who hasn't always had the best record in big games.
Here's what a win over the Beavers means for Brown and other coaches and players:
What it means for Mack Brown
The term "embattled" more aptly applies to defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who was in enough danger that he was actively looking at other opportunities. For Brown, embattled doesn't really fit because of the support from the administration, which has pretty much been unwavering to this point. Instead, it's probably better to simply say that Brown has lost much of the fanbase.
In that sense, the Alamo Bowl is extremely important for him as an opportunity to get a ninth win this season, which will in turn allow him to point to progress in 2012 after winning eight games in 2011. It will give Brown the opportunity to continue saying that the team is on the right track and will be good soon, something he's been saying now for over a year.
Texas fans certainly believed in the future heading into the 2011 season, when the narrative pointed to more positive times in 2012 and 2013. Especially 2013, when the Longhorns were supposed to compete for a national championship. Unfortunately for Brown, that narrative was completely and utterly destroyed by another devastating blowout against Oklahoma back in October and is currently yet to be defined.
In the last several weeks, when Brown has continued to maintain that this Texas team will be good in the near future, it seems almost as if he's trying to convince himself as much as skeptical fans.
There's virtually no question that Brown will be back next season, but whether or not his Longhorns can pull out this game will at least determine the narrative for the offseason and help set some expectations for 2013 -- win the game against a good Oregon State team and the pressure will relent a bit. Lose it and, well, the natives will continue to be extremely restless.
And restless is a charitable word.
What it means for Major Applewhite
For the new Texas playcaller, his debut in that role in the Alamo Bowl will write the first chapter in his own personal narrative.
Teh Major is much more lucky than Brown at this point, because his reputation is still sterling within the Texas fanbase, both from his playing days and from his tremendous success on the recruiting trail bringing elite running backs to Austin at a time when Longhorn fans were playing the same game with missed evaluations at running back as they are now playing with quarterbacks who never found their way to the 40.
He also has some extra leeway because he hasn't had time to put his own imprint on the offense. Instead, he simply has to move forward with the framework put in place by his predecessor Bryan Harsin.
At the same time, however, Applewhite is now putting his reputation on the line on a play-to-play basis. Appear to conservative, and some will wonder how much autonomy he truly has to make his own decisions about the offense or whether Brown is once again meddling. Fail to get DJ Monroe and Daje Johnson involved and fans could begin feeling that Applewhite simply represents business as usual.
There will be plenty of time for that reputation to receive some hits, but no one wants it to be after Applewhite's first game as a playcaller.
What it means for Manny Diaz
The sense for some time has been that Brown will bring Diaz back to honor his three-year commitment to his coordinator. And Diaz is back for a third season, because, well, Florida State and FIU didn't want him, despite his public claims to the contrary about wanting to be in Texas to finish his business in Austin.
Beyond playcalling that has notably resulted in big plays given up due to lost gaps on twists, failed stunts, and ineffective blitzes, Diaz has to show some signs that he can coach up his players, the significant question mark surrounding his tenure at Texas.
Those critical of his work with the linebackers point to the experienced groups that he inherited at Middle Tennessee State, Mississippi State, and last season in his first year at Texas. Never before had Diaz had to coach up a young group of linebackers and the results for most of the season were exceedingly poor.
Given injuries and the aforementioned inexperience, some of the issues were understandable, but no longer. Apportioning the blame without knowing what goes on behind the scenes is always a difficult process that fans nonetheless love to engage in.
Now, after roughly the same number of practices in preparation for the bowl game that the coaches have for instruction in the spring, if there isn't improvement from Steve Edmond and Tevin Jackson and Peter Jinkens and Kendall Thompson, that falls on Diaz and does raise serious questions about how well he can coach.
And all that is saying nothing about the type of playcalling that Diaz employs, which has been disastrous at times.
What it means for David Ash
Last season, Ash wasn't named the starter for the Holiday Bowl until days before the game, with the coaches insisting that both quarterbacks would play. It didn't happen, as Ash turned in a solid, turnover-free performance that showed significant improvement from the end of the season, when he had appeared to completely lose his confidence and his accuracy in games against Missouri and Kansas State.
Now, Ash once again comes into the game needing to show some improvement to allow fans and coaches to feel more comfortable about the quarterback situation heading into the 2012 season, though the pressure has probably decreased a little bit with the news that the rib injury he was playing through against TCU actually occurred during the Iowa State game and kept him out of practice for a week and a half.
As a result, the game wasn't necessarily the referendum on his ability to recover from mistakes that it appeared to be at the time. And Ash may never have to battle the same type of early adversity that he did against Oklahoma and Kansas this year. But if he does, how he responds will truly define his upside heading into the 2013 season, when his ability to consistently perform well will be a key to Texas success.
What it means for Mike Davis
After big plays against Iowa State and Texas Tech beating opposing cornerbacks on deep post routes, Davis was rightfully being heralded as one of the top deep threats in the country. But against TCU and Kansas State, he was much less of a threat, failing to score a touchdown or register any of those big plays that had become his trademark.
Since Oregon State will likely play their safeties deep and without run responsibilities in a marked change for Texas opponents this season, it could be difficult for Davis to replicate the success that he had back in November.
There's no question that Davis has turned his career at Texas around after rumors swirled about whether he would have any future in Austin at all after his extremely disappointing 2011 campaign. Now Davis just has to prove that those games against Iowa State and Texas Tech weren't flukes and that he can perform at a nationally-elite level against good defenses.
Breaking off some more of those big plays on Saturday against a strong group of Beaver cornerbacks could go a long way towards doing that.