Several Oregon players remarked in November that they weren't looking forward to another Rose Bowl. A late season loss to Arizona rendered that assumptive Rose Bowl protest moot and earned them a ticket to their first non-BCS bowl in five years.
Now Oregon finds itself in San Antonio facing the Texas Longhorns. Do they want to be there? Might they be in a Day-glo sulk come game time? Or will they be eager to stake out recruiting grounds, thumb a traditional power in the eye, and atone for a "disappointing" season?
What about the Longhorns?
Is a distracted Texas, riddled with Mack Brown sudden change drama, injuries and academic suspensions, and on the heels of another underwhelming season, eager to give forth the maniacal effort required to upset a two touchdown favorite?
Or is that effort all but assured as the players strive to Win It For Mack before a pro-Texas crowd in the Alamo Dome?
I call it Bowl Want To. And while I tend to dismiss and mock the media's overemphasis on pop psychological factors in sports, Bowl Want To is undeniably real. Surprisingly, when a team has no interest in being somewhere, the seniors are already checked out, and the game is viewed mostly as an opportunity to kick it and enjoy bowl swag, they tend to get their asses thoroughly kicked.
For a really good psychological bowl meltdown, you need the following elements:
1). Major distractions that lead to coaches not preparing the team or the players not caring.
2). A QB/offense capable of laying a massive egg. It's hard to get blown out or upset without plenty of turnovers and lots of three and outs.
3). A senior class that cares little for their legacy.
4). Suspensions/injuries/team turmoil. Though this can cut both ways - either crippling or unifying the team. If the losses are of the "good riddance" variety, it's a plus. If they show an organization that's termite-ridden, a definite negative.
5). An opponent who can exploit your season bugbears - by scheme, personnel, etc
You can make your own judgements from the above list on both Texas and Oregon.
Perhaps examining three Texas teams, under three different coaches, who most definitely Did Not Want To can clarify our own perceptions of this one.
1984 Freedom Bowl
Iowa- 55, Texas- 17
A Longhorn team bathing in dysfunction and fielding one of the most painful offenses in Texas history started the season promisingly with resounding non-conference wins over #11 Auburn and #4 Penn State earning it a #1 national ranking. They tied OU, took down Arkansas, beat #14 SMU...and lost three of their last four games, including a blowout to Texas A&M. The team, torn apart by internal divisions across multiple lines (race, age, offense vs. defense, team vs coaches, coaches vs. coaches, alums vs coaches, school vs. athletics), voted to not accept any bowl bid. The coaching staff overruled them, told them that they were damn well playing, and this happened:
What's notable about this game resonates through all Texas Bowl Want To losses:
1. An opposing coach or team eager to humiliate a traditional power to make their name, open up recruiting grounds, or avenge historical slights. Hello there native Texan Hayden Fry.
2. A hilarious lack of effort and/or total lack of preparedness. Texas defenders in a bored half jog or Todd Dodge randomly throwing darts at Iowa defenders quietly standing fifteen yards from a Texas receiver is some evidence of that fact.
3. QB/offensive woes. Todd Dodge was a turnover machine through his entire career at Texas. He threw an incredible 19 interceptions in 210 passing attempts that year while completing 47% of his passes. I was a kid then and I think I remember all of them. He was awful in this game, too.
4. Schematically, this was one of many games over the next decade where Texas had no answers for any team moderately conversant with the forward pass. "Let's just play man coverage every down, y'all! It'll work out." The Texas offense was comical.
1991 Cotton Bowl
Miami - 46, Texas -3
In 1990, Texas launched its nearly epic Shock The Nation tour that ended with the thud of a 46-3 loss to Miami in the Cotton Bowl, which was, in retrospect, more of an assault than a game. Miami was flagged 16 times for 202 yards and they knocked out Chris Samuels on the game's first play. The announcers likened it to "child abuse." Seriously. Listen in the clip.
Some fun takeaways:
1. Texas managed to be completely unprepared (Texas DC Leon Fuller's brilliant scheme had LBs covering Miami's slot receiver in man coverage - probably why they converted a 3rd and 40 at one point during the game), uninterested (several UT players were out drinking all evening before the game to bring in the New Year - and the team wake-up call was 6:30 am) and thoroughly intimidated (the entire Texas OL - which surrendered 9 sacks). After the game, Longhorn senior OT Stan Thomas remarked that: "He'd won his match-ups against Russell Maryland that day."
Did you, Stan? Did you?
2. Hurricane Bowl Want To. Miami - which only measured their success in national championships - could have shown up distracted, having pissed away their 9-2 season with losses to BYU and Notre Dame. Instead, they were furious, eager to make a national statement against a (faded) traditional power. This game was pretty much singlehandedly responsible for changing college taunting rules.
3. Peter Gardere was 7 of 16 for 40 yards and three interceptions. He did manage -23 yards rushing, however. Is 17 yards of total offense from your QB good?
January 1, 2000 Cotton Bowl
Arkansas - 27, Texas - 6
Texas came in ranked #14 in the country, fresh off of a loss to Nebraska in the Big 12 title game. Arkansas was 7-4. Texas had no desire to be there. Arkansas wanted to kick the hell out of Texas. The Thursday before the game, four Longhorn players, including team leaders Kwame Cavil and Aaron Humphery were suspended, and the team folded like cheap laundry.
Some fun memories of this debacle:
1). The three touchdown final deficit and deceptive 3-3 halftime score does not adequately express the atrocity of the Texas performance. Arkansas held Texas to a total -27 yards rushing (with 8 sacks) while rushing for 5.3 yards per carry on their end. It was 385-185 in total offense and it didn't feel that close.
2). Texas lost three games in a row to end the season and the offense didn't score a touchdown over the last ten quarters of the season. Greg Davis, future Broyles Award winner!
3). Major Applewhite blew out his knee. He was playing awful before it happened, for what it's worth. Chris Simms came on and was awful, too.
4). During the break between the Big 12 championship game (Dec 4th) and the January 1st bowl game, Texas OT Mike Williams managed to gain approximately 35 pounds. On top of the 15 he'd somehow picked up over the last half of the season. You can see him actually struggling to get in his stance during the 2nd half of the Cotton Bowl. He's rocking just shy of 390. Probably one of the reasons for -27 yards rushing?
Strong early effort, Mad Dog.
Oregon is a better team than Texas. But if they're sulking about going to the Alamo Bowl and hitting the Riverwalk until 4am each morning, they could lay a big Duck egg. And motivation was clearly an issue when they played Arizona.
But if Oregon wants to be there - and seeks to use the game for season atonement for failing their recent high standard, to work off the chip on their shoulder about traditional name programs, and has a staff that views this as a unique opportunity to humiliate a traditional power in a state whose recruiting grounds they covet, this thing could get very ugly rather quickly.
Factor in Texas player suspensions, a staff that's spending as much time circulating their resume as preparing the team, and a head coach that seems to be squandering much of his good will with his recent shakedown tactics, and the psychology isn't necessarily screaming Texas right now.
How is our Bowl Want To? What about Oregon?