By Stewart Mandel
December 25, 2012

Note: An earlier version of this preview predicted a Texas win; the author has changed his prediction in light of the latest news out of Texas.

Oregon State (9-3) vs. Texas (8-4)Dec. 29, 6:45 p.m. ET (ESPN)


? Reason to watch: Oregon State is the best turnaround story of the season (from 3-9 to 9-3) and a fun team to watch, especially given its dynamic receiving duo of Markus Wheaton (100.6 yards per game) and Brandin Cooks (93.3) and its physical defense led by All-America defensive end Scott Crichton (nine sacks). Unlike their opponent, the Beavers have managed to juggle two quarterbacks, Sean Mannion (64.7 percent completions, 2,446 yards) and Cody Vaz (11 touchdowns, one interception), with relatively little controversy. Texas, on the other hand, is worth watching primarily for its never-ending soap opera, which on Friday took a dark turn. The school suspended and sent home two players, reported to be quarterback Case McCoy and linebacker Jordan Hicks, for violating team rules, amid a San Antonio police investigation into a sexual assault allegation made by a 21-year-old woman. Previously, the biggest storyline for the Longhorns was Major Applewhite's first game as the new offensive play-caller.

? Keep an eye on: The Texas defense, a much-maligned unit (75th nationally) that got better late in the season, allowing 16.5 points per game in the four contests prior to the Longhorns' season-ending 42-24 loss to Kansas State. There's no shortage of talent in this group, as defensive end Alex Okafor (eight sacks) and safety Kenny Vacarro (100 tackles) will likely be high-round NFL draft picks. (Another, end Jackson Jeffcoat, was lost for the season in mid-October.) Poor tackling has been Texas' biggest downfall, something it can't afford against Wheaton and Cooks, both of whom can turn a short initial gain into a game-breaking touchdown.

? Did you know: Oregon State's Mike Riley spent two seasons (1991 and '92) coaching the San Antonio Riders of the defunct World League of American Football when he was in his late 30s. Riley and his wife, Dee, enjoyed their time there so much that they keep a summer home in Texas Hill Country.

? Final analysis: Originally I predicted that up-and-down Texas would put things together and pull off the upset in front of a partisan, in-state crowd. But suspensions and serious allegations involving two high-profile players on the eve of the game seem like too big of a distraction to overcome. Texas' offense will sputter while Beavers quarterback Vaz will make some key plays.

? The pick: Texas 28, Oregon State 24 Oregon State 27, Texas 14

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