SAN DIEGO -- The Holiday Bowl between Oregon and Texas on Friday night has the No. 10 written all over it.
Oregon is ranked in the Top 10. Texas coach Mack Brown and his sophomore quarterback, Chris Simms, want badly to finish there and start a trend.
The winner will have 10 victories. The No. 12 Longhorns (9-2) have done that plenty of times in their illustrious history, and need only to dunk the No. 8 Ducks (9-2) to do it for the first time in Brown's three seasons in Austin.
The Ducks will have to mess with a talented Texas team to get the first 10-win season in their 105-year history.
"It's a statement game," Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington said.
Simms, the son of former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms, agrees.
"This game will determine our mindset for the whole offseason," said Simms, who will start his third straight game. "We all want to be in the top 10 and have a nice clean start and a fresh frame of mind going into next year."
Texas' last Top 10 finish was No. 5 in 1983.
And with this matchup, the Holiday Bowl might well live up to its reputation of exciting finishes and a lot of scoring. The Ducks made a habit of winning late, including double overtime against Arizona State and overtime against Washington State in consecutive road games. Texas averaged nearly 40 points, winning two games by more than 50 points.
"I'd like that," said coach Mike Bellotti, whose Ducks were part of a Pacific Northwest uprising in the Pac-10 this season. "I think it can be a great football game. Texas' ability level is greater than ours, so we're going to have play better, play harder. If we can do that, and we match up, that'll be to our advantage."
The Ducks, of course, would be playing in the Rose Bowl if not for their devastating 23-13 loss to rival Oregon State on Nov. 18, when Harrington committed six turnovers. Oregon was the only team to beat No. 4 Washington, which earned the Pac-10's Rose Bowl berth even though the Huskies, Ducks and Beavers tied at 7-1 in the conference.
While Harrington and Bellotti say the Oregon State loss will stick with them forever, they don't look at the Holiday Bowl as a consolation prize.
"There was a mourning period," Harrington said. "But now everybody's got a spring in their step. I think it's a great chance to go out on top against one of the best teams in the country."
Besides playing a big-name program, the Ducks get valuable exposure to the fertile Southern California recruiting scene.
And Bellotti said this is Oregon's biggest challenge since playing Penn State in the Rose Bowl after the 1994 season. He's not just buttering up his opponent, either. The Longhorns have an edge with two mammoth All-American linemen - 365-pound offensive tackle Leonard Davis, whose nickname is "Dancin' Bear," and defensive tackle Casey Hampton.
And the Longhorns' winning streak - which started a week after they lost 63-14 to Oklahoma - makes them one of the nation's hottest teams.
"If Washington and Oregon State are Top 10 teams, this is a Top 10 team," Bellotti said of the Longhorns. "They possess as many or more weapons than anybody we've played this year. In fact, they are the best team we've played this year. Hands down, no question."
It's not much of a surprise that Brown picked Simms over Major Applewhite, considering Simms' 383 yards passing and three touchdowns in a season-ending 43-17 win over Texas A&M.
Simms started the final two games after Applewhite, Texas' career passing leader, sprained a knee.
"I don't expect to be taken out, that's for sure," Simms said. "Even if I go the first four or five drives and we don't score. ... I've practiced great. I don't feel like they can take me out."
Applewhite, though, said he expects to get in the game.
Bellotti said Texas' balance makes the Longhorns look like a Pac-10 team. Senior running back Hodges Mitchell had more than 1,000 yards rushing and 300 yards receiving for the second straight year. Wide receiver Roy Williams had 40 catches to set Texas freshman records with 809 yards and eight touchdowns, and B.J. Johnson had a freshman-record 41 catches for 698 yards and three TDs.
Oregon has a big-time back, too: Maurice Morris, who rushed for 1,217 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Holiday Bowl is sponsored by Culligan.
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