National University Holiday Bowl

    National University Holiday Bowl Nebraska (9-3) vs. USC (8-4) Dec. 27, 8:00, ESPN Here’s The Deal: Make no mistake about it, this game is all about

    December 18, 2014

    National University Holiday Bowl

    Nebraska (9-3) vs. USC (8-4) Dec. 27, 8:00, ESPN
    Here’s The Deal: Make no mistake about it, this game is all about whether or not USC can come through. Either this will go to form, or the storyline could change and shift in a real hurry from the Nebraska coaching situation to whether or not USC came come up with a big 2015.

    USC is about as pressure-packed as a head coaching job can get, and Year Two really starts about now for Steve Sarkisian as he and the program have to win. He’s not on any sort of a hot seat, but if he can’t beat the headless Huskers, and if the Trojans finish 8-5, it could be a really, really testy offseason.

    It’s been a decent season for USC despite the early road loss to Boston College and the late rivalry loss to UCLA. Three of the four losses were by a total of 13 points and could’ve gone either way, and in terms of the crosstown problems against the Bruins, that just so happened to be a bad game against a jacked up team on the right day. However, with one of the nation’s best passing games, a relative home game in San Diego, and with a defense that’s great against the run, there’s absolutely no excuse whatsoever to lose this game.

    Want more pressure, Sark? USC has won five of its last six bowl games, only losing the 2012 in a thud against Georgia Tech, and taking eight of the last ten going back to the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl loss to Utah. Of course, USC could get blown out and still come out roaring next year on the way to the 2016 College Football Playoff, but for a program that’s had more than its share of drama, a win would make for a much, much easier next seven months.

    Nebraska, though, could do something somewhat shocking and special, coming up with a tenth win in a season that wasn’t good enough for Bo Pelini to be kept around. The Mike Riley era will kick in soon, but for now, interim head coach Barney Cotton is auditioning to show what he can do under trying circumstances, and the team could finish up with a tremendous year – at least in terms of record – even if it wasn’t good enough when it came to the big games.

    Everyone will always remember the ugly blowout loss to Wisconsin, but with a great comeback against Michigan State that fell just short, and with the 28-24 loss to Minnesota, two of the three losses came by a total of nine points. That’s still not good enough for a program that wants to be playing for national titles, but again, in terms of wins and losses, 10-3 would look terrific. It would look even better considering what the team has had to go through over the last several weeks.

    A win over Georgia in the 2014 Gator Bowl ended a run of three straight bowl losses, all by double digits, and that was sort of the problem for Pelini. The overall numbers and records might have been great, but there just weren’t enough top moments. If recent Holiday Bowls are any guide, and considering the coaching issues, this might not be a special moment, either.

    The Holiday Bowl has seen some terrific games over its history, but not lately with the last eight decided by double digits including Nebraska’s 33-0 win over Arizona in 2009 and a 19-7 loss to Washington in 2010. This is USC’s first Holiday Bowl.

    This is just the fifth meeting between the two storied programs, with USC winning 49-31 in 2007 and going 3-0-1 in the series, starting with a 31-21 win in 1969.

    Why Nebraska Might Win: Talk about playing completely and totally loose, Nebraska should be able to simply come out and have fun. There’s nothing to lose here with the regime change, and with all the pressure off and no worries about playing for a head coach’s job, and as the big underdog, the Huskers should be able to do whatever they want and take several chances.

    – It’s strength on strength, and that favors Nebraska. USC has one of the best and most efficient passing games in America, but for all the faults on the Husker defense at times, the secondary has been phenomenal, allowing just 12 touchdown passes and coming up with 12 picks while allowing more than 300 yards just once – in the win over Miami. The pressure should be there from the defensive front on USC QB Cody Kessler from the start.

    – It’s time to fear Ameer again. Only 5-9 and 195 pounds, and with four years’ worth of carries, Ameer Abdullah started to wear down late in the year starting with an injury against Purdue. He came back and played, and he ran for 106 yards on 13 carries against Iowa, but he wasn’t quite the same even though he finished with 1,523 yards and 18 touchdowns. With time off to rest up, he should be ready to handle the ball at least 20 times – he’ll look like a different back.

    – USC, get ready for Randy Gregory. Projected to be a top 15 pick in the upcoming draft, the junior hasn’t turned in the monster season expected, coming up with seven sacks with 8.5 tackles for loss and 50 stops, but now it’s salary drive time. USC has been okay in pass protection, not great, and it’ll have a hard time containing the Nebraska defensive front.

    – USC isn’t shy about shooting itself in the foot with penalties. The Trojans have been flagged 103 times on the year with a whopping 14 against both Oregon State and California. Nebraska needs as much help as it can get, and USC should provide it with at least eight penalties.

    Why USC Might Win: Will Nebraska show up with a purpose? Even though the team should play hard for Barney Cotton, and even though it might want to make a statement, it’s still asking for too much be consistent while waiting for Mike Riley to take over. If USC is fully focused, it should win without a problem.

    – QB Cody Kessler had a phenomenally great season that didn’t get noticed by anyone outside of LA. He might not have the NFL size, and the program has several great prospects waiting to shine, but he’s been too good to move out of the starting spot, hitting 71% of his passes for 3,505 yards and 36 touchdowns and just four picks. Having a great receiving corps helps, but he’s been a smart and effective triggerman.

    – NFL scouts looking to improve their respective defensive lines will keep eyes fully focused on Nebraska’s Randy Gregory and USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams, who has come up with 71 tackles with six sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. This is an aggressive and talented defensive front, but the 6-5, 300-pounder is the key to one of the nation’s best run defenses that allowed 452 yards and five touchdowns to Boston College, and not more than 172 yards against anyone else.

    – USC’s biggest weakness probably can’t and won’t be exploited. Nebraska will occasionally throw, and it can hit on a few deep balls, but the Trojan secondary that’s been hit for close to 3,200 yards on the year and 17 scores probably won’t get torched. The D should be able to focus solely on the run.

    – Nebraska’s run defense wasn’t just bad against Melvin Gordon and Wisconsin – it struggled against Minnesota and Michigan State, too. Few others on the slate could run the ball, but USC should be able to give it a try to take some of the pressure off of Kessler. Javorius Allen came up with 1,337 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 5.35 yards per pop, and should be able to crank out over 100 yards without a problem. He failed to hit the mark over the last three games, but he was there for eight of the first nine games.

    What’s Going To Happen: Nebraska will try hard, but USC will be too sharp offensively and too good. This would be a bad matchup for the Huskers even if everything was in place, and with the Trojan run defense too strong, and with too much firepower on offense, Sarkisian should be able to hit the three-foot putt.

    Prediction: USC 41 … Nebraska 24

    Line: USC -6.5 o/u: 62

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