Nebraska vs. USC: Holiday Bowl Preview
Nebraska (9-3) vs. USC (8-4)
Dec. 27, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: Who knows what will happen in a game between two programs in transition? USC is still adjusting to first-year coach Steve Sarkisian, who came back to the program this offseason after five years at Washington. Meanwhile, Nebraska fired Bo Pelini after seven seasons and hired longtime Oregon State coach Mike Riley in one of the most surprising moves of the coaching carousel. Nebraska interim coach Barney Cotton will be in charge in San Diego, while Riley -- who is familiar with Sarkisian and the Trojans from multiple Pac-12 meetings -- will watch. He has likely passed on a USC scouting report to the Cornhuskers, too.
• Keep an eye on: The battle of the backs. Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah (126.9 yards per game) and USC’s Javorius “Buck” Allen (111.4) won’t be on the field at the same time, but as two of the best tailbacks in the country, their team’s chances of winning rest with each of them. (They are also their team’s all-purpose leaders at 166.9 and 148.2 yards per game, respectively.) Nebraska puts a considerably heavier emphasis on the run -- 248.2 rushing yards per game compared to 158.2 for USC -- a reflection of both Abdullah and the Big Ten’s style of play.
• Did you know: The traditional football powers -- 16 combined national titles -- have met four times, with USC holding a 3-0-1 edge. They last met in 2007, a 49-31 USC win; the tie came in 1970 with a final score of 21-21. Sarkisian is 2-0 against the Huskers as a USC assistant, winning 28-10 at home in ’06 and 49-31 on the road in ’07. He went 1-2 against Nebraska while at Washington, including a 19-7 win in the ’10 Holiday Bowl.
• Final analysis: Much has been made about the Trojans’ lack of depth due to NCAA sanctions, but let’s be honest: This roster is still loaded with talent. The Huskers aren’t lean on good players either, considering Nebraska fired Pelini despite winning at least nine games every season he coached in Lincoln. Besides Allen, the Trojans feature junior quarterback Cody Kessler (3,505 passing yards with 36 touchdowns and just four interceptions); junior receiver Nelson Agholor (97 catches and 11 scores); and two-time All-America junior defensive end Leonard Williams (71 total tackles including 8.5 tackles for loss). Nebraska touts Abdullah along with freshman punt returner De’Mornay Pierson-El (an FBS-best 589 punt return yards) and junior defensive end Randy Gregory (50 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss and two blocked field goals). This is shaping up as one of the best bowl matchups of the postseason, but USC is basically playing a home game, a big advantage.
• The pick: USC 28, Nebraska 24