Southern California head coach Steve Sarkisian answers questions during a news conference, Friday, Dec. 26, 2014, in San Diego. Nebraska takes on Souther California in the Holiday Bowl on Saturday. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
Lenny Ignelzi
December 26, 2014

SAN DIEGO (AP) Southern California coach Steve Sarkisian says he has always been a fan of the Holiday Bowl.

He remembers watching Barry Sanders running wild against Wyoming in 1988 and then BYU's Ty Detmer separating his left shoulder and then his right shoulder against Texas A&M two years later.

Sarkisian said he grew fond of Detmer because of his toughness, and he ended up playing at BYU as well.

''We weren't fortunate enough to come to this game but I remember that game,'' Sarkisian said Friday, a day before leading No. 24 Southern California against No. 25 Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.

''When you think about the Holiday Bowl, everybody watches because, geez, here it comes again. You never know what's coming,'' Sarkisian said.

The Trojans (8-4) will play the Cornhuskers (9-3) for the first time in a bowl game and just the fifth time overall.

Sarkisian was coach at Washington when the Huskies beat Nebraska in the 2010 Holiday Bowl.

This is USC's first appearance in the Holiday Bowl.

With a new contract in place, this marks the return of the Big Ten to the Holiday Bowl for the first time since 1994. Nebraska made three trips to the Holiday Bowl while it was still in the Big 12.

Although these are storied programs, USC's season was blemished by last-second losses to Utah and Arizona State, and an 18-point loss to archrival UCLA.

Nebraska fired coach Bo Pelini on Nov. 30 after a seven-year stint marked by an inability to restore the football team to national prominence and too many embarrassing defeats. Pelini won nine games every season, but he never won a conference championship and his teams lost four games in every season he completed.

Interim coach Barney Cotton will handle the bowl game assignment. New coach Mike Riley is expected to watch the game from a skybox.

Some things to know about the Holiday Bowl:

CODY KESSLER: The Trojans quarterback's completion percentage of 70.7 is currently above the school season record of 69.1 percent by Matt Barkley in 2011 and his 168.8 passing efficiency is currently better than USC's season record of 164.6 by Mark Sanchez in 2008. He has thrown for 3,505 yards and 36 touchdowns, with just four interceptions.

AMEER ABDULLAH: Despite being slowed by a sprained left knee suffered Nov. 1 against Purdue, the Nebraska running back will finish one of the most prolific careers in Nebraska history. With 1,523 yards, he has registered his third straight 1,000-yard season, a first in Cornhuskers history. He has 4,500 career yards, trailing only Mike Rozier's record 4,780 yards.

BITTERSWEET: Cotton's time at Nebraska is coming to an end. A 1983 Cornhuskers graduate, he has been on the staff as associate head coach for the past seven seasons, and has eight seasons total as an assistant at Nebraska, where he's coached his sons. ''I've had a nice seven-year run here and I've been very blessed,'' he said. ''Even though it's kind of a sad time, it's coming to an end. I couldn't have been more blessed to be back at Nebraska.''

BEST TEAM: Sarkisian said the combination of Abdullah and quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. make the Cornhuskers the best team the Trojans have faced this year. ''Every run you can think of, they have, whether it's the fly sweep, whether it's a designed quarterback runs, whether it's the traditional run game, and they do it with tempo,'' Sarkisian said. ''Makes it really, really difficult, makes it hard.''

QUOTABLE: ''If I'm the Holiday Bowl, I'm pretty ecstatic that I've got USC and Nebraska in this game,'' Sarkisian said. ''Two Top 25 teams in America that have traditional programs that have won Heisman trophies, national championships and a bunch of other accolades. This is a heck of a game.''

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Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson

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