No. 17 Nebraska (10-3) vs. Washington (6-6)Dec. 30, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Reason to watch: Washington entered the season with a Heisman candidate in Jake Locker and high hopes fueled by Steve Sarkisian's bold offseason chatter. Nebraska ended all of that, rolling 56-21 in Seattle in September. On the surface, a rematch isn't enticing -- especially when you consider these teams will meet again next September in Lincoln, Neb. But look at it this way: We get to gauge Washington's improvement. Meanwhile, Nebraska's season-long quest -- and it was a quest -- to win the Big 12 in the final year before moving to the Big Ten was denied by old rival Oklahoma. How will the Huskers respond?
Keep an eye on: Locker. Scouts salivated over the quarterback's athletic ability a year ago, but he decided to return for his senior season -- and it's hard to say how many millions that cost him. Although Locker's career has been one of inconsistency, injury and unfulfilled potential, his 27-yard touchdown pass in the final seconds beat Washington State in the season finale to achieve bowl eligibility. If Locker performs well against a defense that completely shut him down (he completed only 4 of 20 passes with two interceptions against Nebraska), it might help his draft stock. If he leads Washington to the upset, it would definitely enhance his legacy.
Did you know: Washington's second-year coach Steve Sarkisian is well known as a protégé of Pete Carroll. But Nebraska's Bo Pelini is part of the same coaching tree -- sort of. Pelini was defensive backs coach for Carroll with the New England Patriots from 1997-99. That was pre-Win Forever, but still...
Final analysis: Washington's turnaround in Sarkisian's second year is on schedule. Remember, three seasons ago the Huskies went 0-12. They finished this season with three straight wins to reach their first bowl since 2002. Likewise, Nebraska continues its renaissance under Pelini. When redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez was healthy, the offense was explosive (just ask Washington), if mostly one-dimensional. Martinez is healthy. Meanwhile, the Blackshirts remain the strength of the program (just ask Washington). This shouldn't be the shutout of last year's Holiday Bowl (Nebraska 33, Arizona 109 total yards) or the blowout of this September.
The pick: Nebraska 27, Washington 13
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline shares his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup:
Nebraska: CB Prince Amukamara -- NFL scouts rated Amukamara as one of the best senior prospects entering the season, and he's done little to disappoint. He offers size and good ball skills and is rarely challenged by opposing quarterbacks. Fast times in the 40 prior to the draft will lock up a spot in the top eight for Amukamara. Grade: First-round prospect.
Washington: QB Jake Locker -- Locker made a bold move bypassing the 2010 draft and has disappointed NFL scouts in his senior season. He's a tremendous athlete with an NFL arm, but his mechanics and decision making are often suspect. Locker is still a legitimate starting prospect for the next level, but will need a lot of development before he's NFL ready. Grade: First-round prospect.
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