Two teams whose seasons fell well short of expectations will look to end on a high note as UCLA (8-4) and Nebraska (5-7) meet at the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on Saturday night. The Bruins have won each of their last two bowl games while Nebraska lost to USC in last year’s Holiday Bowl and are one of three 5-7 teams to receive a bowl bid.
After back-to-back 10 win seasons, UCLA was expected to complete for the Pac-12 crown but they went just 5-4 in the conference and finished third in the South Division.
Jim Mora Jr.’s squad began the year with a No. 13 ranking followed by a 4-0 start, including wins over Top 25 teams at that time in BYU and Arizona. The Bruins were ranked No. 7 when they lost to Arizona State at home and followed that up with a 56-35 loss to No. 15 Stanford. A win over No. 20 California sparked a three-game winning streak which made the Bruins bowl-eligible but another home loss, this one to Washington State, derailed things once again. A win over No. 13 Utah was the biggest win of the year for the Bruins but a loss in the season finale to USC eliminated all hopes of UCLA making the Pac-12 title game.
Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen was named Pac-12 offensive freshman of the year after throwing for 3,349 yards and 20 touchdowns. The Nebraska pass defense ranked No. 13 of 14 Big Ten teams, allowing 288.2 yards per game.
Nebraska won nine games in each of the previous seven seasons but in Mike Riley’s first year, the Cornhuskers struggled to win close games. Every one of Nebraska’s seven losses came by 10 points or less and six of them were by one score.
The Cornhuskers didn’t have a winning record at any point and never won more than two games in a row. They traded losses and wins in the first four games to start 2-2 before losing four of five, their only win in that stretch coming at Minnesota. Their biggest win of the season followed as they stunned No. 7 Michigan State 39-38 to give the Spartans their first loss before they eventually found their way into the College Football Playoff. After a win over Rutgers, the season ended with a valiant effort but an eight-point loss to Iowa.
The offense is driven by dual-threat quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who threw for 2,856 and ran for 324 yards this season while accounting for 27 touchdowns. UCLA ranked No. 4 in the Pac-12 in total defense, allowing 393.5 yards per game.
UCLA and Nebraska will meet for the third time in four years. In 2012, the Bruins defeated the Huskers 36-30 in Los Angeles and won 31-21 in Lincoln in 2013.
Last year’s Foster Farms Bowl ended with the Stanford Cardinal defeating the Maryland Terrapins, 45-21.
Prediction: Nebraska gets excellent fan support but will likely be outnumbered by the UCLA faithful, who only have to travel upstate in California to make the game. The Bruins, starting with Rosen, have too much firepower for the Cornhuskers and that will put pressure on Armstrong, who has 16 interceptions, to keep pace. UCLA should win by more than a touchdown.