After a week of bowl games, the biggest contest to date in the 2014 bowl season is set to take place on Saturday in the National University Holiday Bowl between No.24 USC (8-4 overall; 6-3 Pac-12) and Nebraska (9-3 overall; 5-3 Big Ten) at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. The famed programs are looking to finish the college football season strong after a year that saw each spend time in the news for the wrong reasons.
Not only did USC underachieve with four losses, including two road defeats at the hands of Boston College and Arizona State, but the Trojans were involved in controversy off the field before the season started. After the school explained that cornerback Josh Shaw injured his ankles when saving his drowning nephew, it was discovered that the player was lying about how he had gotten hurt. Shaw would sit out most of the season before playing in a road loss to UCLA, and a home win against Notre Dame.
Nebraska wasn’t involved in any similar controversy, but the program made headlines for the dismissal of their head coach Bo Pelini in November. Pelini, who coached the Cornhuskers for seven seasons to a 67-27 record, would then slam athletic director Shawn Eichorst to his players in an expletive-laced tirade. After the firing of Pelini, Nebraska made the somewhat puzzling hiring of Oregon State head coach Mike Riley. The former San Diego Chargers head coach went just 5-7 with the Beavers in 2014, and won’t officially join the team until after Saturday’s contest. Assistant coach Barney Cotton, who was hired this month by UNLV to become the offensive coordinator and tight ends coach, will serve as interim head coach in the Holiday Bowl.
Both USC and Nebraska were able to finish the regular season with a win. On Nov. 29, Steve Sarkisian's squad rolled over the Fighting Irish, 49-14, handing Notre Dame their fourth consecutive loss. After losing two consecutive games to ranked opponents, Nebraska earned a road win over Iowa in overtime, 37-34, on Nov. 28.
Neither school boasts a shutdown defense, and the contest could turn into a high-scoring affair. The Trojans had their moments, holding four opponents to 14 points or fewer, but they struggled at times, allowing at least 26 points in half their games. The Cornhuskers rank 45th in scoring defense, and surrendered an average of 38 points per game against three ranked opponents.
There are some notable offensive standouts on each side. Few quarterbacks put up better numbers than USC quarterback Cody Kessler this season, as 36 touchdown passes, four interceptions and a 70.7 completion percentage helped him register the No.3 passer rating in the nation. He was aided by some of the best playmakers in the Pac-12, including Nelson Agholor, who finished third in the conference in receptions (97) and second in receiving yards (1,223), as well as Buck Allen, who finished third in the Pac 12 in rushing yards (1,337). Meanwhile, true freshman JuJu Smith has shown signs of being a potential star receiver.
Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. didn’t put up numbers comparable to Kessler, but he did help the Cornhuskers score 37.4 points per game, good enough for 14th in the country. Ameer Abdullah ran for 1,523 yards on just 237 carries, and Armstrong added 664 rushing yards of his own. Nebraska scored at least 35 points in all but four games.
Start Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Online Stream: WatchESPN
Point Spread: USC by seven points
Over/Under: 61.5 points
Prediction: USC over Nebraska, 30-20