Holiday Bowl Preview: Nebraska vs. (24) USC

With most of the Nebraska news coverage lately focused on the unexpected and shocking announcement that head coach Bo Pelini was fired, it’s been an emotional roller coaster for the Nebraska coaches and players.

Aside from being emotionally motivated, the key factor to this game will be high octane, and high powered offenses. With the USC Trojans averaging 35.1 points per game and Nebraska averaging 37.4 points per game, it appears on paper that this game will be fairly evenly matched up.

That is, of course, contingent on how Nebraska players show up and how well they play, given how upset they were with the administration over Pelini’s firing. Some may think that logic is selfish, but if that type of response hadn’t happened a few times before in the college football history books, it wouldn’t be speculative at this point.

With several outcomes in discussion, one player that could be a difference maker for Nebraska on Saturday, is senior running back Ameer Abdullah. While the backend portion of this season seemed underwhelming for Abdullah, he began the 2014 season with some promising numbers, which garnered him some serious Heisman attention.

Two of his best games this season were against Northwestern, where he accounted for four touchdowns in Nebraska’s 38-17 win, and three touchdowns in its 42-24 win against Rutgers.

One of the narratives lately has been on just how good the USC Trojans are, due to how up and down this season has been. A major stat going into this game that everyone watching needs to know, is that USC lost on the road against a rowdy Boston College, and in Utah by seven points or less. And at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, Calif. by the now infamous ‘Hail Mary’ pass by Arizona State Sun Devils’ quarterback Mike Bercovici to Jalen Strong, as the clock expired. Had several factors in those games gone a different way, USC would be looking at a very different bowl game right now, and perhaps quarterback Cody Kessler might have been thrown into the Heisman race, too.

According to reports, the reason Pelini was fired wasn’t because of his lack of wins, but because of the quality of the losses this season brought, despite the talent on the roster. Nebraska’s three main losses this season were against ranked Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota — all Big 10 opponents. And much like USC, two of those games were decided by seven points or less, so that’s probably the reason Nebraska players were upset at the coaching move.

USC leads the series against Nebraska 3-0-1, with its last meeting in 2007, where the Trojans beat the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, 49-31.

The first time USC played in San Diego was in 1897, where the Trojans lost to the San Diego YMCA, 18-0. It’s safe to say they’ve come a long way since then, and with the location practically a home venue, and given the history, most are giving USC the go-ahead in terms of whose favored to win.

Kessler lit the Pac-12 up this season, throwing for 3,505-yards, 36 touchdowns, with just four interceptions for a 71 percent completion rating. Kessler’s supporting cast of running back Javorius “Buck” Allen (1,337-yards and nine touchdowns), and wide receiver Nelson Agholor (97 receptions for 1, 223 yards and 11 touchdowns), coupled with a defense made up of Hayes Pullard, J.R. Tavai, Su’a Cravens, and Leonard Williams, are going to have Nebraska’s sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., and interim head coach Barney Cotton’s hands full.

Williams accounted for 171 tackles — 8 tackles for loss — 6 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and one interception this season alone, and should the junior defensive end declare for the 2015 NFL Draft, expect him to be picked up early.

It’s clear who the media darlings are in this game, but that outcome could change depending on how intense and passionate Nebraska comes out to play on Saturday.

Kick off for the National University Holiday Bowl in San Diego, Calif. is at 8pm PST on Saturday.

*Section Photo (above) credit to Eric Francis, Getty Images; Featured Photo credit to ChatSports

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