Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. (24) USC Trojans (-7, 61.5 o/u)
Two of the most successful football schools of the last 20 years will face off in this year’s National University Holiday Bowl, as the USC Trojans tangle with the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego (8:00 p.m. Eastern, Saturday, Dec. 27).
Nebraska went 9-3 (7-4-1 ATS) on the season, but they lost all three games they played against ranked teams (Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota). Nebraska’s best win was either its 41-31 victory at home over Miami early in the year, or its 37-34 OT win at Iowa in the last game of the regular season.
The team is led by one-time Heisman hopeful Ameer Abdullah. The dynamic running back racked up 1,523 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground for Nebraska. Abdullah and dual-threat QB Tommy Armstrong led the Huskers to the 14th-best scoring average in the nation (37.4 PPG).
Nebraska’s defense was suspect at times this season, especially late. Though the unit held opponents to a respectable 24.8 PPG on the year, it gave up 59 in a loss to Wisconsin (including a then-NCAA record 408 rushing yards to Melvin Gordon).
The USC Trojans enter bowl season 8-4 and finished the season strong, winning three of their last four. The Trojans played a gruelling road slate this year, facing four ranked opponents away from home. However, they held their own in those contests, going 2-2, including a 13-10 win over then-No. 13 Stanford and a 28-26 win over then-No. 10 Arizona. They dropped games at then-No. 19 Utah and at then-No. 9 UCLA.
In the UCLA game, the Trojans’ prior success on the road likely hurt them in the spread. They came in as just four-point dogs to the red-hot Bruins, but got routed 38-20.
USC’s strength is its offense, which averages 35.1 points per game (26th in the country). The unit relies heavily on the arm of QB Cody Kessler. The 6’1″ junior threw for 3,505 yards (10th in the nation), 36 TDs (fourth in the nation), and just 4 INTs on the year.
Kessler knows he’ll be facing a tenacious Nebraska defense come Saturday, though.
“They do a really good job of getting to the quarterback and using their front seven to get a push and breaking down the pocket really fast,” Kessler said about the Cornhuskers front seven. “And the guys in the secondary do a really good job.”
The Cornhuskers are 25-25 in bowl games. They won last year’s Gator Bowl against Georgia (24-19), but lost three straight before that. USC has an excellent bowl history, going 33-17 all-time. The Trojans have also won five of their last six, including the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl, 45-20, over Fresno State.
These two teams met for the last time in 2007 and USC emerged with a 49-31 win.
(Photo credit: Neon Tommy (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode]. Image has been cropped.)