Nebraska v. #24 USC
Qualcomm Stadium — San Diego, CA
December 27, 2014 — 8:00 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
This was the bowl game that helped propel a mid-major to national champion three decades ago, so it’s got plenty of history to speak in its favor. The game now features a pair of Power Five teams, with the opportunity for Cinderella moments gone but the potential for quality football remaining. This is also the closest you’ll get to seeing a traditional Rose Bowl matchup, as this is one of just two games that feature the traditional matchup of Pac-12 and Big Ten teams. (The Rose Bowl, meanwhile, isn’t one of those two thanks to the College Football Playoff.) Two storied programs that haven’t met in nearly a decade square off in San Diego in a referendum of sorts for their powerhouse status in 2014.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
Well, the Cornhuskers no longer have Bo Pelini on the sideline after another nine-win season ended without collecting any hardware. Instead, it will be interim coach Barney Cotton who leads Nebraska in San Diego before Mike Riley takes over in Lincoln. Only an overtime victory over Iowa prevented the Huskers from ending the season on a three-game losing streak, a far cry from the dominant Nebraska teams of yesteryear. The ground game was superb, with tailback Ameer Abdullah putting up over 1500 yards and 18 touchdowns behind a stout offensive line. But while the team scored over 37 points per game, the offense was overdependent on the rushing attack due to a passing game ranked 92nd nationally. The defense also looked nothing like the Blackshirts of old, though the blowout loss to Wisconsin was really the only time Nebraska allowed more than 31 points in a game.
USC entered the season with pretensions of playing for the Pac-12 title. Then they lost at Boston College in non-conference play, tumbled three weeks later to Arizona State on the first Saturday of October, and dropped two more games to Utah and UCLA to finish the season in fourth in the loaded Pac-12 South. Despite the fact that tailback Javorius Allen rushed for over 1300 yards, the ground game was ranked just 70th in the country. It was quarterback Cody Kessler and receiver Nelson Agholor that really fueled the offense, as the Trojans averaged 295 yards per game through the air. The defense was also solid this season, holding opponents to fewer than 24 points per game. USC, however, did allow 30 or more points on four occasions, going 1-3 in those contests. If the game becomes a shootout, the Trojans have the weapons to keep up the fight.
What is Likely to Happen
The game pairs a couple of teams with divergent offensive philosophies. That makes the defenses even more important in this contest — and they both match up well against their opponents’ strengths. USC’s run defense is ranked 27th in yards allowed per game; Nebraska’s passing defense is ranked 26th. Add it all up and we’re likely to see a low-scoring affair. The Trojans are just 2-3 in games decided by seven points or less; the Huskers are 2-2 in the same category. Ultimately, it could come down to which team protects the ball better — and in that case the definite advantage goes to USC, which was +11 in turnover margin while Nebraska was two in the red. Tommy Armstrong, Jr. will add to his 11 interceptions with a costly pick that allows Southern Cal to secure its lead and the victory.
USC 31, Nebraska 19