UCLA v. Nebraska
Levi’s Stadium — Santa Clara, CA
December 26, 2015 — 9:15 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
What else are you going to do with your Boxing Day evening besides kick back and stay warm basking in the glow of a football game from the west coast? The Foster Farms Bowl has been operating under various names since 2002, serving as the bowl game for the Bay Area. This year marks the second edition that will take place at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers and site of the Pac-12 championship game. The two teams pitted against one another in the contest finished up a home-and-home series two years ago, and the veteran players on both rosters will be intimately familiar with their counterparts. This could set up as an electric evening in northern California.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
UCLA entered the season with high hopes of contending for the Pac-12 title and a spot in the College Football Playoff. The latter dream died by mid-October; then, after losing to crosstown rival USC in the regular-season finale for the first time in four years, the Bruins missed out on the Pac-12 South crown and a chance to play for the conference championship. Freshman quarterback Josh Rosen went through some growing pains, but he still threw for over 3300 yards and 20 touchdowns against just nine picks. Where the Bruins really failed themselves was in committing penalties — only three other teams in FBS were flagged more per game than UCLA, costing Jim Mora’s team nearly 72 yards of field position per game. They also ranked in the bottom six in time of possession, largely due to the continued struggles of the run game. The Bruins weren’t a top-shelf team in 2015 as had been hoped, but they were often their own worst enemy along the way.
Mike Riley’s first season in Lincoln was a season to forget, as the 5-7 Cornhuskers only “earned” a trip to San Francisco because they were better at gaming the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate system to provide a veneer of import to classroom activities in the world of big-time college football. Nebraska, interestingly, was tied with the Bruins in scoring offense at 32.5 points per game, but they were nearly a field goal worse in scoring defense. The Huskers were nearly as undisciplined, though, earning just six fewer penalty yards per game. They were great at getting teams off the field on third and fourth down, and solid at converting both on offense. And when the offense got into the red zone, they were nearly unstoppable, scoring points on nearly 90 percent of their opportunities inside the opponent’s 20. Nebraska is nowhere near the quality of its greatest vintages, but they present a similar style to their counterpart.
What is Likely to Happen
As natural as it feels to have Nebraska as a part of the postseason, the Cornhuskers have absolutely no business playing in a bowl game in 2015. UCLA is a 6.5-point favorite, and the fact that they were able to go 8-4 despite key injuries on both sides of the ball indicates a depth that Nebraska simply can’t boast on its roster. Only six other teams allowed more passing yards per game than the Huskers, and Josh Rosen should end up having a field day against a porous Nebraska secondary. Paul Perkins will find running lanes harder to come by against a stout Husker front seven, but even he should manage to get in on the scoring one way or another. Vegas is being generous with the line, and this one might be out of hand by halftime. Expect this scoreline to look more like their 2013 encounter in Lincoln than the 2012 nailbiter in Pasadena.
UCLA 41, Nebraska 24
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