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Holiday Bowl 2014: Nebraska vs. USC Preview

When: Saturday, Dec. 27; 8pm EST
Where: San Diego, CA; Qualcomm Stadium (71,294)
TV: ESPN
Spread: USC – 6.5 (via VegasInsider.com)
All-Time Series: USC leads 3-0-1
Last Meeting: USC win, 49-31 (9/15/2007)

Gift Bag: $445 Best Buy gift card and shopping trip; Fossil watch; cap (courtesy sportsbusinessdaily.com)

Statistical Breakdown:

Offense:

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 6.06.30 PM

Defense:

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.10.04 AM

*courtesy StatMilk.com.

Preview:

Fresh starts, but familiarity is what bowl season in the Big Ten is all about. The perfect example of that comes in this game, as Nebraska earns the bid to the Holiday Bowl 2014, but is very familiar with this game. Nebraska has made three appearances in the traditionally wacky Holiday Bowl, but it will be the first appearance for the Big Ten in this bowl game for since Michigan appeared in 1994.

There’s also familiarity between the two teams, as the Huskers and Trojans of USC will meet for the fifth time in their histories. Nebraska will be looking for its first win, but will be doing it minus the man who has been at the helm of the program for the last seven years, as Bo Pelini was fired following the regular season. Barney Cotton will lead the Huskers in the bowl game before leaving to be the offensive coordinator at UNLV next season.

Ameer AbdullahGiven all the turmoil and the strength of USC in front of them, it’s easy to see how the Huskers would be a big time underdog. However, this is the Holiday Bowl and anything and everything has happened in this game. Add in a Huskers team who are simply playing for each other and the seniors and it could be possible for Nebraska to come away victorious.

It also helps that running back Ameer Abdullah will be as close to 100 percent as possible, as he is the one that makes everything go. As is the case, he’ll need some help from the folks up front, and USC features perhaps a top 5 NFL Draft prospect in DE Leonard Williams. Stopping him and allowing Abdullah to help open up a potentially game-changing passing game is key.

The Huskers can’t just pound the football in this game, as they need to take advantage of a USC passing defense that has been abused all season long. Kenny Bell and Jordan Westerkamp are a good 1-2 combination, and could be the difference between a win and a loss.

USC on the other hand has one of the best wide receivers in the country in Nelson Agholor, who has 97 receptions for 1,223 yards and 11 touchdowns and quarterback Cody Kessler was super accurate this season, passing for 36 touchdowns and 4 interceptions while also completing 70.7 percent of his passes.

That’s a dangerous combo, and it will be up to All-Big Ten sophomore defensive back Nate Gerry to really be on his game. He combats what the Trojans bring in the passing game with 85 tackles, 5 interceptions and 4.5 tackles for loss.

Nebraska needs to play like they’ve got nothing to lose if they are going to have a chance against a really talented but underwhelming Trojans side. Look for this game to come down to which strength wins out — Nebraska’s run game or USC’s passing attack.

Staff Predictions:

Andy: USC 41, Nebraska 31
Dave: USC 35, Nebraska 21
Zach: USC 38, Nebraska 24

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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