Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-3 SU, 7-4-1 ATS) vs. Southern California Trojans (8-4 SU, 7-5 ATS)
National University Holiday Bowl
Date and Time: Saturday, December 27, 2014, 8:00 pm EST
Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif.
TV: ESPN, DirecTV 206
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: NEB. +7/USC -7
Over/Under Total: 62
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Two proud and storied college football programs that are used to playing in bowl games on or after New Years Day will have to settle for another step in the direction of getting back to those days, when the Nebraska Cornhuskers travel to Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego to battle with USC Trojans in the National University Holiday Bowl Saturday on ESPN.
Nebraska has been in the college football headlines recently, but its been for the wrong reasons, as the Cornhuskers and head coach Bo Pelini parted ways after seven years at the school. Pelini then threw kerosene onto the fire with an audio rant as he was walking out the door about Nebraska and their Athletic Director, the alumni and just about everyone and everything else that wasnt bolted down in Lincoln. Of course, Nebraska has already hired his replacement, Mike Riley, who will be coming over from Oregon State to try and restore the Cornhuskers back into the national title chase that Pelini never quite got them into despite 9-win seasons just about every year at the helm.
Barney Cotton, the Huskers run game offensive coordinator and offensive line coach will coach Nebraska in the bowl game. His task is to try and keep the players focused on finishing out the season strong and trying to get to that magic 10-win plateau. After back-to-back losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota down the stretch, two losses that essentially cost Pelini his job, the Cornhuskers did end the regular season on a positive note beating Iowa on the road in overtime, 37-34. Cotton and Nebraska also have a little bit of unfinished business against USC as far as football program pride goes, as the Trojans have gotten the better of the Cornhuskers every time these two football powerhouses have tangled with USC owning a 3-0-1 SU record against them including an 18-point win over them in Lincoln in 2007 the last time they met.
A year ago at this time the Trojans were in the same boat as Nebraska, struggling through marginal seasons with one coach out the door and a new one coming in. Steve Sarkisian replaced Lane Kiffin at USC this year and produced a season with a few ups, like a big win over rival Notre Dame to finish the season, but more noticeable downs (loss to city-rival UCLA, early season embarrassing loss to Boston College at home). But Sarkisian seems to have the Trojans ship going in the right direction, and a win in the Holiday Bowl in what essentially is key USC recruiting territory down the coast a little, would be a big score for the coach and the Trojans going into the second year at the school.
The oddsmakers in Las Vegas originally opened the game with USC as 5.5-point favorites in the neutral site tilt at Qualcomm, but with 65 to 70 percent of the handle for this game coming in on the side of the very public-favorite Trojans, that number is already up to USC minus -7 at most sportsbooks both in Las Vegas and offshore. The over/under total opened at 61 and hasnt seen nearly the line movement of the point spread for this game, although it too has gone up a point to 62 at most sportsbooks with a sprinkling of a few that moved it up the hook to 61.5.
One thing that you will see in this game is some exciting playmakers on offense, as both teams have some talent that will be playing on Sundays in the near future.
Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler quietly put together as solid of a season out of a quarterback that weve seen in a few years at USC. With 3,505 yards and 36 touchdowns the redshirt junior has improved measurably under Sarkisians guidance, especially with his accuracy (70 comp. %) and his decision making (4 INT). Kesslers favorite target is junior WR Nelson Agholor (1,223 yards, 13 TD), and Nebraska will likely have a hard time matching up with Algolor because there just isnt and wasnt a player of Agholors talent in the Big Ten this season. Judging by the amount of yards the Nebraska defense allowed in the running game this season (177 ypg 80th in FBS), USC running back Javorius Buck Allen (1,337, 10) should get plenty of touches should the Cornhuskers roll their safeties toward Agholor to try and take away the passing game.
Nebraska has a pretty good running back of their own to showcase in this game too, as junior Ameer Abdullah was a part of the early Heisman talk and still ran for 1523 yards and 21 TDs this season despite missing some time down the stretch with injuries. The biggest difference in offense between these two schools is the fact that Nebraska sophomore QB Tommy Armstrong is not nearly as strong of a passer as Kessler. Armstrong only hits on 51.7 percent of his throws, and with 19 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, hes just not as skilled in order to make defenses pay when they bring the safeties up in the box to try and stop Abdullah. USCs strength on defense was stopping the run this season (allowed 133 ypg 27th), so it will be interesting to see how well the Cornhuskers can move the ball in this game when everyone in the stadium knows its going to Abdullah.
With this being the fifth meeting between these schools, and only the third one in the last decade, head-to-head betting trends are hard to rely on much. Not only did USC win both matchups easily straight up, but they also covered the spread as 10-point and 16-point favorites too. However, the trends are somewhat stacked against Nebraska, as they are only 1-4 ATS in their last five neutral site games and 0-4 ATS versus teams from the PAC-12 recently. Meanwhile, USC is a strong 5-1 ATS in their last six bowl games, and 9-2 ATS against the Big Ten over the years.
If youre looking for a betting trend to wager on in this game, the answer for you may just be on the under. The under is actually 9-2 in Nebraskas last 11 neutral site games and 6-1 in their last seven bowl games. While the under is 7-0-1 in USCs last eight games played in December and 4-1 in games against a Big Ten foe.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: These types of bowl games are always hard to handicap. Nebraska has a one coach out the door and a new one coming in, with some players pissed and others still wondering what the new staff will mean for their playing careers at the school. And USC is USC with essentially nothing to play for win or lose, will they even care that they are playing in the Holiday Bowl? None of those kids signed at USC to play in the Holiday Bowl, I guarantee you that. If I play anything on this game, Ill put a small wager on the under of 62. I just dont see Nebraska scoring more than 28 in this game, and although I expect the Cornhuskers to come out fired up at the start playing for interim coach Barney Cotton, I dont think theyll maintain the intensity for 60 minutes. Im taking the under of 62.