Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-3 SU, 6-6-1 ATS) vs. Washington Huskies (6-6 SU, 5-6-1 ATS), 10:00 p.m. EST, Holiday Bowl, Thursday, December 30, 2010, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California, TV: ESPN
By Scotty L of Predictem.com
Betting Odds: Neb 14/Wash +14
Over/Under Total: 52.5
On December 30, the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Washington Huskies meet in San Diego in the Holiday Bowl. For Nebraska, this might be a disappointment. A few weeks ago, they were 9-1 with big bowl hopes. For Washington, getting to the Holiday Bowl is a boon. Its been almost a decade since Washington has seen bowl action. They are an up-and-coming program and a win here would give them instant credibility.
You wont find much argument in saying Nebraska is the better team, but the momentum belongs to Washington. They gamely won their last 3 contests against Pac-10 rivals to get here and there is a good feeling in the locker room. The Cornhuskers, conversely, dropped 2 of their last 3 games. But high spirits only get you so far in this game.
These teams played each other in their third game and the results are damning to the Huskies. Nebraska had a trio of 100-yard rushers in that game and 555 total yards, as they won 56-21. The Huskies D, frankly, has its issues. They are 107th against the run and 94th against the pass. Nebraska has already showed they can bring out those weaknesses. The Huskies inability to stop the run in that game was difficult to ignore. Certainly, Washington is more confident now, but can they stop the Nebraska run? Probably not.
The Huskers have 3 runners with over 900 yards, including mobile quarterback Taylor Martinez. Roy Helu and Rex Burkhead provide a formidable 1-2 punch from the backfield. Look for them to have another big game in the Holiday Bowl. Nebraska showed they can play on this field. Last year, they pounded an Arizona team that was supposed to be competitive on this same field. They should be comfortable at Qualcomm. Defensively, the Huskers are stout7th against the pass and 8th in total yards and points allowed. This is a unit that held Texas to 20 points, Missouri to 17, Texas A&M to 9, and Oklahoma to 23. Their run defense is only ranked 46th, which gives a little hope to the Huskies.
Washington RB Chris Polk looks to capitalize, but wasnt able to in the first game. He is a tough workhorse (226-1238-8) and should be productive. QB Jake Locker can run a bit also, but his showing against Nebraska earlier this year was horrible. Locker was 4-12 for 71 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 picks. Can he improve? Sure. Is it likely he will do a 180 against a team that totally controlled him last time? It seems unlikely.
Hats off to Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian for turning this program around. This team clearly responds to him and deserves credit for surging late to secure this bid. At 3-6, things looked typically dismal. To find the wherewithal to defeat UCLA, Cal, and Washington State shows some heart. Beating Nebraska is a different ball of wax, however. At the same time, you cant entirely rule out a team with character that responds well to their coach, and is starting to believe in themselves.
Despite the warm and fuzzy feeling that Washington has going, this is still a team with serious flaws. Their weakness against the run is a glaring one, especially in this game. Their performances this year against top teams also raises additional red flags. In losing 3 straight to Arizona, Stanford, and Oregon, they were outscored 138-30. While rising from a series of beatings like that to win 3 straight is promising, their ineptitude against top teams is alarming. Hats off to them for doing well against the best of the rest, but those 3 losses and the Nebraska blowout show this team is not ready for primetime.
Scotty Ls Pick to Cover the Point Spread: So, we have a team that already beat Washington by 5 touchdowns favored by less than 2. What gives? Momentum and motivation counts for a lot. In their first game, Nebraska was thinking championship, while Washington was looking at another in a never-ending series of long, hard, and fruitless seasons. Now, things are a bit different. The Huskies are cooking a little with a good feeling in their heads, while Nebraska is banged-up, heads low, and reeling after being proven inferior to the cream of the Big 12 crop.
Headspace and momentum only count for so much, but expect a closer game than what transpired in September. If Washington can improve on their 21-point production and keep Nebraska from exploding, a cover doesnt seem so crazy. The play here is to buy a half point and create a Wash +14.5 spread which produces a 3 score proposition. There is no way that I lay the points in this game with Nebraska under the current circumstances. 6 weeks ago yes, today. NO.