Lost in the shuffle of Bo Pelini’s firing, the coaching search, Mike Riley’s hiring, another Pelini audiotape, and other December distractions, is a rather important item: Nebraska is playing a talented and respected University of Southern California team in the Holiday Bowl.
Very few people are giving the Huskers much of a chance in this game. The Vegas odds-makers have the Trojans as a seven point favorite, and very few experts are predicting a Nebraska win. Locally, many fans and media members aren’t giving the Huskers much of a chance either.
But Nebraska can win this game. Here are some reasons why:
1. Nebraska should have a talent and manpower advantage.
When you think of Southern Cal, you think of tons of four and five star recruits with NFL talent at many positions. Certainly, USC has some stars (especially at quarterback, receiver, and defensive line), but these Trojans are still feeling the effects of the sanctions from the Reggie Bush era.
Between sanctions, injuries, and suspensions, USC will only have 56 scholarship players available. Though the Huskers have injuries and suspensions of their own, they should have well over 70 of their 85 scholarship players available.
If Nebraska can find a way to wear down the Trojans (either with a fast pace or a sustained ground attack) the Huskers could capitalize on this manpower advantage.
2. The offensive and defensive coordinators have free reign.
During the bowl prep, offensive coordinator Tim Beck was asked if he ever got to run the offense he wanted at Nebraska. His “no comment” response was rather telling. On the other side of the ball, it was widely assumed that although John Papuchis was the defensive coordinator, it was really Bo Pelini owning the scheme and calling the plays.
One of the big questions is what will the coordinators do without Pelini around? Will Papuchis change up the scheme? Play more zone? Blitz and attack more? Will Beck crank up the pace? Run a bunch of trick and gadget plays? Unveil new exotic formations? Have Tommy Armstrong throw it 45 times? Will both coaches treat this game as an audition for their next coaching job?
If Papuchis and Beck decide to do what they want, it could provide a mental boost for the team, as well as the element of surprise over the Trojans. Personally, I think they’ll both operate very similarly to what we’ve seen all season long, but I won’t be shocked if they throw in a new wrinkle or two.
3. The team wants to win one for Bo.
There is little doubt that Bo Pelini deeply loved and cared for his players. Most of the players return that love and still have a deep sense of loyalty for “Coach Bo”. It’s hard to believe, but we’re still less than one month since Pelini’s dismissal. That month has been filled with drama and emotion for the players Pelini recruited and the coaches he hired.
Maybe interim coach Barney Cotton will try to invoke the “us against the world” bunker mentality one more time to win one for their vanquished coach. I guarantee that several players will dedicate their performance in the Holiday Bowl to Pelini.
4. Nobody expects them to win.
Let’s face it: a constant of Pelini era teams was inconsistency. Much like Forest Gump’s chocolate box, you never knew what you were going to get from the Huskers. Big underdog to Colt McCoy’s Texas Longhorns? Nebraska plays tough and should have won the game. Big favorite over FCS McNeese State? The team struggles and needs an amazing play by Ameer Abdullah to avoid an upset.
The point is, the times you doubt the Huskers, expect them to lose or get blown out, that’s often when they play their best and find a way to win. This is one of those games. Only the most blindly loyal, Kool-Aid drinking fans are confidently predicting a victory. Many fans expect Nebraska to lose, if not get blown out.
Will the Huskers win Saturday night? I have no clue. But there is no reason they can’t come back from San Diego with a victory.