Holiday Bowl: Arizona Wildcats VS. Nebraska Cornhuskers
PACIFIC LIFE HOLIDAY BOWL
San Diego, California
#20 Arizona Wildcats (8-4) VS. #22 Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-4)
Wednesday, December 30, 5:00 PM PST
Las Vegas Favorite: Nebraska -3.0
Sam’s Take (57 – 22):
There is little doubt that Nebraska will have the best player on the field in tomorrow’s Holiday Bowl, but will the dominance of Ndamukong Suh and the Nebraska defense be enough to overcome a more complete Arizona team? The Wildcats are full of athleticism on both sides of the ball, and possess a significantly better offense than the Cornhuskers.
Both of these teams dealt with some incredibly bitter defeats in 2009. Nebraska lost three games (Virginia Tech, Iowa State, and Texas) by a combined four points. Arizona lost leads late in the fourth quarter of three games (Washington, Cal, Oregon). So what does that tell us about this match-up? Well it is certainly clear that both teams are used to playing close games, and I will be interested to see which team finishes stronger in what is sure to be another closely contested contest.
I have no doubt that the Blackshirts will be at their best in San Diego for Bo Pelini’s squad. However, it is important to note that while the Huskers D has been magnificent (9th nationally in total D, 2nd nationally in scoring D), Arizona has one heck of a defensive unit as well. The ‘Cats finished the regular season 21st nationally in total defense, and that should serve UA especially well against a Nebraska offense that ranks 102nd in total offense.
I believe the difference in this game will be the Arizona offense. Sonny Dykes system is predicated on the quick passing game, and I therefore expect QB Nick Foles to elude Suh by getting the ball out right away. The return of RB Nic Grigsby also figures to be a huge boost to ‘Zona, as it gives the ground game a true home run threat. I don’t expect the ‘Cats offense to light up the scoreboard by any means, but I think the unit will come up with a few key drives.
The Holiday Bowl is always one of the most exciting games of the post-season and I expect this game to be another thriller. While we may not get offensive fireworks, fans of defense should be glued to their seats all night.
In the end, I expect the Wildcats to squeak out a win.
Prediction: Arizona 17 – Nebraska 14
Arizona Player to Keep an Eye On: WR Juron Criner – Criner has been a clutch playmaker for UA all season, and against a talented defense that doesn’t allow big plays, he may have to play his best game of the year.
Nebraska Player to Keep an Eye On: WR Niles Paul – Like Criner, Paul has proven to be a playmaker for the Huskers throughout the season. He is a deep threat receiver who can also make a difference in the return game.
Dave’s Take (59 – 20):
This one definitely has the look and feel of an evenly-matched slugfest, and should be a lot of fun to watch.
I like Arizona in this one, but for a somewhat peculiar reason; Ndamukong Suh.
Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t like I think he’s overrated or anything. He is every bit deserving of all of the accolades he is receiving. But because he is as amazing of a talent as he is, the Holiday Bowl has essentially become the Ndamukong Suh Showcase Bowl in the eyes of many.
The Heisman Trophy Winner going on to lose in their bowl game (has happened to 5 of the last 6 winners) has now picked up a name; the “Heisman Curse”. But this one is no Billy Goat/Voodoo type of deal; there is logic to it. When the media spends an entire month clamoring over a player, not only is it a distraction for that player, but more importantly, it adds a huge chip to the shoulders of the opposing team.
In a sport like football where motivation and intensity plays such a big role in determining winners, being ignored by the media in favor of the other team’s stars is one of the biggest motivators out there. While Suh didn’t win the Heisman, he might as well have with all of the (deserved) hype he is getting; Defensive Player of the Year, projected first overall pick in the NFL, etc.
Arizona, meanwhile, who had one of their greatest football seasons ever, has been virtually ignored. No love for playing such a hard fought game against Oregon; they lost, after all. No love for going into USC and beating the Trojans IN the Coliseum; Stanford just did that, and “this isn’t the same USC team”. Now, once again, they find themselves overlooked.
Needless to say, both teams will be plenty motivated. But I think that the Wildcats have that extra chip on their shoulder as they likely feel they have more to prove, and I think they can pull it off.
Prediction: Arizona 16 – Nebraska 12