Big 12: Holiday Bowl first take
Dec. 30, 8 p.m., (ESPN)
Look for defense, defense and more defense when Nebraska’s Bo Pelini and Arizona’s Mike Stoops hook up in the Holiday Bowl.
The Cornhuskers are hot -- literally and figuratively -- after a strong finish capped by their near miss in a controversial loss to Texas in the Big 12 title game. The Cornhuskers struggled moving the ball offensively in the Texas game, producing only five first downs, and were repeatedly stoned trying to rush against the Longhorns’ top-ranked rush defense. Running backs Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead will be challenged by Arizona’s underrated defense.
The Wildcats limited five of their last six opponents to 24 points or less -- including strong performances in road victories at Arizona State and USC to finish the season. The game will feature two of the nation’s top pass rushers in Arizona’s Ricky Elmore and Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh, who cemented his Heisman credentials with a 4.5-sack effort against Texas and has been a beast all season. Nebraska’s kicking game with Alex Henery and Adi Kunalic will be challenged by an Arizona team that ranks fourth in punt returns and 11th in kickoff returns.
It will be the first matchup between these two teams since the 1998 Holiday Bowl, where Arizona punctuated a 12-1 season with a 23-20 victory. The Cornhuskers will need to find some more offensive production to keep from enduring a similar result this time around.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
For followers of offensive fireworks, this might be one of the most intriguing bowls all season.
Both teams rank among the top eight in total offense and scoring, and among the top seven teams nationally in rushing. Oklahoma State's high-powered attack rang up at least 55 points on five different occasions. And Oregon scored at least 54 points five times this season and scored 120 points in its last two games,
The balanced Cowboys will be making their first trip to San Diego since Mike Gundy led his team there as a quarterback in 1988. Kendall Hunter led the Big 12 in rushing, and playmaking wide receiver Dez Bryant ranked third in receiving yards and third in punt returns.
But a struggling Oklahoma State defense that allowed 134 points in its last three games will be tested by a productive Oregon offense keyed by productive running backs Jeremiah Johnson (219 yards in the season finale against Oregon State) and LeGarrette Blount, who needs only 72 yards to eclipse 1,000 yards for the season. Oklahoma State is very strong in the trenches offensively, but will be supremely test by Oregon defensive end Nick Reed, who ranked second nationally in sacks and tied for fourth in tackles for losses.
This game could hinge on special teams and Oklahoma State might have an edge there with punter Matt Fodge and kick returner Perrish Cox in featured roles.