Sunday, January 1, 2012
Capital One Bowl: Nebraska vs. S. Carolina
By Brian Bennett
The last time Nebraska played a Steve Spurrier-coached team, the Huskers steamrolled Florida 62-24 for the national title. The stakes won't be as high when the Huskers meet Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks in the Capital One Bowl, and the scoring doesn't figure to reach anywhere near those heights, either.
WHO TO WATCH: Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and I-back Rex Burkhead. The ball is almost always in one of these two Huskers' hands. They combined to rush for more than 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns, including some option work between the pair. When we last saw Burkhead, he carried a school-record 38 times for 160 yards in a win over Iowa. The month off should really help him get his legs back after a heavy workload this season. Martinez made great strides as a game manager and leader this year but remains an inconsistent passer, as his 55.9 completion percentage attests. Martinez and Burkhead are a formidable pair, but they'll have to be at their best to counter an impressive South Carolina defense that allowed fewer than 270 total yards per game this season. Can either one of them turn the corner on the edge, especially with top-flight defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney in pursuit?
WHAT TO WATCH: Can the Nebraska defense match South Carolina's? The Huskers thought they would have the same kind of disruptive defensive line as the Gamecocks boast this season, but an injury to star Jared Crick and underwhelming performances by others made this an average group. Lavonte David had an All-America season at linebacker, but much of the rest of the front seven was inconsistent during the year. This isn't a typical Spurrier team, especially with quarterback Connor Shaw posing as much of a threat running as he does passing. Star receiver Alshon Jeffery has been all but ignored and should be neutralized by Nebraska stud cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. So it will probably be up to the Huskers' front to make plays and disrupt South Carolina's timing in what could be a low-scoring affair. Do they have a Blackshirt-worthy performance in them?
WHY TO WATCH: Neither of these teams won a conference championship or even a division title, but this still has a chance to be one of the best non-BCS matchups. Both teams have a lot of talent and speed and spent some time hanging around the Top 10 this season. Nebraska has a chance to clinch its third straight 10-win season and will play its first postseason game as a Big Ten member. What better way for the Huskers to ingratiate themselves into their new league then by winning a bowl game against the SEC?
PREDICTION: South Carolina 20, Nebraska 17. It will be a defensive grinder, and the Huskers will struggle to move the ball down the field as the Gamecocks force Martinez to beat them with his arm. South Carolina's defense is just too good, and its speed helps contain Burkhead and the Nebraska option game.