NCF Nation: Pacific Life Holiday Bowl

Best and worst of the Big 12's bowl games

January, 11, 2010
1/11/10
1:05
PM ET
Here a look back at some of the highs and lows of the Big 12's bowl games.

Best game: In the grand scheme of things, Iowa State’s 14-13 triumph over Minnesota in the Insight Bowl was a matchup of two 6-6 teams. But the Cyclones’ pulsating victory still provided much excitement for the Cyclones. Alexander Robinson rushed for 137 yards in the victory that was settled by a late fumble recovery by ISU cornerback Ter’ran Benton, who was playing in his first game since breaking his leg on Oct. 24. Benton pounced on the turnover by Minnesota’s MarQueis Gray and the ISU did the rest with a clock-killing drive that provided an unexpected bowl victory for coach Paul Rhoads. Yes, that’s the same team that was expected to struggle to stay out of the North Division cellar before the season.

Best relief performance: Texas Tech starting quarterback Taylor Potts had a strong game in the Valero Alamo Bowl, but the Red Raiders needed a spark as they trailed Michigan State 31-27 early in the fourth quarter. Backup quarterback Steven Sheffield responded by completing his first six passes after relieving Potts, driving for two touchdowns to claim the victory. Potts earned the game’s most valuable player honors, but Sheffield finished by completing 9-for-11 passes for 88 yards as he directed the comeback.

Best use of bowl practice: Nebraska’s maligned offense showed some unexpected punch against Arizona in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl. Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson took advantage of bowl preparations to rebuild quarterback Zac Lee’s confidence and incorporate freshman Rex Burkhead into the Wildcat formation. The result was a 33-0 victory over the Wildcats with 223 yards of rushing -- most for the Cornhuskers since the first game of the season.

Best bow to youth: Injuries forced Oklahoma to employ freshmen defenders including defensive linemen David King, defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland and cornerback Demontre Hurst against Stanford in the Brut Sun Bowl. The trio came up big throughout the game to spark the Sooners’ 31-27 victory over the Cardinal. “The future’s bright,” Oklahoma defensive ends coach Chris Wilson understated to the Oklahoman after the game.

Most significant injury: Texas moved the ball smartly against Alabama, gaining 26 yards on five plays with Colt McCoy in charge. But McCoy went down with nerve damage to his right shoulder, the Longhorns’ offense unraveled during the rest of the half with backup Garrett Gilbert at quarterback. Alabama took advantage to charge a 24-6 halftime and take control of the Citi BCS National Championship Game.

Worst reaction to a defensive formation: Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green dared Missouri to run the ball by using an alignment with two down linemen. Even with Derrick Washington in the backfield, the Tigers could produce only 65 yards rushing as they repeatedly passed and sputtered in a 35-13 loss to the Midshipmen.

Worst finish: Mississippi’s defense took over down the stretch, forcing turnovers on the Cowboys’ final six turnovers. Zac Robinson’s offense contributed four interceptions and his team lost two fumbles as the Rebels claimed a 21-7 victory over Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

Worst play call: Texas could have gone to halftime trailing by only 11 points. But Texas coach Mack Brown elected to have Garrett Gilbert attempt a seemingly safe shovel pass to D.J. Monroe. The ball was batted around and finally ended up in the arms of Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, who then stiff-armed Gilbert to the ground and pirouetted around Kyle Hix en route to a 28-yard touchdown return.

Worst officiating call: With about nine minutes remaining in a tie game, Oklahoma State had the ball on the Ole Miss 19-yard line and appeared poised to claim the lead. Ole Miss defensive tackle Jerrell Powe looked to have obviously jumped offsides on a snap as he charged past center Andrew Lewis before the snap was completed. Feeling that he had a free play, Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson threw to the end zone, where he was intercepted by Ole Miss free safety Kendrick Lewis in the end zone. Robinson begged to have the call overturned, but the officials didn’t do it. The Cowboys unraveled from that point in the game.

Worst special teams: Texas A&M’s struggles on special teams were the biggest reason the Aggies dropped a 44-20 loss to Georgia in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl. The Bulldogs blocked a field-goal attempt, returned a kick for a touchdown and blocked a punt in the first half. The Aggies capped the debacle by snapping the ball over A&M punter Ryan Epperson's head in the third quarter, leading to another Georgia touchdown. The special-teams meltdown was the major reason the Aggies dropped their 11th game in their last 13 bowl games.

Holiday Bowl instant analysis: Nebraska 33, Arizona 0

December, 31, 2009
12/31/09
12:21
AM ET
Nebraska's 33-0 victory over Arizona in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl was much easier than anyone would have ever expected. It pushed the Cornhuskers to their 10th victory in a season for the first time since 2003.

Here’s how the Cornhuskers were able to produce their impressive victory.

How the game was won: Nebraska’s defense dominated the game from the opening snap. But the real reason the Cornhuskers cruised to an unexpectedly easy triumph over Arizona was the return of their offense. Nebraska scored on seven of its first eight possessions as they charged to their most one-sided bowl victory since the 2000 Alamo Bowl whipping of Northwestern.

Turning point: On the third play from scrimmage, Matt O’Hanlon stepped in front of a pass from Arizona quarterback Nick Foles and returned it 37 yards to the Arizona 5. Zac Lee scored two plays later and the Nebraska rout was on.

Stat of the game: Nebraska’s shutout was the first ever posted by a Big 12 team in the 94-game bowl history of the conference since it started play in 1996.

Player of the game: Ndamukong Suh was playing until the end of the Cornhuskers’ victory -- long after the game’s result was settled. But considering the relentless drive and determination that Suh has always shown, it wasn’t surprising he was out with the Blackshirts until the final defensive stop. He produced only three tackles, but was a force on nearly every play for Nebraska.

Best call: Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson was determined to juice production in the offense after its struggles against Texas in the Big 12 title game. He had a few wrinkles Wednesday night, like having I-back Rex Burkhead get direct snaps in Wildcat formations. On one of the first Wildcat plays, Burkhead charged in for a 5-yard touchdown run. It helped spark him to a game-high 92 rushing yards on 17 carries.

What it means: Nebraska likely has staked a top-10 position in preseason polls next season. And that’s even without Suh, safeties O’Hanlon and Larry Asante, center Jacob Hickman and defensive end Barry Turner. But the Cornhuskers return 10 offensive starters, six on defense and kicker/punter extraordinaire Alex Henery. Bo Pelini should be loaded for a run at the Big 12 title next season.

Worth remembering: “Nebraska is back and we’re here to stay,” Pelini’s comments when he accepted the winning trophy after the Holiday Bowl.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

The Pacific Life Holiday Bowl gets the Pac-10 bowl season rolling again with a doozie. This might be the most entertaining game of the bowl season.

Who to watch: Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli

There's been lots of talk about both offenses, but Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson clearly enters as the matchup's marquee quarterback. If the game is going to be the scoring extravaganza that most expect, though, Masoli is going to have to make plays with both his legs and his arm. Much of the year, running was his thing -- see 612 yards rushing -- but late in the season, his passing picked up. If the Ducks are going to keep up, they need Masoli to create a passing threat.

What to watch: Dez Bryant vs. the D-Boyz

All-American receiver Dez Bryant is a force. The Oregon secondary was supposed to be one, too, this year, but results have been mixed. The Ducks gave up 24 touchdown passes, only grabbed 14 interceptions and allowed foes to complete 58 percent of their passes. This is a shot at redemption. And it's going to be hard to win if Bryant stretches the Ducks' defense and opens up running lanes.

Why to watch: If you like offense, this is the place to be. Both offenses rank in the nation's top eight in points and yards per game. In fact, if both hit their season averages -- which is possible because both defenses are mediocre -- then we'll see 84 points and 975 yards of production. Beyond that, it's two ranked teams trying to boost their respective conference's reputation. The Pac-10 is trying to redeem itself, its national perception hurt by posting a poor record against a tough nonconference schedule. The Big 12 has been touted as perhaps the nation's best conference all season, but it didn't play anyone out of conference. While it's dangerous to compare scores, keep in mind the Cowboys opened the season with a somewhat competitive game against Washington State, winning 39-13 and gaining 367 yards. A few weeks later, Oregon crushed the Cougars 63-14 and outgained them 507 yards to 271.

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