Where: San Antonio
When: Sat., Dec. 30, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Payout: $1.2 million
Teams’ Bowl Performances Last Year:
Nebraska beat Tennessee 31-21 in the Fiesta Bowl Northwestern did not play in a bowl game
What to Watch For
The nation’s No. 1 rushing offense of Nebraska takes on the nation’s No. 2 rusher in Damien Anderson and the unconventional Northwestern Wildcats.
The Cornhuskers averaged 349.3 yards rushing a game, and leading the attack for Nebraska is senior Dan Alexander. He tallied 1,154 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry this season, while Correll Buckhalter’s 750 yards rushing gave Nebraska a 1-2 punch at running back.
But the most valuable player on this Cornhuskers team is Eric Crouch, a versatile and agile quarterback who nearly eclipsed his 100.1 passing yards per game with his 88.3 yards rushing. An early candidate for the Heisman Trophy, Crouch scored more touchdowns running (20) than he threw (12), and his 971 rushing yards and 5.7 yards per carry were second only to Alexander. But he also struggled late in the season with a sore throwing shoulder and might undergo surgery again in the offseason.
Northwestern’s notoriously weak defense, ranked 82nd against the rush, will have its hands full against Crouch & Co. The Wildcats gave up 180 rushing yards per game this season, compared to 113.5 yards by Nebraska, and fared poorly against such fleet-footed teams as TCU — the Horned Frogs rushed for 387 yards and routed Northwestern 41-14. Senior Dwayne Missouri, who had 14 tackles for a loss and 9 sacks on the season, is the lone bright spot along the defensive line for Northwestern and will be a key player to watch against Crouch.
The cornerstone of the Northwestern offense is All-American running back Anderson, who finished the season with 1,914 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns. He averaged a remarkable 174 yards a game for Northwestern, a team that also can rely on the mobile quarterback Zak Kustok to run the ball if necessary. Kustok ran for 9 touchdowns on the year and gained 450 yards.
What Nebraska lacks is a multidimensional passing game like Northwestern’s. Kustok threw for 18 touchdowns and 2,251 yards, compared to Crouch’s 1,101 yards. Most impressively, Northwestern spread out its offense and had seven players in the double digits for receptions, with junior Sam Simmons’ 35 catches leading the way.
The Wildcats also are particularly good on fourth-down conversions, having earned the first down 80 percent of the time they tried. Defensively for Nebraska, All-American linebacker Carlos Polk had 89 tackles this season and is always dangerous.
Nebraska in the preseason was atop the college rankings and stayed there for 10 weeks as it won its first six games. A loss to Oklahoma in one of the most-watched games of the season dropped the team from atop the rankings and deflated Nebraska’s hopes for a national championship. But the Cornhuskers still finished with an impressive nine victories, extending their streak of nine-win seasons to 32.
While Nebraska is also appearing in a record 32nd straight bowl game, Northwestern is searching for its first bowl victory since the 1949 Rose Bowl.