By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
The NCAA postseason kicks off Dec. 19, with 33 games being played in a three week span. Seniors will get their last hurrah, and teams will attempt to end their season on the winning side, in the hopes of improving recruiting that follows afterwords.
The Sportmeisters will preview each of the 33 games that lie ahead, and provide our predictions as well. Let’s get to it!
Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30, 8:00 PM, San Diego, CA
No. 20 Arizona (8-4) vs. No. 22 Nebraska (9-4)
About Arizona : Arizona never found complete consistency, starting off 4-2 before winning three, then losing two, and winning two to finish 8-4.
The Wildcats are a middle of the pack team offensively, finishing in the top 50 in all major categories. Sophomore QB Nick Foles took over the starter role midway through the season, and hasn’t let it go. He has thrown for 2437 and 19 touchdowns. Sophomore WR Juron Criner is his top target, with 43 catches for 579 yards and nine touchdowns.
Sophomore RB Keola Antolin and Junior RB Nic Grigsby (who is expected to play despite missing the last two games) have combined for 1128 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
Arizona finds more success stopping the run defensively, 22nd in NCAA FBS with 111.92 yards a game. They are 21st overall in defense, with opponents averaging 315.83 yards a game. Junior DL Ricky Elmore leads a defense that averages 2.83 sacks a game (13th in NCAA FBS). He has 10.5 himself, to go along with 43 tackles (11.5 for loss).
Sophomore DB Trevin Wade has 66 tackles and five interceptions, including one for a touchdown. Arizona isn’t a dominating team, but they know how to methodically beat their opponents.
About Nebraska : The Cornhuskers have been trying to get back to dominance since their run of championships in the 90s. They started off 2009 winning four of five, and if not for a last second touchdown, would have been 5-0. They fell flat, losing two in a row, before a five game winning streak earned them the Big 12 North Championship.
Another last-second score kept them from BCS lore, but they still earn a bowl shot and a chance at 10 wins.
Nebraska’s offense is horrific, which is shocking considering the Big 12 has been an offensive conference as of late. They finished 102nd out of 120 teams in total offense (317.15 yards per game). A big chunk of that was a lack of a passing game (175.92 yards per game) which was 101st in NCAA FBS.
The lone offensive bright spot was Junior RB Roy Helu Jr., who rushed for 1139 yards and ten touchdowns. Junior WR Niles Paul’s 673 receiving yards were twice as much as anyone else on Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers earned their victories thanks to a top ten defense. Second overall in points given up (11.23 per game) and ninth in total defense (284.54 yards per game), it was defense that truly won games for Nebraska. Of course, when one mentions Nebraska Cornhusker defense, Senior DL Ndamukong Suh comes to mind first and foremost.
The Heisman trophy finalist had 82 tackles (19.5 for loss), 12 sacks, and an interception. He even blocked three kicks for the Cornhuskers.
Sophomore DL Jared Crick had 9.5 sacks, part of a squad that was third in NCAA FBS in sacks per game (3.23). Senior DB Matt O’Hanlon led the secondary with 64 tackles, two sacks, five interceptions (one for touchdown), and a forced fumble. Simply put, Nebraska is all defense, all the time.
The Matchup : Arizona is 6-7-1 in bowl games. This is their second straight year of being in bowl game, and they won their 2008 matchup against BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Nebraska is 23-22 in bowl games. After a run of 35 straight bowl appearances was snapped, they are trying to get back to that tradition. This is their second straight game, after winning their 2008 Gator Bowl appearance over Clemson.
These two teams met in the 1998 Holiday Bowl, with Arizona squeaking out a 23-20 win.
This game will be a defensive showdown, and it starts with Nebraska. Even with Arizona’s number of weapons, all the offense’s eyes will be on Suh, who had 4.5 sacks in the Big 12 Championship. He will get his licks, but the Wildcats need to do whatever it takes to keep him out of the play.
If Arizona’s run defense can hold down Helu, the Wildcats will have neutralized Nebraska’s biggest weapon, giving them a greater chance at winning. This game will come down to defense and turnovers. Don’t tune it for a blowout.
The Prediction : Suh will be the dominant force, but Arizona’s defense will neutralize Nebraska, and they win a slow, defensive battle, 13-10.