What makes a particular sporting event really interesting are its plots, subplots, its ironies, agonies, and if we’re lucky enough, a one for the record ending.
We have most of it right here in the 2010 Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl. In this Holiday Bowl, there are two teams so diametrically opposite in their perspectives and attitudes—one is elated; one is deflated.
And did I mention agony?
Nebraska Big Red fans are seeing red!
In the Big 12 Championship game, Nebraska led Oklahoma by 17 points and it appeared the 10-2 Huskers would be headed to a prestigious BCS bowl. However, Nebraska could only muster a measly three more points from the 12 minute mark of the second quarter, as the Sooners slowly crept back into the game winning with a field goal, 23-20, and earning a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.
There is turmoil in Lincoln.
Fans are disenchanted with the team, and the school is not pleased with the continual sideline antics of coach Bo Pelini, having to reprimand him following a 9-6 loss to Texas.
Radio host and Houston Press writer, Sean Pendergast, made this comment following the loss to Oklahoma, “This time there was nothing the maniacal Bo Peillini or his equally insane brother Carl could complain about. The Sooners were called for twice as many penalties as the Huskers, the one controversial replay overturn (a fumble after a Husker interception that was reversed) went in Nebraska's favor, and the Sooners simply made more plays.”
The Miami Hurricanes decided to cause more Cornhusker consternation by eliciting talks with Bo Polini about the coaching position. Without going through proper channels, and attain permission from Tom Osborne, Polini went ahead and spoke with Miami Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt and is said to be, “In the mix,” according to SunSentinal.com.
The bowl committee then decided to add more fuel to the fire by sending Nebraska to the Holiday Bowl.
Being ranked 17th, and having already played in the Holiday Bowl last year (where they annihilated Arizona 33-0), and having hammered Washington earlier in the season 56-21, Nebraska expected an invitation to the Insight Bowl to play Iowa or Missouri, but instead they got 6-6 Washington.
Oddly enough they play the Huskies again next year.
It’s understandable why they feel snake bit. The Holiday Bowl is supposed to match-up the No. 5 Big-12 team with the No. 3 Pac-ten team, which is Washington (tied with Arizona).
At 10-3 Nebraska is No. 4 and the 9-3 Texas A&M Aggies are No. 5, yet the Aggies are off to the Cotton Bowl to face LSU, and the Huskers are penalized by playing 6-6 Washington, a team they play three times in 12 months.
Call me suspicious, but it appears the Cornhuskers are being punished for leaving the Big 12 for the Big 10.
To get a bowl invitation, Washington had to win three straight games. I have to eat crow on this one predicting it would not happen. Pass the salt and pepper please, I also predicted Oregon would go to the BCS Championship game which would put Stanford into the Rose Bowl—wrong again.
Some insane BCS rule doesn’t allow this—eradicate this rule, and fire the anti-Pac-10 bigot who made it. A Pac-10 team should always play in the Rose Bowl. Stanford against TCU would be such a great match-up.
Many are pointing to Chris Polk’s second best rushing game in Washington’s history, 284 yards, as a key to beating or competing with Nebraska. These yards came against a 2-9 Washington State team who has the 10th rated rushing defense in the Pac-10. Nebraska has one of the best overall defenses in the nation, and is second best against the pass.
Washington this season has scored a total of 265 points against their opponents scoring 404 points.
Nebraska has scored 435 points against their opponents scoring 208 points.
This Holiday Bowl is the first post season meeting between Nebraska and Washington.
The stats, their seasons and what occurred in their earlier meeting would suggest an obvious outcome: A massacre.
Oh, but what about the intangibles? Don’t under estimate the intangibles.
Nebraska doesn’t want to be in this Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, especially playing a team they already blasted and perceive as inferior. Their fans made the trek to Seattle 20,000 strong, and witnessed a one-sided contest.
Unless one needs a vacation and enjoys San Diego, exactly what interest is there for the Husker fan?
The Nebraska players are certainly not psyched for this game, and we witnessed what happened to Oregon State when they did not respect Washington State in Corvallis—they got their butts handed to them in a 31-14 spanking.
On the other hand, the last three games for Washington were do or die.
They were fighting for their bowl lives.
Both players and coaches have publicly stated they want another crack at a Nebraska team that thoroughly dominated them in front of their fans.
History is replete with amazing upsets.
The scenarios are usually similar: Teams taking another lightly, without focus, with their heads or hearts not into the contest.
Take a look:
Boston College had the perfect season going 8-0, and fielded one of the best defenses in college football, shutting out five opponents.
They were focused upon a national championship.
In comes to town an unimpressive 4-4-1 Holy Cross team, and before the Eagles, who averaged 28 points per game, could wipe the sleep out of their collective eyes, the Crusaders had held them to only 12 points while scoring a whopping 55.
Holy Cross was not a better team than Boston College, but they were that day.
Holy Cross 55-12.
The second ranked Oklahoma Sooners had won 28 straight games and had their sights set on a second-consecutive national championship.
A mediocre 5-3 unranked Kansas visits Norman, and although they had not defeated this powerhouse in 11 years, they would today.
Kansas gets the 23-3 upset victory.
Another example where a team was over looked and taken lightly.
The lowly 0-6 Temple Owls were 36.5 point underdogs to a powerful Virginia Tech team. Virginia Tech received little resistance from the Owls going up early 17-0.
However, Temple did not give up, came back strong to upset the Hokies 28-24.
Again this Temple Owl team wasn’t close to the level of Virginia Tech—but they were the better team that day.
I saved this example for last since it relates more to our Washington-Nebraska Holiday Bowl scenario:
Earlier in the season, the powerful Ohio State Buckeyes stomped UCLA 41-20 in front of the Bruin fans in Los Angeles. They met again in the Rose Bowl where the Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 and 15.5 point favorites.
UCLA gets redemption with a 23-10 victory.
Can Washington defeat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl?
A bit of semantics here, but the word "can" is distinctively different than the word "will."
Of course they can, but the more poignant question is will they?
As a Husky fan, I want nothing more than to see an amazing upset, sending the Big Red fans back to Nebraska singing the blues, but as the realist would correctly state, the odds are against it.
It would take a monumental effort by Washington on both sides of the ball. Turnovers would be crucial. The defense needs to knock the ball loose, or make the interception. And please coach Sarkisian, put players in who are capable of giving positive return yards and shorten the field.
I think the world of Jake Locker, but he cannot have a brain freeze and throw a pass into double coverage which can turn the whole tide of the game—case and point—Apple Cup.
At the same time it would take a blasé performance by Nebraska where they are not playing up to their potential.
Clearly the Huskers are not quite the dynamic team the Huskies faced in their third game.
Because of all the circumstances we’ve discussed, this Holiday Bowl doesn’t mean as much for Nebraska as it does Washington?
The Holiday Bowl is the crown jewel reward for a team that suffered through an 0-12 season two years ago. A team whose vibrant new coaches and unselfish quarterback led them to a respectable 5-7 record last year, and this season is taking them to where the Huskies have not been since 2002—a bowl game.
You have to love this.
Coach Sarkisian said they were going to the Holiday Bowl not just play the game, but to win it.
Who am I to argue with the coach?