Nebraska Gets Redemption on Snakebitten Season with Upset Win over UCLA

Sean Frye@Sean_E_FryeFeatured ColumnistDecember 27, 2015

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 26:  Taariq Allen #7 and Tommy Armstrong Jr. #4 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers celebrate after the Cornhuskers scored a touchdown against the UCLA Bruins during the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi's Stadium on December 26, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The fact that the 5-7 Nebraska Cornhuskers were even in the postseason sparked massive debate among college football analysts. The sticking point being "there are too many bowls." 

Instead of bowing down to the critics, however, the Nebraska Cornhuskers rose up from the ashes of a whirlwind season to upset the UCLA Bruins 37-29 in the Foster Farms Bowl. 

In the process, the Cornhuskers avoid their first eight-loss season in almost six decades, give fans a more positive outlook on Tommy Armstrong going into next year's senior campaign and turn down the thermostat on Mike Riley's hot seat. 

The alternative reality had a far bleaker outlook. Riley would feel a summer's worth of wrath in Lincoln. @FauxPelini would have a field day. The storied Nebraska program would have perhaps its darkest offseason in history. 

That's not the tale that's being written, however. 

The Huskers upset the Bruins handily, despite a Herculean effort from UCLA gunslinger Josh Rosen—319 yards and three touchdowns through the air, all while cementing his place as a star in the Pac-12 for years to come—and a late rally by the Pac-12 South third-place finishers. 

It's tough to truly develop a narrative for Nebraska's season. On the one hand, they were a losing team that still got into the postseason, a concept many feel is unjust. 

On the other, they only got in because the rest of the country couldn't come up with enough six-win teams, so they got in on the merits of their academics. 

On one hand, you've got Nebraska's start to the season. A loss on a Hail Mary to growing legend Tanner Mangum and the BYU Cougars. 

On the other, you've got the Huskers' wildly controversial win over the Michigan State Spartans, a team that's playoff-bound. 

It's no big secret that a bowl championship gives the Huskers a much happier finish to a wild, unpredictable and, by many accounts, disappointing season. But the simple fact that the narrative is actually being written shows progress for Riley and Co. 

That progress is what the Huskers were desperate for against UCLA, and they got it. 

While losses are still losses, the Huskers were in virtually every game they played, with single-digit losses to Iowa, Miami, Wisconsin and Illinois. Maybe three or four plays from those games go Nebraska's way, and we're looking at a 10-win team versus a six-win squad. 

Against UCLA, however, Riley finally showed he was willing to adapt and take advantage of his team's biggest strength: its size. 

The Huskers ran all over the Bruins, racking up a massive 326 yards on the ground. According to Riley (h/t Foster Farms Bowl), the Huskers' rushing attack will be its marquee feature in the coming seasons. 

Arguably the biggest win of the day wasn't just for Nebraska itself, but the Big Ten as a whole. The conference has three teams—Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State—that are New Year's Six bound. This was pointed out by ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit. 

Quarterback Tommy Armstrong, a polarizing signal-caller if there ever were one, put on one of the most efficient performances of his career. The junior finished 12-of-19 passing for 174 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 76 yards and another score. 

As Dan Hoppen of Rivals pointed out, Armstrong also quietly completed his third season at Nebraska with 3,030 passing yards. 

Nebraska still has plenty of holes to plug heading into the offseason. Becoming a contender in the Big Ten won't happen overnight for a seven-loss team. 

But the Foster Farms Bowl victory gives a much-needed injection of hope and optimism to a team that had seemingly lost its way. 

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