LINCOLN — The Big Ten has a new bowl lineup and a new selection process, and the results were about as unpredictable as promised.
Nebraska will face USC on Dec. 27 in Holiday Bowl, where the Huskers played after the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
Consider that a pleasant surprise for those in San Diego, who worked in conjunction with Big Ten officials to choose a conference representative.
“In this new era of selection, anything can happen,” Holiday Bowl Executive Director Bruce Binkowski told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Certain things happened that nobody has any control over, and we got a team (in Nebraska) that was not on our radar screen, but what a great team to get. It really is a marquee matchup.”
Things changed the moment that the playoff selection committee released its end-of-season poll. Mississippi State ranked seventh, one spot ahead of Michigan State — meaning that the Spartans wouldn’t be playing in the Orange Bowl and that a spot in the Citrus Bowl could be filled with a Big Ten team.
So each of the league’s eligible teams moved up a slot.
The Spartans went to the Cotton Bowl. Minnesota, a presumed Holiday Bowl participant before Sunday, was picked to play Missouri in Orlando. Wisconsin ended up in Tampa’s Outback Bowl.
Nebraska then got matched to the Holiday Bowl, which began a six-year relationship with the Big Ten this season.
“There’s a lot of freshness to it,” conference Commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN.com in regard to the league’s new selection process. “Partially because of new teams, partially because of new venues, partially because we moved teams around a little bit.”
The conference’s goal is to avoid repeat matchups and destinations going forward.
Though Nebraska’s been to San Diego recently, a tradition-rich, well-supported program with a 9-3 record and a No. 25 ranking in the Associated Press poll was apparently too tough for Holiday Bowl officials to pass up. The uncertainty surrounding the Huskers after Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst fired coach Bo Pelini last Sunday, then hired Oregon State’s Mike Riley on Thursday didn’t deter them, either.
Nebraska interim coach Barney Cotton indicated through a prepared statement that the Huskers are also thrilled to head to the West Coast.
“We look forward to the opportunity to take on USC in the Holiday Bowl, and the opportunity to finish our season with a trip to San Diego,” Cotton said. “Our goal as a coaching staff is to provide a great bowl experience and put this team in position for success in the Holiday Bowl. This team has outstanding character and leadership, and we would like nothing more than to send our seniors out with a second straight bowl victory and a 10-win season.”
Cotton, along with the other NU assistants, will lead the Huskers as they get ready for the bowl. Riley will not coach the game.
There should be elements of familiarity that make the preparation a little easier.
This will be the Huskers’ fourth trip to the Holiday Bowl, and the third in the past six postseason trips. NU beat Arizona in the 2009 game but lost to Washington in 2010.
That 2010 defeat came against a Steve Sarkisian-coached team, the second of three Nebraska-Washington matchups in a two-year span. NU won the other two games.
And now the Huskers will see Sarkisian again. He took over USC’s program this year.
The Trojans, who are 3-0-1 all time against NU, finished the season ranked 24th in the AP poll with an 8-4 record, including 6-3 in Pac-12 play.
“We get to play close to home and our fans will show up in force,” Sarkisian said in a press release. “They’ll get to see a pair of Top 25 teams with storied football heritages. Having been to the Holiday Bowl when I was at Washington, I know this bowl experience will be a good one for our players and fans.”
USC, which has never played in the Holiday Bowl, appeared to be the bowl’s preferred Pac-12 representative for a while.
“We’ve been wanting ’SC in the Holiday Bowl since we began our relationship with the Pac-12 in 1998,” Binkowski said.
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