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December 28, 2009

Holiday Bowl: Arizona vs. Nebraska

MORE: Pelini, Stoops set to square off in San Diego | Bowl schedule/results

HOLIDAY BOWL: WHO GETS THE EDGE?

Arizona rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense: Shifty and speedy Nic Grigsby is Arizona's star runner, but a shoulder injury has hampered him most of the season. Keola Antolin has picked up the slack. But running room could be difficult to come by against a Nebraska front seven that includes Ts Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick, E Barry Turner and LB Phillip Dillard.
Edge: Nebraska

HOLIDAY BOWL

Arizona (8-4)
vs. Nebraska (9-4)

WHEN: 8 p.m., Wednesday.
WHERE: Qualcomm Stadium,
San Diego.
TV: ESPN (Chris Fowler will do play-by-play, with Craig James and Jesse Palmer as the analysts).
THE LINE: Arizona by 1.5.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Arizona 5-3, Nebraska 2-4.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Arizona 7th, Nebraska 49th.
BCS RANKING: Arizona 20th, Nebraska 22nd.
COACHES: Arizona - Mike Stoops (1-0 in bowls); Nebraska - Bo Pelini (2-0 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: This will be a battle between Youngstown, Ohio, natives Stoops and Pelini. Each attended Cardinal Mooney High, which is where Stoops' father coached. Arizona and Nebraska are fast-rising programs that look poised to be top-25 teams next season while also challenging for their respective league titles.
KEY STATS: Arizona has a high-flying offense that averages 407.5 yards per game. And it's a balanced attack, averaging 167.4 yards on the ground and 240.1 via the air. But the Wildcats may face the best defense they have seen all season. Nebraska's "Blackshirts" rank No. 9 nationally, allowing foes 284.5 yards per game.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Huskers DT Ndamukong Suh is considered to be the best defensive player in all of college football. And he has the hardware to prove it, winning the Nagurski and Bednarik awards as the country's top defensive player. He also captured the Lombardi and Outland trophies and finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting. Suh was the first defensive lineman to be invited to the Heisman ceremony since Miami's Warren Sapp in 1994 and the first to finish in the top five since Washington's Steve Emtman in 1991.
Arizona pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense: Once Arizona made the switch from Matt Scott to Nick Foles at quarterback, the passing game in particular - and the offense as a whole - flourished out of the spread. But the Wildcats will face the No. 3 pass-efficiency defense in the nation, paced by CB Prince Amukamara and FS Matt O'Hanlon.
Edge: Nebraska

Nebraska rush offense vs. Arizona rush defense: Roy Helu is one of the nation's most underrated running backs. He is a strong and powerful runner with a burst who has gained 1,139 yards despite running behind a line that has battled inconsistency. But yards could be tough to get vs. an Arizona defense that ranks 11th nationally vs. the run (111.9 ypg).
Edge: Arizona

Nebraska pass offense vs. Arizona pass defense: Zac Lee's struggles are well-documented, as he is just the No. 8-rated passer in the Big 12. He lacks accuracy, poise and arm strength, but he is tough. Lee has some good targets, most notably Niles Paul, who leads the team with 36 catches for 673 yards. But it will be tough to find seams against an Arizona secondary that is paced by CBs Trevin Wade and Devin Ross and FS Cam Nelson.
Edge: Arizona

Arizona special teams vs. Nebraska special teams: The Huskers have one of the nation's best kickers in Alex Henery, who is a threat up to about 55 yards. He doubles as a strong punter, and Paul has emerged as one of the nation's top punt returners. Arizona counters with dangerous kick returner Travis Cobb. And K Alex Zendejas is a weapon, hitting 17-of-22 field-goal attempts. Arizona's punt coverage has been awful, but its kickoff coverage has been good. Arizona P Keenyn Crier averages 41.4 yards per kick.
Edge: Nebraska

Arizona coaching staff vs. Nebraska coaching staff: Both staffs are loaded with talented assistants. Keep your eye on the offensive coordinators, with Sonny Dykes for Arizona and Shawn Watson for Nebraska. Who will have the more inventive game plan? Arizona defensive coordinator Mark Stoops already has been hired to be the defensive coordinator at Florida State, but he will coordinate the Wildcats' defense in this game before leaving.
Edge: Even

X-factor: Nebraska has a big-time weapon in Henery. He set a school single-season record by booting 20 field goals. And he has a cannon for a leg, having nailed 11-of-12 career attempts between 40 and 49 yards. Last season, Henery booted a school-record 57-yarder.

Arizona will win if: Running the ball effectively is vital. Grigsby has battled injuries this season, but Antolin has filled in nicely. If the Wildcats can consistently "win" first down to avoid bad down-and-distance situations, it would keep a rugged Nebraska defense off-balance.

Nebraska will win if: Quarterback play has been a trouble spot for the Huskers all season. Nebraska's pass offense ranks just 101st in the nation. If Arizona doesn't have to respect the pass, it will crowd the box and choke off the Huskers' ground game.

EXPERT PICKS
Olin Buchanan: Nebraska 21, Arizona 20
Tom Dienhart: Arizona 26, Nebraska 19
David Fox: Nebraska 17, Arizona 10
Mike Huguenin: Arizona 16, Nebraska 13
Steve Megargee: Nebraska 17, Arizona 10

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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