2007 Cotton Bowl - Auburn vs. Nebraska

Posted Dec 14, 2006

You're day of college football gluttony is here with six games that'll help define the season. Check back throughout the day for Pete Fiutak's Stream of Consciousness game notes for the Fiesta, Rose and the Cotton with Zac Taylor and Nebraska taking on Auburn.

(10-2) vs. Nebraska (9-4)

Jan. 1st, 11:30 a.m. ET, Fox

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Cotton Bowl Player Profile: Nebraska RB Brandon Jackson, team bowl history and more

It's a shame the Cotton Bowl is thrown among the glut of all the other early New Years Day bowls. With its tradition, history, and prestige, it's as close to the BCS  a non-BCS bowl can get, and Nebraska and Auburn are certainly worthy of the big-time attention and national focus.

The Huskers were dreaming about playing in the Fiesta Bowl before losing 21-7 to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship. Even so, the program capitalized on the momentum of the Alamo Bowl win over Michigan to win the Big 12 North for the first time since 1999 in an important step in the program's resurgence.

National Rankings
Auburn Nebraska
Total Offense
68th  332.83 ypg 8th  253.15 ypg
Total Defense
24th  297.50 ypg 70th  343.69 ypg
Scoring Offense
49th  25.42 ppg 13th  31.85 ppg
Scoring Defense
7th  13.92 ppg 30th  18.38 ppg
Run Offense
43rd  155 ypg 23rd  175.62 ypg
Run Defense
48th  125.83 ypg 43rd  120.38 ypg
Pass Offense
87th  177.83 ypg 18th  253.15 ypg
Pass Defense
19th  171.67 ypg 89th  223.21 ypg
Turnover Margin
32nd  0.42 61st  0.00
Wash St W 40-14
at Miss St W 34-0
LSU W 7-3
Buffalo W 38-7
at S Car W 24-17
Arkansas L 27-10
Florida W 27-17
W 38-13
at Ole Miss W 23-17
Ark St W 27-0
Georgia L 37-15
at Bama
W 22-15
La Tech W 49-10
Nicholls St W 56-7
at USC L 28-10
W 56-0
Kansas W 39-32 OT
at Iowa St W 28-14
at Kansas St
W 21-3
Texas L 22-20
at Okla St
L 41-29
Missouri W 34-20
at Tex A&M W 28-27
Colorado W 37-14
Big 12 Championship
Oklahoma L 21-7
Position Ratings
relative to each other
A 5 highest
1 lowest
3 Quarterbacks 4.5
4.5 RBs 4
3 Receivers 3.5
3.5 O Line 3.5
4 D Line 4
3.5 Linebackers 4
4 Secondary 2.5
4.5 Spec Teams 3.5
4.5 Coaching 4

With former Arizona State Sun Devil Sam Keller set to take over the quarterback reins in 2007, and with a load of talent returning on both sides of the ball, the future appears to be bright for the Huskers. Getting its first ten-win season since 2003, and its biggest win yet under head coach Bill Callahan, would inspire even more confidence from a fan base that's starting to come around to the spread offense that cranks out yards in chunks with a balanced attack utilizing several different weapons.

While beating Missouri and Texas A&M was nice, the Huskers lost against the three elite teams it faced with a puzzling offensive gameplan never giving them a chance against USC, a late Colt McCoy drive breaking their hearts in a 22-20 loss to Texas, and the loss to the Sooners.

Even with a home loss to Arkansas, Auburn was in the national title hunt after beating Florida 27-17 without scoring an offensive touchdown followed up by wins over Tulane, Ole Miss and Arkansas State. And then came the stunning 37-15 home loss to Georgia to ruin any title dreams and call into question if the team was a disappointment or if it just went through the motions all season long.

It might seem strange to dog a 10-2 season from anyone in the SEC, but the 7-3 win over LSU was hardly a thing of beauty, the offense didn'
t do much against Florida, and the defense basically set the tone time and again against vastly inferior teams. Six of the teams wins came over teams that didn't go bowling.

As good as Auburn and Nebraska have been, will they fall prey to the recent Cotton Bowl jinx?

The SEC has won three straight over the Big 12, but that hasn't meant anything the following season. Ole Miss beat Oklahoma State in 2004, and then the Rebels went 4-7 the next year. Tennessee blasted Texas A&M in 2005, and then went 5-6. Alabama beat Texas Tech in a surprising defensive struggle, and then went 6-6 and canned head coach Mike Shula.

Forget about the trend. The winner will be a sure-thing preseason top ten team going into next year. The loser won't be that bad, either.

Players to watch: Is Kenny Irons finally healthy? A Heisman candidate before the season started after a sensational 1,283-yard, 14 touchdown 2005, he was never quite healthy after ripping apart Washington State for 183 yards and a touchdown in Auburn's opener. With a variety of issues from a shoulder injury to various foot problems, he was rested in most of the easy games and was average against the big boys rushing for 70 yards on 25 carries against LSU, 67 yards against Florida, 49 yards against Georgia and 75 against Arkansas with only one touchdown over the final seven games. Once thought of as a top 20 draft pick, he could use a big performance to show the scouts that he still belongs in the first round.

Nebraska has a diverse attack with several pieces to the puzzle, but it needs QB Zac Taylor to be the conductor. While he doesn't have a great arm and is relatively immobile, he's an accurate playmaker who threw 24 touchdown passes and just four interceptions before a lousy Big 12 title game. He's not going to throw deep and he's not going to wing it all over the field, but he'll almost always make the right decisions and gets the ball in the right spots on his short to intermediate passes.

Taylor might have to shoulder more of the workload if top RB Brandon Jackson is having problems with a broken hand suffered just after the season. Kenny Wilson has had a knee problem, Marlon Lucky has a bum back, and Cody Glenn has missed practices with a sprained foot. Lucky and Jackson will likely get a near even split of carries, but they could use all the help they can get.

Whoever ends up running the ball for the Huskers will have a thin Auburn linebacking corps to run through with Tray Blackmon and top backup Kevin Spears suspended. That means Merrill Johnson has to become an instant playmaker on the weakside, while part safety, part linebacker Will Herring and Karibi Dede will have to do even more. This isn't a big group, but they can all move.

Nebraska will win if... Auburn has to throw. The time off has helped top receiver Courtney Taylor get healthy, but the Tigers aren't at their best when the game is in Brandon Cox's hands. Despite being a two-year starter, Cox has regressed finishing this year completing ten of 26 passes for just 172 yards and two touchdowns with four interceptions against Georgia and Alabama. He has yet to probe he can come through in the clutch and doesn't have the type of arm to consistently take advantage of the porous Nebraska secondary. 

Auburn will win if... the defensive front turns the pass rush up to 11. Zac Taylor is good at quickly making his reads and can be deadly when he gets time. Nebraska doesn't run a lot of deep pass routes relying more on timing and precision, but the offensive line has still allowed way too many sacks on the season. The more Quentin Groves and the rest of the Tiger defensive front can hit Taylor, the more the Huskers will have to hurry things up. Nebraska can't outrun Auburn..

What will happen: Auburn didn't appear to show up mentally in last year's Capital One Bowl loss to Wisconsin; the coaching staff isn't going to let that happen again. The Tigers have problems with teams that can run well, not ones that throw. With the Husker backfield banged up, the offense won't be effective enough to make things happen against all the Tiger defensive speed. The Auburn offense will be pedestrian at best, but it'll do enough to get the job done.

Line: Auburn -3 ... CFN Prediction:
Auburn 24 ... Nebraska 17