Instant Analysis -
Nebraska 33 ... Arizona 0
There's no truth to the rumor that ESPN analyst Craig James wanted his producers fired after being banished in a small broadcasting booth with Chris Fowler and Jesse Palmer. But I digress.
Can we have this Nebraska and start the season over? This was an ultra-confident Husker team that bordered on cocky, and rightly so. This was a Nebraska team that took chances down the field offensively, was fearless in its play-calling, and appeared to have an attitude on defense that it knew Arizona wasn't going to do anything offensively, and it knew that Arizona knew that nothing was going to happen against Ndamukong Suh and the boys. And with this game, Nebraska sent out a not-so-polite notice that it should be the hot team going into the offseason and will be on everyone's watch list going into 2010. Can the Huskers live up to the inevitable hype and not fall way short of expectations like Ole Miss and Oklahoma State did this year? With a defense like the one Bo Pelini is going to crank out, even without Suh, there might be a floor on how far, if at all, Nebraska can fall.
On the flip side is the Pac 10, who apparently didn't get the wake-up call that the bowl season has started. For a conference and a fan base that spent so much time bragging and boasting about the importance of going unbeaten in last year's bowl campaign, this hasn't just been a bad end of 2009; it's been an utter disaster.
Oregon State didn't show up against BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl, Cal got flat-out beaten by Utah in the Poinsettia, UCLA struggled to get by Temple, a MAC team, in the EagleBank, and USC got by Boston College in a nice, but not amazing effort in the Emerald. And then there's this. Give credit to Nebraska for showing up with a purpose, but to only come up with 109 yards of total offense goes beyond incompetence and getting blown out by a better team. Now, it's on Stanford against Oklahoma and Oregon against Ohio State to come up with big performances and wins, or this will be a nightmare of a post-season.
Boy, was I way off base on the hiring of Bo Pelini two years ago or what? The guy has been exactly what Nebraska needed in the aftermath of the Bill Callahan debacle.
I'll admit that I wasn't sold on this move at the end of 2007, feeling that the Huskers were in such a ditch that a proven veteran head coach was the only remedy. No doubt that Pelini was a terrific defensive coordinator, but his lack of polish and executive experience were concerns. Dr. Tom, however, was spot on with his choice, which was more obvious than ever in Nebraska's wire-to-wire spanking of Arizona in a Holiday Bowl that was supposed to be evenly-matched.
Big Red isn't all the way back. That won't come until a steady quarterback is developed and a greater degree of consistency is achieved on offense. It's on defense that Pelini has the program on the brink of restoring the glory, playing with the swagger and intensity befitting of the fabled Blackshirts. What Nebraska did to a pretty good Wildcat offense at Qualcomm Stadium was unheard of, suffocating the ‘Cats with a combination of constant pressure up front and blanketed coverage in the secondary. Before the Huskers went into a semi-prevent late in the fourth quarter, they'd barely yielded 50 total yards and not a single point. That is Husker football at its finest. A shutout in the Holiday Bowl? Epic in this era.
In two seasons, Pelini has now won 19 games, including both bowl games, and was a last-second Hunter Lawrence field goal from taking the Big 12 and playing in the Fiesta Bowl. More important, he's swept out the old culture of losing that began to creep into Lincoln, replacing it with the fire and physicality to match his own his personality. Pelini and Nebraska has wound up being a perfect match. Who'd have thought?
1) Tradition-poor Arizona had every reason to be very excited for this game, while Nebraska – which came one Cowboys Stadium railing short of a date in the Fiesta Bowl – easily could have sulked in San Diego, much as California did in the 2004 Holiday Bowl against Texas Tech. Yet, the Huskers brought a solid offense to Qualcomm Stadium, a welcome complement to their typical defensive A-game. This result is significant because there were no freak plays or weird occurrences that turned the tide. The Huskers plainly pounded the Wildcats into a meek and submissive position, and didn't stop whaling away until the outcome was decided. If last year's Holiday Bowl marked Oregon's coming-out party for 2009, this happy Holiday romp could very well mark Nebraska's return to pronounced prominence in 2010.
2) Just how weird, crazy, bizarre, upside-down, and just plain screwy has this week been in college football? Forget the Urban Meyer and Mike Leach soap operas, and forget the Humanitarian Bowl stealing the show on Wednesday afternoon. The biggest reason why this week has been inexplicably insane is that the normally-reliable Holiday Bowl – by far, the best December bowl since its founding in 1978 – turned into a total dud. What unfathomable development is going to happen next? The creation of a playoff?