Bowl Game Preview: Cotton Bowl Print
Written by TheSpread   
Sunday, 31 December 2006 16:00
NCAAF Headline News

Auburn a Big Public Favorite to Beat Nebraska in Cotton Bowl

Team Page: Nebraska :: Auburn

71% of Bets Placed on Auburn -1.5 | Matchup | CFB Picks
Nebraska has made tremendous strides in three seasons under coach Bill Callahan. Facing a top 10 opponent in a New Year's Day bowl game only further illustrates that.

Callahan and his 22nd-ranked Cornhuskers (9-4) look to make the most of the school's first New Year's Day bowl game in more than a decade when they face No. 10 Auburn (10-2) in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Oddsmakers have made Auburn -1.5 point spread favorites

(College Football Odds) for Monday's game, the over/under has been set at 46 total points (View CFB Sports Books).

Nebraska has been a perennial power for years, winning national championships in 1970, '71, '94, '95 and '97. Even when they weren't winning titles, the Cornhuskers were usually near the top of the rankings.

Only Alabama (54), Tennessee (46), Texas (46) and USC (45) have made more bowl appearances than Nebraska, which will be playing in its 44th postseason game.

Some of the luster, though, had been lost with the Cornhuskers finishing 7-7 in 2002, snapping a 40-year streak of winning seasons. Although they finished 9-3 in the 2003 regular season, Frank Solich was fired before the Alamo Bowl and Callahan was brought in after leading the Oakland Raiders to a 15-17 record in two seasons.

Nebraska went 5-6 in Callahan's first season, but an 8-4 record in 2005 and a victory over Michigan in the Alamo Bowl signaled that the Cornhuskers were on their way back to prominence.

This season saw Nebraska win the Big 12 North and advance to the Big 12 championship game for the first time since 1999. Although his team lost 21-7 to rival Oklahoma, Callahan knows the Cornhuskers have come a long way in a short time.

``There's unbelievable expectation levels here at Nebraska. And to be in a January bowl game, that really validates the progress that this team has made,'' he said.

Callahan has the Cornhuskers playing in a bowl game on New Year's Day for the first time since a 24-17 victory over Miami in the 1995 Orange Bowl. It is Nebraska's fourth Cotton Bowl appearance, but its first since 1980.

Nebraska entered the Big 12 championship game averaging 183.3 yards rushing, but abandoned the run after falling behind 14-0. Callahan called 20 straight passes at one point and senior quarterback Zac Taylor was intercepted three times after getting picked off four times in the season's first 12 games.

Callahan apologized to Nebraska fans for his performance in the loss to the Sooners.

``I was disappointed in everything I did,'' Callahan said. ``I could have done a better job. I just didn't do enough. ... I'm taking inventory of where we've got to get better, what changes we have to make. If we have to change some things, I'm going to change them. I'm looking at it really hard.''

Reaching any New Year's Day bowl game is quite an accomplishment, but Auburn figured on being part of a BCS game after it was ranked as high as No. 2 early in the season. The Tigers own wins this season over second-ranked Florida and No. 4 LSU, but home losses to Arkansas and Georgia relegated them to a second-place finish in the SEC West behind the Razorbacks.

This will be the third straight New Year's Day bowl game for Auburn, but only its second appearance in the Cotton Bowl. The Tigers lost 36-16 to Texas A&M in the 1986 game in Dallas.

``This is a great reward for the players,'' Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. ``This is not what I consider a second-tier bowl. It is one of the top in the country, and always has been.''

Tuberville has led the Tigers to a 32-5 record the past three seasons, a mark that trails only USC and Texas for the nation's best in that span.

Both Nebraska and Auburn took challenging routes to this game.

The Cornhuskers will be playing their fourth game of the season against a top 10 opponent, their most since also facing four such squads in 1995. The Tigers, meanwhile, faced three teams that were in the top 10 this season.

``That's the mark of Nebraska, the standard of Nebraska, to play the very best teams in the country,'' Callahan said. ``If you're going to be great, you've got to beat them all. I would love to see it someday where we can play one through 11 or one through 12, right through the poll, and see how we match up.''

This version of the Cotton bowl features contrasting styles. While Auburn has one of the nation's top defenses, Nebraska relies on a potent offense that is equally adept through the air or on the ground.

The Tigers rank seventh in the nation in scoring defense (13.9 points) and 25th in total defense (297.5 yards). Nebraska finished 13th in the nation with 31.9 points per game, averaging 253.2 passing yards and 175.6 on the ground.

Leading Nebraska's balanced offense is Taylor, who finished third in the Big 12 with a 149.4 passer rating and 3,071 passing yards. He threw for 25 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.

Callahan has gone through several running backs this season, but junior Brandon Jackson carried most of the load, finishing second in the conference with 181 carries and 951 yards.

Both teams should benefit from a month off between games. Callahan said he planned to take the same approach as he did last season when he practiced his players hard leading up to their win over the Wolverines.

``If I had my druthers, I'd practice every day, maybe twice a day, with these bowl practices,'' Callahan said. ``I absolutely love them. I know they made our team last year. I think it's a great, great bonus.''

Nebraska has won all three meetings against Auburn, including a 13-7 victory in the 1964 Orange Bowl in the only previous bowl matchup between the teams. The Cornhuskers had won 10 straight bowl games against SEC opponents before a 27-23 loss to Eli Manning and Mississippi in the 2002 Independence Bowl.

by: Anthony White - theSpread.com - Email Us

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