While failing to reach its ultimate goal, Nebraska made its first season in the Big Ten Conference a memorable one as the team went 9-3 overall, 5-3 in league play, to notch its fourth straight nine-win campaign under current head coach Bo Pelini. The Cornhuskers split their final four games of the regular season, but posted a solid 20-7 win in their finale at home over Iowa on November 25.
Nebraska is appearing in its 48th bowl game -- fourth-best nationally -- with this being its second trip the Capital One Bowl (1991 when it known as the Florida Citrus Bowl being the other). The Huskers are 24-23 in their previous postseason ventures, and they had a three-game win streak in bowls stopped last season with a 19-7 loss to Washington in the Holiday Bowl. Nebraska is 12-5 all-time in bowl games against teams from the SEC, and is 8-10 all-time in bowl games played in the state of Florida.
South Carolina had hoped to challenge for the SEC crown this year, but things didn't quite go according to plan for coach Steve Spurrier's club as it finished 10-2 on the year, with both losses coming in conference play. This is the Gamecocks' second time participating in what is now known as the Capital One Bowl, as they played in the 1975 Tangerine Bowl as it was known from 1947-1982. It was the Florida Citrus Bowl from 1983-2002.
USC is 4-12 all-time in bowl games, losing its first eight between 1945 and 1988, then winning four of its next five (between 1994 and 2006) before its current run of futility that has seen the team lose each of the last three. Last year, the Gamecocks dropped a 26-17 decision to Florida State in the Chik-fil-A Bowl.
This bout marks just the fourth meeting between Nebraska and South Carolina on the gridiron, and the Cornhuskers won the first three. The last encounter took place in 1987, and this is the first time the two have met in the postseason.
Nebraska's offense has been efficient this year in putting up 30.5 ppg on typical outputs of 223.9 ypg rushing and 166.6 ypg passing. The ground game has accounted for 30 of the team's 42 offensive TDs, and the unit has been pretty good about protecting the football (17 turnovers). Rex Burkhead has been the Huskers' workhorse out of the backfield, churning out 1,268 yards and 15 TDs in averaging almost five yards per carry. QB Taylor Martinez didn't have an exceptional year throwing the ball (152-of-272, 1,973 yards, 12 TDs, seven INTs), but when you factor in the damage he is capable of doing with his legs (172 carries, 837 yards, nine TDs), this an offense that earns its keep by coming right at you. The offensive line not only opened gaping holes in the run game, but surrendered just 15 sacks as well.
While not quite on par with some of the dominant defenses in the Big Ten, the Cornhuskers still managed to play well enough on that side of the ball to help the team to yet another nine-win season. Foes average 22.8 ppg against them, and they typically allow 350.7 ypg. A total of 18 turnovers and 17 sacks have been logged by the defense, and while it's true the number of big plays turned in by the unit weren't ideal, there is no denying the talent of at least one guy -- LB Lavonte David (122 tackles, 11 TFL, 3.5 sacks, two INTs, Two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries).
In four bowl games with Pelini either serving as head coach or as the team's defensive coordinator, the Cornhuskers have given up just 10.8 ppg, the highlight of which being a 33-0 victory over Arizona in the 2009 Holiday Bowl.
Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck, who went to college in Orlando (UCF), spoke recently about the preparation the team has endured, "Our guys are practicing really hard and our retention's been good, our tempo's been good. I've been pleased. Obviously, we have a couple more days to shore up some of the finer details of the game, but I like where we're at right now."
Despite losing both its starting QB and RB at different times this season, South Carolina still managed to average 30.1 ppg and generate 375.4 ypg of total offense. Stephen Garcia was supposed to be the man to lead the Gamecocks to the promised land, but the much-maligned signal-caller lasted five games this season before being bounced from the team, leaving the full-time job to Connor Shaw, who did his best to keep the ship moving in the right direction by completing 65.5 percent of his passes for 1,218 yards, 12 TDs and six INTs. Star RB Marcus Lattimore had rushed for 818 yards and 10 TDs before suffering a serious knee injury midway through the season, but the team rallied in his absence as Brandon Wilds and Shaw took over, the two combining for 1,134 rushing yards and 10 scores on the year.
With the offense having its issues, the USC defense is what kept the team's lofty postseason aspirations alive as foes were permitted just 18.8 points and 268.9 total yards per contest. The Gamecocks are particularly tough against the pass, yielding a mere 133.0 ypg and only 4.8 yards per attempt. Collectively, the unit came up with 30 turnovers (18 INTs, 12 fumbles) during the regular season, and was led by Antonio Allen with 81 total tackles. D.J. Swearinger tallied 73 takedowns, and the two combined for six INTs. Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney are the stop gaps up front for USC, as they combined for 23.5 TFL and 14 of the team's 25 sacks.
Spurrier, who recently received a two-year contract extension to keep him in Columbia through the 2015 season, was excited to get a call telling him of his team's postseason destination, "They've invited us to play in the Capital One Bowl against Nebraska. We certainly accepted and we're excited to go to this bowl. A lot of teams, coaches and players think this is one of the best bowl trips in the country." He went on to say, "We have a lot to play for, going for that 11th win and getting a shot to be the winningest team in school history. We're looking forward to regrouping, trying to get a solid game plan, playing our best and then whatever happens happens down there."