The Cornhuskers haven't played for a national title since the days of Tom Osborne, but a Cotton Bowl berth is a step in the right direction for a program that lost 20 games from 2002-2005.
"There are unbelievable expectation levels here at Nebraska," says head coach Bill Callahan, who replaced Frank Solich as the head coach in Lincoln in 2004. "To be in a Jan. 1 bowl really validates the progress this team has made and to go up against a quality opponent like Auburn is a great challenge for our team.
"Just being in that classic in itself, I've got vivid memories of those particular games harking back to when I was a kid watching Joe Montana in 1979 take on the Houston Cougars for the national championship," Callahan continues. "That's always been a premier bowl in my mind. It's great to be a part of it for the first time."
Nebraska beat Michigan 32-28 in a controversial finish to last year's Alamo Bowl to finish 8-4 and will head to Dallas with a 9-4 record in 2006 after a 21-7 loss in the Big XII Championship Game on Saturday against Oklahoma. It will be the Nebraska's 43rd bowl game in its history and first in the Cotton since 1980.
"We're thrilled to be coming to Dallas," says athletic director Steve Peterson. "It's been too long and we're thrilled to be back in there. Certainly this has been an exciting year for us and for coach Callahan in just his third season to take our team to the Big XII championship game is significant for us. He's done a tremendous job of rebuilding this program."
Zac Taylor has blossomed this season under the offensive-minded Callahan.
It will be the fourth meeting between the two schools with Nebraska winning the previous three. The last meeting was a 41-7 game at Jordan-Hare Stadium with a Cornhusker offense featuring Turner Gill, Rozier, Roger Craig, Irving Fryar, Dave Rimington and Dean Steinkuhler.
This year's Nebraska offensive is similar to Auburn's with its West Coast schemes. Quarterback Zac Taylor has thrown for 3,071 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Running backs Brandon Jackson (951 yards, seven touchdowns), Marlon Lucky (640-6), Cody Glenn (370-8) and Kenny Wilson (335-4) have also been tough to stop as the offense averages 175.6 rushing and 253.2 yards per game passing.
Nebraska has been impressive offensively this season and Callahan says he's impressed with the Auburn program as well.
"We're really excited to go to the Dallas area, an area where we put a lot of emphasis on our recruiting, and also compete against a top-caliber SEC team in Auburn," he says. "As we look at what they've achieved over the last few years it's unprecedented to have an outstanding record as theirs being 32-5 and really rank at the top of country as you look at SC and Texas.
They've got some tremendous players, an excellent coaching staff, excellent direction and leadership under Coach (Tommy) Tuberville. We're awfully excited to be participating in this classic."
Callahan led Oakland to the Super Bowl in the 2002 in his first year as the Raiders' coach before falling to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He is 22-14 in this third season at Nebraska.