Marshall: Cotton Bowl Big For Both Teams

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look at Auburn's bowl game against Nebraska and if either team has an advantage.

Picking winners in bowl games is inherently difficult. It's been a least a month since teams have played, even longer for some. No one, not even coaches or players, can accurately predict how teams will respond to that.

And Auburn's game against Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl is no different.

Auburn, at 10-2, is a slight favorite over the Cornhuskers, at 9-4. And there are reasons to like the Tigers' chances.

Auburn is the only team in America with wins over two teams playing in BCS bowl games. Coach Tommy Tuberville is at his best in big games, having won nine of his last 10 against top 10 teams.

The Tigers are far healthier than they've been since early in the season. Most importantly, quarterback Brandon Cox, tailback Kenny Irons and wide receiver Courtney Taylor should all be full-speed together for the first time since September.

A healthy Kenny Irons is big for an Auburn offense looking to have its best game of the season.

Three of Nebraska's four losses came to nationally ranked teams – USC, Texas and Oklahoma. But the Cornhuskers also lost to Oklahoma State. They have no wins over nationally ranked teams.

On the other hand, Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor has thrown for more than 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns en route to being named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. And Nebraska's defense is salty, particularly up front. That raises questions about how well Auburn's offensive line can protect Cox.

The bottom line: There is no way to accurately say which team is better at this point in the season.

One thing that is obvious is that Auburn's players and coaches are deadly serious about this game. The mindset of Auburn players seems very different from what it was at the Capital One Bowl at the end of last season. They readily admit they were embarrassed by their performance in a 24-10 loss to Wisconsin.

What does that mean? It means Auburn players can be expected to play hard and with emotion. But Nebraska players can be expected to do that, too.

Though losing this game would hardly be a disaster for either team, it is significant for both teams.

Auburn can finish ranked in the top 10 for the second time in three seasons and win 11 games for the fourth time in school history. Nebraska, in head coach Bill Callahan's third season, can notch its 10th victory and signal to the rest of the Big 12 that Big Red football is back. Auburn can strike another blow for the Southeastern Conference, which is 3-1 in bowl games so far.

Both teams run the West Coast offense and are determined to establish the run to set up the pass. The one that does that most effectively will probably come out on top.

My guess is that a healthy Irons will give Auburn the edge, ever so slightly. Something like …

Auburn 23, Nebraska 20.

Moving on …

I don't of many teams that deserve more credit for overcoming adversity than Georgia.

The Bulldogs seemed dead in the water after losing at home to Vanderbilt and on the road at Kentucky to stand at 6-4 on the season. They responded by winning at Auburn and beating Georgia Tech at home.

They certainly seemed to be on their way to a humbling loss when they trailed Virginia Tech 21-3 at halftime of the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. But they staged a remarkable second-half rally to win 31-24 and beat a third straight nationally ranked team for the first time in school history.

Schools that turn their noses up at assistants when searching for new head coaches could learn some lessons from Georgia. Mark Richt was offensive coordinator at Florida State before moving to Athens. I'd say hiring him was a pretty good move.

… The Nick Saban watch will be over soon. Will he really walk away from the Miami Dolphins after two seasons to be the coach at Alabama? If he does, he will rightfully be called to task for telling and out and out lie when he said bluntly he would not be the coach at Alabama.

A lot of people believe he will soon be wearing crimson. Then again, a lot of people believe he won't. It'll be an interesting few days around the Alabama program. The real question might be where Alabama athletic director Mal Moore will turn if Saban stays in Miami. …

Until next time …

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