1.) Cody Kessler's number make him arguably one of the best quarterbacks in college football, what makes him so special and what were some areas of his game that got better throughout the season?
“Cody Kessler has grown tremendously over the past couple of years. He started off slow in 2013 when Lane Kiffin did not name him the starting quarterback, despite his superior performance throughout spring football and fall camp. He split time with Max Wittek over the first two games before being named the starter by game three. A few weeks later Lane Kiffin was fired and from that point on Kessler has continually developed into a better passer and a better leader.
“This season he is among the national leaders in passing efficiency and has continually put the Trojans in position to win games. It is interesting with Kessler that he doesn't really have one aspect of his game that is tremendous, but he does just about everything very well.
“As far as improving throughout this season, I would say his ability to throw the football down the field certainly got better. Now we really don't know if it was it Kessler deciding to take more chances down the field or the play calling getting less conservative, but either way the Trojans have stretched the field more as the season wore on.”
“Expectations for Steve Sarkisian were extremely high. Last season USC won 10 games with three different head coaches and a tremendous amount of distractions going on. Sarkisian inherited a team with very similar talent levels to the one that succeeded last season, so many Trojan fans wanted to see him come in and win 10 games in his first season. Is that a fair expectation? Probably not, but that is what the fans were looking for.
“Also having two last-second losses, one on a Hail Mary, has not been well received by the USC fan base. And after falling flat against UCLA, Sarkisian needed a strong performance against Notre Dame, and luckily for him he got one. I think if the Trojans can play well in the Holiday Bowl fans would be fairly content winning 9 games with a win over Notre Dame. But if USC falls short and finishes 8-5, it is likely going to be a long, difficult offseason for Sarkisian and his staff.”
3.) Give us a player that maybe doesn't get a lot of the headlines, but could play a major factor in this game?
“Rush end J.R. Tavai is a senior that doesn't get a lot of publicity but he has been a major contributor for USC. When Tavai went down with an injury, the Trojans pass rush suffered tremendously. So with nose tackle Antwaun Woods out for the game, they are going to need Tavai to finish his college career on a good note and help the defensive line with run support and of course rushing the quarterback.
“On offense George Farmer had a huge game against Notre Dame and it will be interesting to see if he can keep that momentum going in the bowl game. He has great breakaway speed and for some reason (partially due to injuries) he was not targeted very much this season. He can stretch a defense and if Kessler can find Farmer for a couple of big plays, it should be a tremendous help to the short passing game as well as the run game.”
4.) What type of crowd support do you expect for USC, considering it's pretty close at a bowl venue the Trojans have never played at?
”What we have heard is that USC purchased their 10,000 ticket allotment and I expect a lot more Trojans to make it down the freeway to San Diego. Travelling two days after Christmas can be difficult, but for any Southern California based Trojan alumni a two hour drive is certainly manageable. The Trojans have also never played in the Holiday Bowl and I think there are a lot of USC fans ready to check that bowl out against a traditional power like Nebraska. I think the win over Notre Dame helped as well. There are more fans willing to check out an 8-4 team coming off a win over a 7-5 team coming off back-to-back losses to both rivals.”
5.) Your prediction and keys to the game?
“My theory on bowl games is you never know what to expect. When you are talking about taking that much time off and essentially having another fall camp of practice before the next game, so many different things can happen. USC looked like a completely different team from game 11 to game 12, who knows how they will look after 14 practices over several weeks. And with Nebraska there are even more variables to take into consideration after Bo Pelini was fired.
“Having said all that, my initial thought was that this would be a close game. USC has had trouble with mobile quarterbacks in the past and there is no reason this game would be any different. But after watching the Trojans practice over the past couple of weeks, they look a lot more like the attacking, aggressive team we saw against Notre Dame than the timid team we saw against UCLA.
“Couple that with the chance that Nebraska comes out flat in this one with all of the coaching turmoil, I am going to say the Trojans take this one 38-24. Now could USC come out looking overwhelmed and Nebraska take the field firing on all cylinders? Certainly, and it wouldn't surprise me.”