Tradition. Prestige. Power.
All of these words and more were used to describe Saturday's inaugural meeting of the B1G and the Pac-12 in the Holiday Bowl. Traditionally a Rose Bowl match, the two power conferences will collide in a spectacular meeting of tradition, championships, and hard-nosed football when the Nebraska Cornhuskers and USC Trojans meet tomorrow evening.
Interim head coach Barney Cotton was deferential and respectful of USC's abilities, while USC HC Steve Sarkisian called the Huskers the best team USC will face all season long. Both men spent a decent chunk of time praising one another and said they expect both teams to embrace the challenge. More importantly, Cotton expects the Huskers to give USC everything they can handle and more.
"The way our players have attacked this bowl preparation, you couldn't ask for anything more," Cotton said."We've gone through some tough circumstances here, but I couldn't be more proud of the way they attacked this bowl preparation."
There has been much media speculation leading into the game about the availability of defense end Randy Gregory. With USC bringing a top-ten NFL pick to their own defensive line, the Huskers will be expecting Gregory to disrupt Trojan QB Cody Kessler's rhythm and timing. Cotton said that Gregory has been very active this week and he expects him to cause havoc as usual.
"He was out for a considerable amount of time from the Iowa game on," Cotton said. "This last week or so, he's been full go, done everything at practice, and we expect him to be able to perform well tomorrow.
Nebraska's situation leading into the Holiday Bowl isn't too dissimilar from USC's situation leading into last year's Las Vegas Bowl. While Cotton won't be sticking around through the coaching change, he did have the chance to briefly talk to Sarkisian about the awkwardness of it all.
"We talked briefly about that," Cotton said. "There's some awkwardness to the situation, but when you go through a situation like this and I'm sure he can tell you the same thing, you really rely very closely on the staff that you have. The guys I work with, I couldn't be more blessed to be going out with those other nine guys I'm working with and our players -- the way they've attacked the bowl preparation, I couldn't ask for anything more.
"They've been first class, they've been high energy, I hope we play that way tomorrow night, but as far as their bowl preparations and the way they've handled this stuff, I couldn't be more proud of them."
For his part, Sarkisian couldn't talk up the Huskers enough. Asked multiple times for clarification on his statement that the Huskers were the best team they'd seen, Sarkisian never wavered on his stance that they would be Troy's toughest test to date. One Los Angeles Time reporter directly asked about UCLA and Sarkisian still stuck to his guns.
"This is the best football team we've played this year," Sarkisian said. "For a variety of reasons, Nebraska is a couple plays away from being an 11-1 football team and playing for a conference championship.
"They're gonna play hard and I think that Barney exemplifies all that. They're a really proud group of individuals. When you put on that helmet -- it's the same with ours -- there's a lot of pride that overcomes you and so we have no doubt we're going to get amazing effort. We have no doubt we're gonna get an unbelievable shot from Nebraska and we have to absorb that."
While it's possible that these two programs have seen better seasons, it's impossible to argue the historical value that both will bring to one of college football's better-known lesser-thans. Saturday's game promises to deliver a proud tradition of football on both sides for 60 minutes.