Game Week: Nebraska Facts and Factors

Dec. 22 -- Nebraska's Tom Riley is on the mini-hot seat after one season after one of its worst seasons in the last 50 years...

• UCLA travels to Santa Clara, Calif., to take on Nebraska in the Foster Farms Bowl, Dec. 26th, at 6:15 PST.  The game will be televised by ESPN.

• The game will be played at Levi’s Stadium, the home of the San Francisco 49ers and Super Bowl 50.

• UCLA Is 8-4 on the season, while Nebraska is 5-7.

• The rule is that a team needs to win 6 (FBS) games to be bowl eligible, but not enough six-win teams were available to fill the slots in all 40 bowl games, thus Nebraska making the bowl.

• Six of Nebraska’s seven losses were by no more than eight points.  BYU’s game-winning Hail Mary in the Nebraska season opener really set the tone for a year of frustratingly close defeats.  The Cornhuskers lost to Miami in overtime and to Wisconsin on a game-winning field goal with four seconds left. 

• Nebraska, at 5-7, is assured of only its third losing season in the past 50 years.

• UCLA and Nebraska have played 12 times in history, with the series even at six wins apiece.  The Foster Farms Bowl is the first time the two programs will meet in a post-season setting.

• It will be the third time in four seasons the Bruins and Cornhuskers have faced each other, and UCLA has had the recent upper hand.  In 2012, UCLA won 36-30, with the Bruins running up 653 yards against the Cornhuskers, in Jim Mora’s second game as UCLA’s head coach.  In 2013, UCLA faced Nebraska in Lincoln, right after UCLA walk-on receiver Nick Pasquale had died after being struck by a car.  UCLA trailed by 18 initially, but then scored 38 unanswered points to win 42-21. 

• That loss for Nebraska against UCLA changed the course of the ‘Husker program.  Quarterback Taylor Martinez was replaced a week later by then-redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong, who is still the Nebraska starter.

• Armstrong, though, is now coming under fire himself. He finished the 2015 regular season by throwing four interceptions Nov. 27th in the regular-season finale against Iowa, 28-20. 

• If Nebraska loses, it will be its first 8-or-more loss season since 1957.

• If UCLA wins, it will mark four straight seasons of nine wins or more, the most for any four-season stretch in UCLA’s history. 

• UCLA stumbled in its regular-season finale with a loss to rival USC, while the Pac-12 South title was on the line.

• Nebraska, before falling to Iowa, had a two-week stretch of playing well, punctuated by a win over then-#7-ranked Michigan State, 39-38.   

 • Mike Riley (62) is in his first year as the Nebraska head coach.  He coached at Oregon State for 14 seasons, in two different stints, with his 93 wins in that amount of time the most in OSU school history.  Nebraska hiring Riley caused a bit of head-scratching, from outsiders as well as Nebraska fans.  Riley replaced Bo Pelini at Nebraska, who was fairly successful – 66-27 and winning at least 9 games in each of his seven seasons, a streak that is tied for the second longest with Oregon in the FBS.   Pelini, though, was fired for not consistently bringing Nebraska back to top-10 status, and for being a bit controversial at times.  So often when an athletic department makes a hire, the new coach has many of the opposite traits of the last, fired coach. Pelini had a volatile temper that got him in trouble, while Riley is considered one of the nicest and most mild-mannered coaches in college football.  Even though Nebraska’s program and fans consider themselves among college football’s elite, and have high expectations, the Nebraska management has shown considerable patience with its coaches.  But it’s safe to say that the polite Nebraska football community have their new, polite coach a bit on the hot seat after one season. 

• It will obviously be the last game for UCLA’s seniors, most notably UCLA’s all-time receptions record holder, Jordan Payton; Jake Brendel, who will start in a school record 52 games, and Ka’imi Fairbairn, the 2015 Lou Groza Award winner.

• It could also be the last game for various juniors considering an early entry into the NFL.  Defensive tackle Kenny Clark is almost assured of a first-round selection and leaving UCLA.  Others considering it are OLs Conor McDermott, Alex Redmond and Caleb Benenoch, receiver Thomas Duarte, and running back Paul Perkins.  After he injured his knee in September, star junior linebacker Myles Jack left the team and withdrew from school to prepare for the NFL combines.

• The general sentiment surrounding the game is that UCLA could still be experiencing a hangover from losing to USC and missing out on the Pac-12 Championship game, while Nebraska has nothing to lose, getting into a bowl at 5-7. 

• UCLA is favored by 6 ½ over the Cornhuskers.

• The weather forecast predicts sunny skies and a high of 54 degrees on Saturday, with a game-time temperature in the high 40s.  The night’s low is forecast as 33 degrees. 

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