USC has a record of 33-17 in bowl games but is playing in the Holiday Bowl for the first time. Nebraska is 1-2 in the Holiday Bowl and 25-25 overall. The Cornhuskers lost to a Steve Sarkisian-coached Washington team, 19-7, in the 2010 Holiday Bowl. Sarkisian will be trying for his ninth win in his first season as USC’s head coach. Staff writer Gary Klein examines the game’s story lines and matchups:
At the pass
USC quarterback Cody Kessler has passed for 36 touchdowns, with four interceptions. He is completing 71% of his passes and ranks second nationally in completion percentage, third in passing efficiency.
Kessler is coming off a record-setting performance in the Trojans’ 49-14 rout of Notre Dame. He passed for six touchdowns, the most in a game against the Fighting Irish.
Nebraska has given up only 12 touchdown passes. Safety Nate Gerry has five interceptions.
Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. is a dual threat. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound junior has passed for 19 touchdowns, with 11 interceptions. He is completing 51% of his passes.
Armstrong has rushed for 664 yards and five touchdowns.
USC has given up 17 touchdown passes.
On the run
Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah has rushed for 1,523 yards and 18 touchdowns. The senior ranks 12th nationally with 126.9 yards rushing per game. He also has three touchdown receptions, and ranks fifth nationally with 166.9 all-purpose yards per game.
USC tailback Javorius Allen could be playing his final game for the Trojans. The junior has rushed for 1,337 yards and nine touchdowns. He also has 40 receptions, one for a touchdown. Allen leads Pac-12 Conference players, and ranks 13th nationally, with 148.2 all-purpose yards per game.
USC receiver Nelson Agholor has a team-best 97 receptions, 11 for touchdowns.
Junior George Farmer emerged with two touchdown catches against Notre Dame, including one on a career-long 48-yard reception. JuJu Smith has five touchdown catches, Farmer and Darreus Rogers four and tight end Bryce Dixon three.
Nebraska’s Jordan Westerkamp and Kenny Bell are Armstrong’s main targets. Westerkamp has 41 catches, four for touchdowns, and averages 16.2 yards per reception. Bell has 40 receptions, five for touchdowns, and averages 17.9 yards per catch.
USC and Nebraska each has a defensive lineman who is expected to be an early pick in the NFL draft.
Trojans end Leonard Williams, who has played on the edge and also inside, was selected to several All-American teams. The 6-5, 300-pound junior has 8 1/2 tackles for losses, including six sacks.
Nebraska junior Randy Gregory, a 6-6, 240-pound end, has 10 tackles for losses, including seven sacks.
Nebraska freshman De’Mornay Pierson-El has scored three touchdowns on punt returns and averages 17.8 yards per return. He is tied with Utah’s Kaelin Clay for the most returns for touchdowns.
Agholor has returned two punts for touchdowns for USC.
Trojans kicker Andre Heidari has made eight of 10 field-goal attempts. Nebraska’s Drew Brown has made 12 of 19.
USC is 3-0-1 against the Cornhuskers.
In 2007, top-ranked USC defeated the No. 14 Cornhuskers, 49-31, at Lincoln, Neb. The year before, the fourth-ranked Trojans defeated Nebraska, 28-10, at the Coliseum. In 1969, fifth-ranked USC opened the season with a 31-21 victory at Nebraska.
In the second game of the 1970 season, third-ranked USC and the Cornhuskers tied, 21-21. Nebraska finished 11-0-1 and was ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press media poll.