USC, Nebraska square off in Holiday Bowl

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SAN DIEGO — A crowd in the mid-to-high 50 thousands is expected for Saturday’s 37th annual Holiday Bowl game at Qualcomm Stadium, the second to be played on a Saturday and the first to include USC, according to executive director Bruce Binkowski.

Playing on a Saturday has advantages for both fans and the San Diego Bowl Game Association, which conducts the game, Binkowski said.

The stadium’s parking lot usually opens four hours before the opening kickoff, but will open at 11 a.m. Saturday, six hours before the 5 p.m. opening kickoff to accommodate fans driving from Los Angeles for the Trojans’ first game in San Diego since 1992, Binkowski said.

The attendance will also receive a boost from playing on Saturday because it is the traditional day for college football, Binkowski said.

Scheduling the game on a Saturday is a result of “the way the calendar fell and the way ESPN had openings,” Binkowski said.

The game will return to mid-week in the future, Binkowski said.

The planned 5 p.m. opening kickoff means the entire game will be played in prime time in the Eastern and Central time zones, where the bulk of the nation’s population lives, which is expected to mean larger television viewership for ESPN. The game was scheduled to begin at 7:15 p.m. last year and 6:45 p.m. in 2012.

The other time the Holiday Bowl was played on a Saturday was 1990.

The expected attendance in the mid-to-high 50 thousands “would be excellent for us,” Binkowski said.

The announced attendance for the 2013 game between Arizona State and Texas Tech was 52,930, and 55,507 for the 2012 game between UCLA and Baylor, the first to include a team from Los Angeles.

USC sold all 7,000 tickets in its allotment, with its fans buying another 3,000 tickets through the university, Binkowski said. Its opponent, Nebraska, sold all 6,000 tickets it was allotted, Binkowski said.

The Cornhuskers will be the first Big Ten team to play in the game since 1994. The San Diego Bowl Game Association announced in June 2013 that it had signed a six-year agreement with the Big Ten Conference to supply a team beginning with the 2014 game, replacing the Big 12, which had annually supplied
a team since 1995.

“We had a great relationship with the Big 12, but we felt it was time for a change,” Binkowski said. “We just thought it was time for a fresh look.”

One reason for the change — “the Big Ten has a lot of alumni in Southern California,” Binkowski said.

Nebraska played in the Holiday Bowl three times while it was a member of the Big 12 Conference, most recently in 2010.

The game is a matchup of two teams with a disproportionate amount of close losses. The Cornhuskers’ 9-3 record includes four- and five-point losses.

The 8-4 Trojans lost three games by six or fewer points and twice allowed winning touchdowns with eight seconds or less to play.

The teams have one common opponent, Fresno State, which USC defeated 52-13 and Nebraska defeated 55-19.

The Cornhuskers will be playing under interim coach Barney Cotton, who was appointed to the position Nov. 30 following the firing of Bo Pelini. Cotton spent the regular season as Nebraska’s associate head coach, run game coordinator and tight ends/offensive line coach.

Mike Riley, who coached the San Diego Chargers from 1999-2001, was appointed as Nebraska’s coach on Dec. 4. He is expected to watch the game from a suite in Qualcomm Stadium.

The ESPN Football Power Index gives USC a 68.5 percent chance of winning. The index ranks teams in the order in which they are most likely to defeat an average Football Bowl Subdivision team on a neutral field. The Trojans are 13th among the 128 FBS teams and the Cornhuskers 31st.