1) What should USC expect with long-time assistant Barney Cotton leading the charge for the Holiday Bowl?
That's a great question.
It's been a very long month since the firing of Bo Pelini, and these kids are believing that it's one final sendoff for Bo. Mike Riley will have his time and that has begun, but this will close out the Bo Pelini Era in Lincoln. A fair amount of Bo's staff is pretty much coaching without a job next year (only one coach, defensive backs coach Charlton Warren will be retained by Riley) and this could be considered a resume builder for a lot of these guys.
2) Ameer Abdullah has had a fair share of success but has also struggled against some of the better run defenses on the schedule. How will Nebraska try to get him involved early in the game against the best rush defense in the Pac-12?
Ameer Abdullah is about as healthy as he's been all year heading into this game. A twinged knee vs. Purdue kind of derailed his season, but he's gotten better the last two games against Minnesota and Iowa. The offensive line is a dented up bunch, as Nebraska lost two of its top centers vs. Iowa.
Abdullah has the speed to get around the edge, but you'll be surprised how much he can get between the tackles for a back with his body size. I think Nebraska will see how well they match up with the USC defensive line early, especially in zone read/option looks where Abdullah can hit the edge pretty crisply.
3) Tommy Armstrong Jr. has proven to be a versatile dual-threat option. Given that USC struggles to defend these types of athletes, will Nebraska try to get him moving with his legs outside the pocket?
Tommy Armstrong Jr. is a much better runner than folks give him credit for outside the program. While he isn't Taylor Martinez with his straight-line speed, he's good enough to get yards and keep the play alive. His passing game, however, is not that great. Armstrong has two passes in his bag: the screen/quick hit to the outside, and the 9 route. To open up the run, look for TA to get the ball to Jordan Westerkamp and De'Mornay Pierson-El on the outsides, as well as Abdullah out of the backfield on wheel routes and checkdowns.
4) Given that many have called USC "Linebacker U" we can certainly respect the proclaimed title of "Kicker U" for Nebraska. Curious though, what are your thoughts on freshman Drew Brown?
Drew Brown has been alright, although he's kicked it like a freshman with a 63% conversion rate. His brother is former Husker great and NFL kicker Chris Brown, so we'll see how he reacts. Punting wise, Sam Foltz has been better this season, although he'll be remembered for the ButtPunt more than anything this year.
The biggest threat on special teams is Pierson-El, who is the best punt returner in college football as a true freshman this year. He turned the Michigan State and Iowa games around on his own. That being said, Pelini had taken on the special teams role by himself this year. DPE (as we call him) hasn't ran a game with Ross Els, who is the linebackers/special teams coach only calling things.
5) Will Nebraska sell its total allotment in tickets for the game, and more importantly, do Cornhuskers fans consider this a disappointing season or just another bump in the road?
Honestly? More than likely not. The Nebraska Southern Cal gang will fill up pretty well but other than that, most folks want this season over. They definitely want a win, but they also want the season over and to start over.
6) What's the latest on Randy Gregory, and who else can Nebraska rely upon to get pressure after Cody Kessler?
Randy Gregory wasn't even dressing up to this week, but it sounds like that he'll go for the game. He's been a guy who has lived up to the top 10 NFL Draft billing that he'll get. Pelini had him coming out of a stance up the A gap on third down passing situations. He's not the greatest run defender you'll see and that's probably the one issue with his game that's exposable.
As far as others on the D, Maliek Collins is a run stuffing defensive tackle that has had a great season, and Vincent Valentine plays next to him and has come on the last few games. Greg McMullen plays opposite Gregory and has done well at times.
Linebacking has been the biggest issue on the D the last couple of years, and it looks like the biggest weakness for the D in this game. David Santos and Trevor Roach, who are third and fifth in tackles, don't look like they are going to play. Zaire Anderson will be the best linebacker on the field, but it's overall a big issue.
My worry is Javorius Allen coming out of the backfield, along with tight end coverage issues. Nebraska did well against Maxx Williams in the Minnesota game, but it ended up costing them in run defense big time.
7) Kenny Bell holds many of your receiving records. Will he play like the best receiver on the field Saturday? Specifically, what makes his game so special?
For Nebraska, Kenny Bell will have to be the best wide receiver on the field for the Huskers to win. He has the records, but he also tends to shrink and be invisible when the big games come around. He got a concussion on his one catch early vs. Minnesota, two catches for only 14 yards vs Wisconsin, and one catch in the near upset from McNeese State. The bigger that Bell and Westerkamp perform, the better the offense comes. If the offense is all Abdullah, then that's a issue.
8) Your prediction, through a fun one-liner, about the Holiday Bowl?
"BOLD STRATEGY ON THIS BOWL GAME, COTTON. LETS SEE HOW IT PLAYS OUT."
I can't see Nebraska's defense, with it's playcaller being gone (Bo Pelini) and linebacker issues keeping the SoCal offense at bay. Nebraska's offense will score, but Tommy Armstrong Jr. will have to pass to score against USC. Tommy is good, but he's not that good yet. Plus, mentally it's all for Bo for this game, and that can hurt when you get behind. A big Trojan crowd and one of the best teams Nebraska has played... I just can't see Nebraska winning. I said that about Iowa, and they surprised me. Lets see if that reverse psychology works again.