Few give the Washington Huskies much of a chance in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl -- in large part because they have already played the Nebraska Cornhuskers this year and the result didn't leave much intrigue: a 56-21 beatdown in Husky Stadium.
While the Huskies used a three-game winning streak at season's end to earn bowl eligibility, it's hardly certain they are a better team today than they were on Sept. 18, particularly with a decimated defensive line that will be missing three key players: Cameron Elisara, Talia Crichton and Semisi Tokolahi.
Obviously, the Huskies defense will have to play much better after giving up 533 yards in the first meeting. But can it? Or will the Huskies just have to outscore the Cornhuskers, which brings along the nation's No. 8 scoring defense?
So let's ask this question: Who might dramatically change this game if he stepped up with a marquee performance?
Quarterback Jake Locker: Too obvious? Well, it's the only answer. For the Huskies to have any chance, Locker needs to turn in his best work this season -- both with his arm and with his feet. And he should be plenty motivated to do so. Recall that the first meeting was widely seen -- here and other places -- as a showdown between Locker, the touted NFL prospect, and perhaps the best secondary in the nation. Well, if that was the case, the Cornhuskers won by knockout. Locker completed just 4 of 20 passes for 71 yards with two interceptions and a touchdown. He also rushed for 59 yards and a touchdown, but the performance was a public failure in a disappointing season for Locker. His NFL draft status started to apparently slide precipitously from sure-No. 1 overall to potentially the second-round. Locker, however, could redeem himself with a big evening, and that could send him into the NFL draft evaluation process with game film that might reignite flagging interest. The horrible result in the first game was hardly only Locker's fault. The Huskies played poorly in all phases. This Seattle Times article does a good job of explaining one area where Locker got little help: his receivers. But the only way the Huskies are going to produce a different result -- even if we're just talking about a competitive game -- is if Locker comes up big.