Foster Farms Bowl: UCLA Bruins vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Date: Dec. 26, 9:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
Location: Santa Clara, California | Levi's Stadium
Best moment: Unfortunately for the Bruins, their best moment of the year came early in the season against a team that later turned out to be a below-average Pac-12 team. UCLA went on the road and, with ESPN’s College GameDay in town, crushed then-No. 9 Arizona, 56-30. Behind a strong rushing game, the Bruins piled up 42 first-half points. The win propelled UCLA to a No. 7 ranking in the AP poll, but it dropped its next two games.
Lowest moment: For the second straight year, UCLA had a chance to lock up the Pac-12 South title with a win in its last regular-season game, but, again, it failed. This time might have stung even worse considering it came to crosstown rival USC, 40-21, and resulted in a division title for the Trojans. USC dominated the second half and asserted its physicality with 10 straight rushing plays on its final touchdown drive.
Key player: RB Paul Perkins. Quarterback Josh Rosen gets all the publicity and defensive tackle Kenny Clark is the team’s most talented player, but Perkins’ role in the offense is essential and the bowl game might be his last at UCLA. Perkins, who led the conference in rushing last year and has run for 1,275 yards this year, will decide when the season is over whether he will declare for the NFL draft.
Motivation level: It’s hard to say a team won’t be motivated, but after missing the Pac-12 title game -- and an opportunity to play for a Rose Bowl berth -- for the second straight year, the obvious sources of motivation going into this game aren’t there.
-- Kyle Bonagura
Best moment: Is there any doubt, really? Brandon Reilly’s 27-yard catch from Tommy Armstrong Jr. with 17 seconds to play beat No. 8 Michigan State, 39-38, on Nov. 7. Celebration ensued at Memorial Stadium, where the Cornhuskers hadn’t defeated a top-10 foe since 2011, also against MSU.
Lowest moment: Armstrong giveth and Armstrong taketh away. While the Halloween loss to Purdue was downright frightening, no moment was worse than the quarterback’s decision to throw a third-and-7 pass with 61 seconds left as Nebraska led 13-7 at Illinois. The Illini, with no timeouts, got an extra 35-40 seconds for their final drive -- and used nearly all of it to march 72 yards for the winning TD.
Key player: Tight end Cethan Carter emerged late in the season as a weapon, catching eight passes for 133 yards against Rutgers and Iowa. Athletic and versatile, he needs to have more touches. A solid end to his junior season may propel Carter toward a fantastic finish to his career in 2016.
Motivation level: It’s questionable. The Nebraska seniors, no doubt, want to go out with a victory, and they appear to have remained a positive force through difficult times. But the Huskers are assured to finish with a losing record for the third time since 1962. The coaching staff needs to spend its energy on recruiting. And this program needs to turn the page.
-- Mitch Sherman