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"Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond to it."
- Lou Holtz, ESPN college football analyst/philosopher
One of college football's most visible college football analysts, plus a former Southeastern Conference quarterback who played for Steve Spurrier at Florida, were as shocked as anyone Saturday night when Wisconsin torched Nebraska's Blackshirts for 70 points on national TV. But both expect the Huskers to bounce back and be ultra-competitive on New Year's Day when the Huskers face Georgia in a second straight Capital One Bowl in Orlando.
Lou Holtz, who lives in Orlando, the nation's most visited city, wasn't promoting tourism when he stunned Mark May, the guy sitting next to him on Sunday night's Bowl Selection Special on ESPN.
"You look at the history of bowl games and the teams that play real good in the last game of the year and teams that play poorly ... they end up swapping it out," Holtz told a national television audience. "I promise you this, this will be a good Nebraska football team, and I will not be surprised if they end up ..."
Unfortunately, Holtz could not finish his statement because May, a fellow ESPN college football analyst who battles Holtz every weekend in a mock trial that includes a moderator wearing a judge's robe, was too incredulous to let Holtz finish his thought process.
Fortunately, Jesse Palmer, the Canadian-born former Florida quarterback who was once "The Bachelor" on the popular reality television series with the same name, sensed a roadblock and came to Holtz's immediate rescue.
Palmer Recalls Michigan State Upsetting Gators
"Coach, I agree with you completely," Palmer said, "because it happened to us in 1999. We just lost the (SEC) conference title game against Alabama, and we went into the Capital One Bowl against Michigan State, who just lost (former Spartan head coach and now Alabama coach) Nick Saban to LSU, so we thought we were going to smack 'em.
"We enjoyed the week and thought we could just roll out our helmets and show up," Palmer said. "We met a guy named (Michigan State wide receiver) Plaxico Burress and (running back) T.J. Duckett and (linebacker) Julian Peterson, and it didn't go so well for us."
The Gators lost to Michigan State, 37-34, in the final seconds of that Capital One Bowl, and it seems only appropriate to point out that the Spartans upset Florida in the same season they lost lopsided back-to-back regular-season conference road games - by 24 points at Purdue and by 30 points at Wisconsin.
As Holtz knows, the road to redemption can be every bit as surprising as it is dangerous.
The Capital One, often referred to as the "best bowl game outside the BCS", pits top-tier SEC and Big Ten teams against each other. The bowl comes down to "which school wants it more after both lost conference titles," Palmer said.
Palmer's reinforcement of Holtz's close-game theory spurred a five-man panel's debate and an acknowledgement about how the Blackshirts must rebound without Baker Steinkuhler to match the explosive potential of an NU offense that includes such mentioned weapons as Taylor Martinez, Rex Burkhead, Ameer Abdullah, Kyler Reed, Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa. All five ESPN panelists seemed to agree that those six Huskers can turn a big game with their quick feet, sticky hands and Martinez's vastly improved arm and footwork.
Holtz Holds Husker Football in High Regard
Holtz, of course, has his share of detractors. But having seen him speak a half dozen times and having spent an hour with him while jointly watching a spring Nebraska football practice decades ago, I know this: The man has nothing but the utmost respect for Nebraska football and puts the Huskers very high in the college game's overall hierarchy.
Holtz has won all six places he's been a head coach over a span of 32 years - 3 at William and Mary, 4 at North Carolina State, 7 at Arkansas, 2 at Minnesota, 10 at Notre Dame and 6 at South Carolina. His unbeaten 1988 Notre Dame team won the national championship, and his '93 Irish squad finished second.
I remember when Holtz suspended two of his season-long top offensive players (his No. 1 running back and his No. 1 receiver), making his Arkansas Razorbacks a heavy underdog to No. 2-ranked Oklahoma in the 1978 Orange Bowl. The Hogs walloped the Sooners, 31-6, strengthening one of Holtz's most repeated quotes: "Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond."
Holtz is also credited with another quote that relates well to that one. "Motivation is simple," he said. "You eliminate those who are not motivated."
Husker coaches and players can relate to another favorite Holtz quote, especially as they prepare to bounce back from Saturday night's unexpected lopsided loss. Holtz once said: "You're never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you're never as bad as they say when you lose."
Is Georgia Best BCS Team to Miss a BCS Bowl?
Upsets always have been and always will be woven into the very fabric of college football, and Nebraska faces an uphill climb to match strategy with Georgia, which just might be the best BCS team ever to miss a BCS post-season bowl game.
The Bulldogs came within four yards and a few seconds of qualifying for this season's national championship game against Notre Dame. It didn't happen, and Georgia's dream of playing the Irish in the Miami heat next month evaporated when the clock stopped at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Thousands of Bulldog fans will flock to Orlando to give their favorite team an appropriate sendoff for a memorable season that fell seconds short of playing for college football's highest honor.
Nebraska, which claims to have the greatest fans in college football, will take on Georgia after falling short of what would have been an historic accomplishment in Indianapolis - the Huskers' first league title in 13 seasons.
Lou Holtz has perspective. He ranks No. 6 among all-time college football coaching wins. He's taken six different schools to 22 post-season bowl games. He's convinced that there's no way to know which Georgia defense will show up in Orlando. Holtz is also convinced that a battered, bruised bunch of Blackshirts will change their colors with more than three weeks to plan and prepare for Georgia.
Holtz, Palmer See a Bowl Finish to the Wire
Holtz and Palmer see the Capital One Bowl going to the wire, even though Georgia was oh-so-close to a national championship appearance against Notre Dame.
Nebraska has an allotment of 12,500 tickets for a bowl game against the third highest of six SEC teams ranked in the nation's Top Ten. You might also be interested to know that Nebraska's all-time record against the SEC is 94-47-4.
The question is this: Can you see what Lou Holtz and Jesse Palmer envision? Can the Huskers respond to adversity the same way they bounced back from a lopsided loss to Ohio State nearly two months ago?
If you can see what they see this holiday season, Capital One Bowl tickets are priced at $87 and $92 and went on sale to the general public at 9 p.m. CT Sunday. Tickets also can be purchased over the phone beginning Monday morning by calling the Nebraska Athletic Ticket Office at 1-800-8-BIG RED. Please check out the Capital One Bowl Central Site.
Holtz believes Nebraska's offense has enough play-makers to beat the odds. He also believes the Blackshirts, the NCAA leaders in pass defense, can regroup, refresh and respond with a vengeance against one of the nation's best teams.
Let the record show that I don't always agree with Lou Holtz, but I think he just might be onto something here.
Pelini Excited to Play Best Available Team
"I think it's a great opportunity for us and a great challenge (to play Georgia)," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said Sunday night on a Capital One Bowl teleconference. "We're excited to be going and to play the best available opponent out there."
Georgia finished the regular season 11-2 and ranked No. 7 in the final BCS regular-season poll. Even though the Bulldogs lost, 32-28, to Alabama in the SEC final, they did not qualify for a BCS game because Florida finished No. 3 in the final standings. The BCS has a rule preventing more than two qualifiers from the same conference - a point ESPN repeatedly rejected on Sunday night's selection show.
Pelini was defensive coordinator at LSU when the Tigers played against Georgia coach Mark Richt in 2005, '06 and '07. "I know they're going to be athletic," Pelini said of the 'Dogs. "I know they're going to be physical and obviously they're going to be well-coached. I think Coach Richt does a great job. They're going to challenge us across the board in every way. They're a very talented team."
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