The odd couple
Bowl-hardened Huskers meet fired-up Wildcats
SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Bowl games are an annual ritual at Nebraska.
For Northwestern, a postseason appearance is a little more of a rarity with a total of three. Saturday's Alamo Bowl against Nebraska will be Northwestern's fourth.
"I've addressed that with them. It's like Babes in Toyland or kids in a candy store -- this is so atypical, so out of our routine that you just don't know what to expect," coach Randy Walker said Friday. "I think we've started to get grounded pretty well."
The matchup itself is a little out of the ordinary: Northwestern, which until the mid-1990s was the perennial understudy in the Big Ten, facing No. 9 Nebraska (9-2), which won three national titles in the '90s and hasn't had a losing season since 1961.
The No. 18 Wildcats (8-3) haven't been to a bowl game since playing Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl following the 1996 season. Northwestern won the Big Ten title in 1995 and went to the Rose Bowl, but before that had not played in a bowl since the 1948 Rose.
The Cornhuskers have played in 39 bowls, including a string of 32 straight.
"We're just playing this year. The past doesn't matter," Northwestern receiver Teddy Johnson said. "We realize we've got to start somewhere. Maybe we're starting our 32."
The Huskers also aren't looking at Northwestern's past. The Wildcats averaged 38.56 points per game this season while tying for first in the conference.
"Northwestern is a team that's on the rise. If you look at them like that then they will catch you off guard. They've been doing it to a lot of teams this year," defensive tackle Loran Kaiser said. "They come at you in a hurry."
The Huskers have admitted that the AlamoDome, where they won last year's Big 12 championship, is not where they wanted to play their bowl after spending the first two months of the season at No. 1.
Losses to Oklahoma and Kansas State quickly changed that.
"It was like a snowball rolling downhill and you can't stop it," center Dominic Raiola said. "You know it is happening but you just can't stop it."
The disappointment of not playing in a Bowl Championship Series game has faded over the last few weeks.
"Just looking at Northwestern and thinking about them, initially I didn't think they were that good. But when you look at them on film, you realize they are very physical and tough," Raiola said. "People have put points up on them but I wouldn't underestimate them."
Nebraska coach Frank Solich said the Huskers have had to adjust as their goals dropped, but have taken the past week of practice seriously.
"We have a chance to be rated we think maybe in the top five if we win this game. All that is great motivation," Solich said.
The Wildcats could also be a little disappointed this postseason. Northwestern had the inside track to the Rose Bowl, but lost to Iowa in the second-to-last game of the season. Purdue, which beat Northwestern on Oct. 14, got the Big Ten's Rose Bowl bid instead.
The Wildcats were 3-8 in Walker's first season last fall. Any players on this year's team were backups the last time Northwestern played in a bowl. And it's Walker's first trip to a bowl as a head coach. He came up just short two years ago when his Miami of Ohio team went 10-1 but did not get a bid.
"It's excitement. It's something we haven't experienced," Walker said. "None of our guys have been a guy in a bowl game before and now they're guys and they need to understand what it takes to get the distractions out of their mindset and get ready to play."