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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


History of the Holiday

Alan Walsh/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Alan Walsh
Alan Walsh/Arizona Daily Wildcat

The last time the Arizona football program reached consecutive bowl games was in 1997 and 1998, when the Wildcats played New Mexico in the Cotton Bowl and then Nebraska in — you guessed it — the Holiday Bowl.

While the 2009 edition of Arizona football won’t have a chance to repeat the 12-1 record that the 1998 squad held, it has the chance to replicate a victory over the Cornhuskers in San Diego.

For these Wildcats, that’s just fine.

“”We had a meeting before we came out (against USC) and X-Kelly (senior linebacker Xavier Kelly) said, ‘Don’t settle,'”” senior safety Cam Nelson said. “”We didn’t want to go to just any bowl, we wanted to go to the highest one possible.””

After Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli erased any hope the Wildcats (8-4, 6-3 Pacific 10 Conference) had of making the Rose Bowl this season, Arizona had two choices: sulk after a loss and take whatever bowl game came its way, or beat ASU and USC to make it to the next best thing.

The Wildcats chose the latter and now find themselves playing in the bowl game that matches the second-ranked team in the Pac-10 with the second-place Big 12 Conference team.

“”We knew we were going back to a bowl,”” offensive lineman Adam Grant said. “”People doubted us, but we knew it. But to improve and go to a better bowl, it’s huge. I just feel great for the coaches and the players. As soon as Juron (wide receiver Juron Criner) caught that ball, I was just like ‘We’re going to the Holiday Bowl!’ That’s a big deal. We’ve only done it one other time. It’s a big deal for us.””

Reaching the Pac-10’s second-best bowl game and finishing in second place in the conference is a big deal in its own right, but it’s especially big this season, considering the Wildcats were picked to finish in eighth place in the preseason Pac-10 Poll.

“”All those nay-sayers, they were there, but we believed in each other,”” Grant said. “”I know coach (Mike) Stoops was upset (about the rankings).””

Such a big bowl gives Arizona a new opportunity, a chance to go up against one of college football’s best conferences and one of its historically heralded programs.

“”The Big-12 has been dominant for so many years, and to get our shot at one of their elite programs historically and getting our shot to show what we got against other conferences will be real cool,”” senior defensive tackle Donald Horton said.

One of the biggest challenges Nebraska (9-2, 6-2 Big 12 Conference) creates is pressure from its defensive line, led by All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist Ndamukong Suh.

Suh has had a miraculous season statistically, especially considering he plays defensive tackle. The senior has recorded an astonishing 82 tackles with 12 sacks and an interception.

With those numbers and a 6-foot-4, 300-pound frame, the future top-five NFL Draft pick is an imposing player, to say the least.

“”I watched a little bit of him when I got home (from the USC game) on YouTube. The guy is an animal,”” Grant said of Suh. “”I’m kind of excited, it should be a good matchup.””

Containing him will be a key for Arizona when the two teams square off on Dec. 30, but the Wildcats seem excited, poised and ready to answer whatever challenge comes their way in the next three weeks.

And maybe they’ll celebrate a big win like they did after the USC game.

When asked how he celebrated the win over the Trojans, Nelson hesitated. “”No comment,”” he said with a smirk.

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