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COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Ndamukong Suh is set to take in holiday

Nation's top defensive lineman will be the focus of much attention Wednesday as Nebraska faces Arizona in bowl game.

December 30, 2009|By Gary Klein
  • Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, left, might be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.
Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, left, might be the No. 1 pick in… (Dave Weaver / Associated…)

The Rose Bowl is known for its parade, postcard setting and Granddaddy tradition.

The Sugar Bowl has Bourbon Street, the Orange Bowl South Beach.

The Holiday Bowl, played in San Diego, is known for offense and high-scoring games.

Brigham Young's Steve Young and Ty Detmer, Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders and Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli are among the players who have lighted up the Holiday Bowl scoreboard since the late 1970s.

But today, when Nebraska plays Arizona at Qualcomm Stadium, all eyes and cameras are sure to be trained on a defensive lineman: Nebraska tackle Ndamukong Suh.

The 6-foot-4, 300-pound senior is projected as the possible No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.

Suh's performance throughout the season, but especially in the Big 12 Conference championship game against Texas, propelled him to a fourth-place finish in Heisman Trophy balloting.

Suh (whose full name is pronounced En-dom-ah-ken Soo) also won the Outland Trophy and the Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik awards.

Last week, the Associated Press announced Suh as its player of the year, the first defensive player to win the award.

"I haven't played a perfect game yet so let's try and see if I can do that against Arizona," Suh told AP.

On Dec. 5, Suh played near flawlessly in Nebraska's 13-12 loss to No. 2 Texas in the Big 12 title game. Among his 12 tackles were 4 1/2 sacks, increasing his season total to 12.

Nevertheless, Arizona's offensive linemen say they are not intimidated.

"He's not some kind of Superman," Wildcats center Colin Baxter told the Arizona Daily Star this week. "He's a good player."

Suh, the son of a Jamaican mother and Cameroonian father, played high school football in Portland, Ore. He chose Nebraska over California and became the Cornhuskers' first scholarship-signee from Oregon.

As a redshirt freshman in 2006, he had the Cornhuskers' lone sack in the team's 28-10 loss to USC at the Coliseum. The next season, he had four tackles and a tackle for a loss in Nebraska's 49-31 loss to the Trojans at Lincoln, Neb.

Suh began to develop into a dominant player in 2008, after Bo Pelini replaced Bill Callahan as coach.

He enters the Holiday Bowl as the biggest star in a game that features a Nebraska program returning to prominence and an Arizona program that could be on its way there.

Pelini and sixth-year Arizona Coach Mike Stoops have much in common. Both, for example, grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, and attended Cardinal Mooney High.

Nebraska finished the regular season 9-4, mainly on the strength of a Suh-led defense that ranks ninth nationally. The Cornhuskers give up only 11.2 points per game, which ranks second behind Alabama.

Stoops led his team to the Las Vegas Bowl in 2008 and this season just missed guiding the Wildcats to their first Rose Bowl.

Arizona's 44-41 double-overtime loss to Pacific 10 Conference champion Oregon came two weeks before the Wildcats defeated USC, 21-17, at the Coliseum for Stoops' first victory over the Trojans.

Quarterback Nick Foles leads Arizona, which should be buoyed by running back Nic Grigsby's return from a shoulder injury.

Last year, Oregon won another Holiday Bowl shootout, defeating Oklahoma State, 42-31. In 2007, Texas beat Arizona State, 52-34.

But if Arizona hopes to maintain the Holiday Bowl's high-scoring tradition it must find a way to slow down Suh.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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