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Foster Farms Bowl would be happy to have 5-7 Husker team
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Foster Farms Bowl would be happy to have 5-7 Husker team

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Levi's Stadium Football

Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., is home to the 49ers and the Foster Farms Bowl.

It carried a different name in 2006. The Emerald Bowl, they called it then. Played at AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. That's where Bobby Bowden and his Florida State team showed up with a 6-6 record to play 7-5 UCLA.

Not exactly flattering records. But Gary Cavalli remembers that the bowl had a sellout crowd of 40,331 to watch the in-state Bruins and the Seminoles.

There's good reason that game came up. Cavalli, executive director of the Foster Farms Bowl, had it in mind as he talked about the very real possibility of a 5-7 Nebraska team playing in his Dec. 26 bowl game in Santa Clara, California.

"I don't think people are as focused on the team record as the media is," Cavalli said. "I certainly understand all the arguments about 5-7 and maybe there's too many bowl games. But if there was ever a team that you could make a strong case for that would be worthy of playing in a bowl game, it would be this one."

The Huskers will have to wait until Sunday to find out what bowl they will play in. Other options seem to be the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit and the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas. The Pinstripe Bowl in New York City is worth a mention, though six-win Indiana could be the best pick there.

You never know for sure how the pieces will fall in the final weekend of the season, that's for sure.

"It's a crazy time in the bowl business," Cavalli said. "These last three, four, five days before Selection Sunday, we're all on the phone 24/7 … talking to conference commissioners about bowl-selection procedures and eligibility questions from our standpoint and theirs. And then we talk to athletic directors about what bowls they're interested in. Would they be interested in coming to our bowl and vice versa? Sometimes we even get a call from a coach giving a pitch for his team."

As much as anything, bowl executives are trying to figure out what other bowls ahead of them in the pecking order are going to do.

It can be a scramble, although more projections of late seem to be connecting Nebraska to the Foster Farms Bowl, which would offer a Pac-12 opponent. UCLA, Washington State, Utah and USC are candidates. UCLA, which is 8-4, is especially worth highlighting, with Cavalli telling the Orange County Register this week he's "very favorably inclined" to picking the Bruins.

As for why Nebraska could end up there?

If the Big Ten gets three teams into the New Year's Six bowls, which most are assuming with Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State sitting in prime position, the Foster Farms Bowl "would be the one that gets the 5-7 team in that scenario," Cavalli said.

Nebraska isn't the only 5-7 Big Ten team perhaps on the brink of a bowl bid. Minnesota and Illinois are sitting on that same fence. But the Huskers are first up because of having the highest Academic Progress Rate among five-win teams. Beyond that, Nebraska's name and fan following make the program as enticing as a 5-7 team can be.

Cavalli said Penn State, Nebraska and Indiana remain the Big Ten teams still "realistically" on the table for his bowl.

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He has kept a close eye on the Huskers all season, "living and dying with them" during their last-second losses. "Honestly, we're excited about the possibility of having Nebraska come to our game."

It's a bowl game in its 14th year, though only second with the Foster Farms name. It started out as the San Francisco Bowl for two years, then was known as the Emerald Bowl for six, then the Fight Hunger Bowl for four. Now, Foster Farms.

It took on the new name the same year the bowl game changed venues, going from San Francisco to Santa Clara, played last year for the first time in the plush Levi's Stadium, home of the 49ers.

The stadium seats 68,000, is about 40 miles from San Francisco, and will host the Super Bowl in February.

"Of all the great advantages of playing in AT&T Park, it's still a baseball stadium," Cavalli said. "The time I think had come to make the move from a baseball stadium to a football stadium."

The bowl's first game at Levi's Stadium last year featured a 7-5 Stanford team beating Maryland 45-21 to give the Cardinal a nice boost into a successful 2015 season.

Nebraska is in no position to be picky about its bowl game, but one of the more attractive aspects of the Foster Farms Bowl to the Huskers could be the time slot. While the game is the day after Christmas, it's on a Saturday night at 8:15 (CST) on ESPN.

It's a time slot the Foster Farms bowl people actively pursued. A year ago, the game was on a Tuesday night right in the thick of Silicon Valley traffic.

But six years ago, the bowl had the same time slot it has now. On Dec. 26, a Saturday night, featuring USC and Boston College.

"It was a sellout and it was the second-highest-rated game in ESPN bowl history at that point," Cavalli said. "A 5.3 rating, which is unbelievable."

Whether Nebraska ends up in that time slot will have to officially wait for Sunday's announcement, but if it happens, Cavalli won't need an introduction to Husker coach Mike Riley.

Oregon State played in the bowl in 2007 back when it was the Emerald Bowl. Riley's team held Maryland scoreless the final three quarters for a 21-14 win.

Cavalli remembers that bowl experience, and Riley, well.

"From the beginning, when Mike was hired, we kind of said, 'Oh, man, wouldn't it be great if sometime soon we could get Mike Riley and Nebraska in our game?'"

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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