Lincoln, Neb. Two years after failing to qualify for a bowl, Nebraska is playing in January again.
That's the key indicator of progress under third-year coach Bill Callahan, fullback Dane Todd says.
The 22nd-ranked Cornhuskers (9-4) were scheduled to fly Tuesday to Dallas, where they'll play No. 10 Auburn (10-2) in Monday's Cotton Bowl.
"We didn't go anywhere two years ago, and now we're going to a very nice bowl game, so that's obvious progress," Todd said. "No one can deny that."
Nebraska was a regular participant in New Year's bowl games under Tom Osborne, but the Huskers haven't played in January since losing to Miami in the national championship Rose Bowl game after the 2001 season.
Callahan, who replaced the fired Frank Solich in 2004, lost four of the last five games his first season to finish 5-6 and end Nebraska's NCAA-record 35-year bowl streak.
Last year the Huskers returned to the postseason with a 32-28 Alamo Bowl victory over Michigan, giving them three straight victories to end the year.
This season Nebraska swept through the Big 12 North and was invited to the Cotton Bowl after losing, 21-7, to Oklahoma in the conference championship game.
In the era of the Bowl Championship Series, the 71-year-old Cotton is regarded as a second-tier bowl. But officials with the tradition-rich game are studying ways to get into the BCS mix when the series' contract expires in 2010.
"It used to carry a lot more significance when there were just a couple Jan. 1 games," Todd said. "Now that there are so many games Jan. 1 and later, the day itself isn't significant. But the bowl game is significant. The Cotton Bowl is a great game to go to, and we're excited about it."
The Huskers will have their fourth opportunity of the season to beat a Top 10 opponent. They haven't knocked off a team of that stature since Oklahoma in 2001. This year they lost to Southern California, Texas and Oklahoma.
Auburn tied for second place in the Southeastern Conference's West Division. The Tigers were ranked as high as No. 2 in October, and they have the nation's third-best record over the past three seasons at 32-5.