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Published Wednesday, November 22, 2000

NU bracing for Buff's challenge


Last modified at 6:01 a.m. on Wednesday, November 22, 2000
  

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  By Terry Douglass
The Independent

LINCOLN -- Recent history has shown that records and statistics mean little when Nebraska and Colorado meet. Cornhuskers coach Frank Solich said he thinks the same applies to this year's battle of former Big Eight Conference rivals.

"I don't think there's any secret that they make the game against Nebraska one of the biggest games of the year for them," Solich said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. "It appears that's the way it will always be. With that in mind, I'm sure they plan on playing their very best football, as do we."

Colorado has lost eight consecutive times to Nebraska since a 19-19 tie in 1991. The last four games -- all of which featured the Huskers as healthy favorites -- have been epic struggles. NU has won the past four meetings by a total of 13 points, including last year's 33-30 overtime victory at Boulder, Colo.

The series resumes Friday when Nos. 8- and 9-ranked Nebraska (8-2, 5-2 Big 12 Conference) hosts Colorado (3-7, 3-4) in an 11 a.m. kickoff at Memorial Stadium. The game will be televised nationally by ABC.

Since Gary Barnett became Colorado's head coach prior to the 1999 season, Nebraska has once again become a red-letter date on the Buffaloes' schedule. Barnett, who left Northwestern for the CU job, was an assistant under former Colorado coach Bill McCartney.

McCartney made no secret of the fact that his program's hated rival was Nebraska.

"It's Nebraska week and that's all you have to say around here," said Barnett, whose team comes to Lincoln as a 24-point underdog. "It's a big game for the state, it's big game for our team and a big game for the program."

Solich said Colorado is a very dangerous football team that is capable of beating anyone. The Buffs proved that back on Oct. 7 when they traveled to College Station, Texas, and knocked off a Texas A&M team -- well known for being very difficult to beat on its home field -- by a score of 26-19.

"Their win at Texas A&M was not a fluke," Solich said. "That was a legitimate win and you're talking about a Texas A&M team that at that time and at this time is playing excellent football and people around the country recognize the fact that they are a very good football team.

"For Colorado to go there and beat them was no small feat. They have capabilities of getting it done at a very high level and at times, they have shown that."

Solich said Colorado's 3-7 record is deceiving in that the Buffs have lost some very close games, suffered several key injuries and played one of the most difficult schedules in the country.

Colorado began the year 0-3, losing non-conference games to Colorado State, at Southern California and against Washington by a combined margin of 10 points. The Buffs then had to face Kansas State, Texas A&M and Texas to open the Big 12 Conference season.

"They do not have the record that I know they had intended to have coming into this ballgame," Solich said. "It's been somewhat of a disappointing season for them, but that is probably because of a combination of reasons."

Colorado enters the Nebraska game ranked 70th nationally in total offense (353.1 yards per game) and 99th in total defense (420.8 yards per game). While Solich said that he and his assistant coaches are aware of where Colorado is ranked statistically, they don't put much stock in the raw numbers.

"What we really look at is what we see when we turn the film on," Solich said. "What we see is guys running around and guys that have athletic ability. We have seen things happen to their football team that you would categorize as just being unfortunate."

Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch said it would be a mistake to say Colorado isn't a talented football team.

"They've been a team that's been in a lot of close games that have come down right to the wire," Crouch said. "I know from playing them the last two years, that's kind of how it's gone with us."

The 4-year string of spandex-tight contests between Nebraska and Colorado started in 1996 when the Huskers pulled out a 17-12 win at Lincoln. In 1997, the Buffs rallied to scare NU's national championship team, but eventually lost 27-24 at Boulder. In '98, Nebraska managed a 16-14 win at home without scoring an offensive touchdown.

And none of the Huskers that played have forgotten what happened last year in Boulder. Trailing 27-3 at the start of the fourth quarter, Colorado put together a dizzying rally to tie the game at 27-27 with 2:59 to play. The Buffs had a chance to win in the closing seconds but Jeremy Aldrich -- the most accurate place-kicker in CU history -- just barely missed a 34-yard field goal attempt.

Nebraska went on to win the game in overtime, but Colorado effectively knocked the Huskers out of the national championship hunt. The close margin of victory helped prevent NU from overtaking Virginia Tech in the final Bowl Championship Series standings.

After last year's experience, Nebraska I-back Dan Alexander said that he and his teammates know they can't afford to let up against Colorado.

"I remember the character of Colorado's team," Alexander said. "I remember them being able to come back from a big deficit and playing really hard. It seems like they're always a better team against us than their record indicates."

Nebraska senior defensive tackle Loran Kaiser expects more of the same on Friday.

"I think they're going to come out and play us as hard as they've played anybody this year because they have nothing to lose," Kaiser said. "They don't get to go to a bowl game, so as soon as that game is over -- no matter if they win or lose -- they've got to check in their pads when they get back.

"I think they're going to be going all out with everything they've got. This is going to be like their bowl game, pretty much."



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