LINCOLN, NEB. (AP) - Colorado and Nebraska will meet one more time as members of the Big 12 before they head off to different leagues and the game is setting up like one of those day-after-Thanksgiving throwdowns of yesteryear.
There’s a lot at stake for both teams Friday: No. 16 Nebraska (9-2, 5-2 Big 12) can win the Big 12 North and Colorado (5-6, 2-5) can become bowl eligible.
Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini is coming out of a tumultuous week in which he apologized for his over-the-top sideline rants against officials in last week’s loss at Texas A&M and squelched rumors that quarterback Taylor Martinez had quit the team after being on the bad end of the one of the tongue-lashings.
Buffaloes interim coach Brian Cabral, who has won two straight since taking over for the fired Dan Hawkins, can also strengthen his bid for the permanent job with an upset in Lincoln.
Oh, and the Colorado-Nebraska rivalry has been rekindled just in time for it to end again.
Bill McCartney, who hired Cabral as an assistant 22 years ago, designated the Huskers as Colorado’s chief rival in the 1980s. McCartney went so far as to ban people from wearing red in or around the Colorado football facilities when he was in charge. The edict softened a bit under following coaches.
But Cabral, in a nod to McCartney, publicly chastised a reporter for wearing red to a news conference this week. Cabral compared beating Nebraska in Lincoln to his winning a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears in 1985 and winning a share of the 1990 national championship as a Colorado assistant.
“He put Nebraska back in red down in the team room,” defensive end Josh Hartigan said. “He’s really put an emphasis on coming out and beating those guys for the last time.”
Nebraska and Colorado have met every year since 1948, and eight of the past 14 games have been decided by 10 or fewer points.
The Huskers head to the Big Ten next year and the Buffs to the Pac-12. Future meetings will be nonconference or bowl games.
“It’s unfortunate that it has to end,” Cabral said. “It’s in the hearts of so many former players and so many people through the years. What this game means, what the feelings and emotions are, and everything that comes with this game, how do you re-create that? That’s going to be a big challenge.”
No one disputes that the rivalry was contrived by McCartney when he took over at Colorado in 1982. As a motivational ploy, he picked the wildly successful scarlet-and-cream team to the east as the ultimate target for his downtrodden program.
The media and fans bought in, and things turned nasty. A Denver sports columnist would raise the hackles of Nebraskans with his barbs stereotyping them as hicks. Huskers fans complained of rude treatment when they visited Boulder.
McCartney did little to discourage the feud, hoping to ride the momentum to a season-making win over Nebraska. The Buffs got it in 1986 after failing to beat Nebraska since 1967.
The series peaked when Colorado won Big Eight titles in 1989-90, won a share of the national championship and played Nebraska to a 19-19 tie in 1991. Ten years later, Nebraska’s 62-36 loss in Boulder started a decline that Pelini has helped turnaround.
When the Big Eight was folded into the Big 12 in 1996, Colorado replaced Oklahoma as Nebraska’s annual Thanksgiving week opponent. That move, to Cabral and the rest of the Buffs’ family, showed the rivalry had arrived.
“He mentioned something about us taking the tradition from Oklahoma-Nebraska and we made it Colorado-Nebraska,” running back Rodney Stewart said. “Listening to him speak (about it) was one of the most powerful speeches I’ve heard so far.”
Colorado has beaten Iowa State and Kansas State the past two weeks, scoring a combined 78 points against two of the Big 12’s worst defenses.
“They are a rejuvenated team,” Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick said. “I don’t know what goes on in their camp, but you definitely saw a bit more juice on the film. It definitely is a different team than what we saw early in the year.”
This will be the first time CU has gone on the road since its monumental fourth-quarter collapse at Kansas on Nov. 6, when the Buffs allowed 35 fourth-quarter points in a 52-45 loss that was the last game for Hawkins. Colorado has lost 16 straight on the road and 12 in a row in league play.
Nebraska squandered a chance to lock up the North title last week, getting called for 16 penalties for 145 yards in the 9-6 loss at Texas A&M.
Martinez missed all but about 10 minutes of the first half after aggravating his right ankle sprain, and he also injured his left foot. He didn’t practice early in the week, and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said Cody Green would start if Martinez can’t play.
The Huskers have scored just two touchdowns in the last nine quarters, with penalties a major factor. They were flagged at least once during nine of 11 possessions against Texas A&M.
Pelini also will be trying to clean up his act. He said he wouldn’t let his temper and displeasure with officials get the best of him again and his boss, athletic director Tom Osborne, said he took him at his word.