Now that Colorado football fans know who the coach of their beloved program will be next season, they can sit back and relax today at Folsom Field and watch the Buffs complete another losing season against rival Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers bring one of the nation`s nastiest defenses to town to face one of the nation`s most inconsistent and penalty-prone offenses. For the Big Red, it amounts to a glorified scrimmage or tune-up for their trip to the Big 12 Conference championship game next week in Arlington, Texas, against the Texas Longhorns.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini promised this week that he and his program will not overlook Dan Hawkins` sputtering Buffs. Nothing says rivalry quite like that.
Perhaps the only mystery yet to be unveiled today is what the reaction of the Colorado fan base will be to the announced decision Thursday to retain Hawkins and his staff for one more year. Will there be more red in the building today than the usual 6,000-7,000 Nebraska faithful who attend games in the series in Boulder?
It will be the final the home game for 18 CU seniors, including the final group of players with ties to former CU coach Gary Barnett. Buff stalwarts such as Cha`pelle Brown, Riar Geer, Jeff Smart, Ben Burney, Matt DiLallo, Jake Behrens, Patrick Devenny and Marcus Burton will don the gold helmets and run behind Ralphie one final time.
While there isn`t much on the line today for the Cornhuskers, other than improving their overall record and possible bowl positioning, the Buffs have been waiting for another crack at their rival since last season ended in bitter defeat in Lincoln, Neb.
The Buffs had their rivals on the ropes and a bowl game in their grasp with 1 minute, 50 seconds remaining. Nebraska faced a fourth-down-and-25 situation at the CU 40-yard line. Pelini sent place-kicker Alex Henery on the field for a 57-yard field goal try that cleared the crossbar with a yard to spare. It gave the Cornhuskers a 33-31 lead and less than a minute later, Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh intercepted a Cody Hawkins pass and returned it for a touchdown.
"A win over them would be huge for us as a team," Smart said. "To really propel us into next season and to really go out on a high note as a senior."
Nebraska fired its coach following the last game played here in the series in 2007. CU won that day, 65-51, completing a season in which the Cornhuskers struggled to stop anyone. Pelini was hired to replace former coach Bill Callahan and restore the tradition of the Blackshirt defenses of the past.
Pelini, who was Nebraska`s defensive coordinator in 2003 when former coach Frank Solich was fired,has come through on that score and then some.
The Huskers are third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 10.3 points per game. Only one opponent this season has scored more than 17 points against Nebraska this season. The last three Nebraska opponents -- Kansas State, Kansas and Oklahoma -- combined to score 23 points.
It`s not good news for the Buffs, who have struggled to move the ball and score points consistently all season. The Buffs are 91st nationally in scoring, averaging 22.5 points.
"They`re probably the best defensive line in the nation and Suh is probably the best defensive lineman in the country," Hawkins said Wednesday night on his radio show, noting that he has been getting therapy in regard the Huskers refusal to give up points.
The Colorado defense will have to match the Cornhuskers by not allowing Nebraska to grab a big early lead. Nebraska has used two quarterback this season in Zac Lee and Cody Green. Hawkins said he expects to see Lee as the Nebraska starter.
CU cornerback Jimmy Smith has enjoyed his last two meetings with Nebraska. Last season he plucked the ball out the air on a fake field goal attempt and returned it for a touchdown. Two years ago, he returned an interception for a score.
"I look forward to it because it`s a rivalry game and another game to showcase on television," he said. "It`s not like, 'Oh, I`ve got to make a play.` I`m not going to sit here and put all that pressure on me."
One bright spot for the Buffs of late has been the emergence of sophomore wide receiver Markques Simas, who has caught 25 passes in the last three games for 355 yards. The Buffs faced a similarly stout defensive front last week at Oklahoma State and began the game by throwing the ball on the first 13 offensive plays.
A similar game plan could be in the works today.
CU quarterback Tyler Hansen was injured last week against the Cowboys, straining the thumb on his throwing hand. He has practiced with the injury all week, saying it is painful only when he has to put touch on his passes. If Hansen struggles with the thumb today, it`s possible Dan Hawkins could turn to his son, Cody, once again in relief.
Cody Hawkins, who began this season as the Buffs` starter, came into last week`s game and led a touchdown drive.