If the scheduled matchup between Scott Frost’s Nebraska Cornhuskers team and the Akron Zips didn’t get you hyped about the season, maybe a clash with the Colorado Buffaloes will. The Huskers’ opener was washed out, as weather forced the Big Red to call off a football game for the first time since 1943. This week, not only will the excitement for Frost’s first game reignite, but so will some good old-fashioned hatred with Colorado’s return to Lincoln.
Much like when the Miami Hurricanes visited in 2014, pleasantries may be exchanged by fans outside of the stadium — and even that may be a stretch in this case — but Colorado is a team that will likely booed early and often at Memorial Stadium. The Huskers hold a 49-18-2 series lead, with the last meeting occurring in 2010. That year, then-No. 16 Nebraska bested the Buffaloes 45-17, giving them a three-game win streak over their now-former conference foes.
Mike MacIntyre enters his sixth season with Colorado sporting a 26-38 record following the Buffaloes’ recent win over Colorado State. His teams have finished better than dead last in the Pac-12 South on only one occasion. In 2016, the Buffaloes represented the division in the conference’s championship game, losing to No. 4 Washington 41-10 before dropping an Alamo Bowl appearance to No. 13 Oklahoma State 38-8.
With not much to talk about regarding Nebraska’s Saturday activities besides a revamped Tunnel Walk and festivities in the rain that included a somewhat modest streaker — boxer shorts were still part of the ensemble — let’s address the Huskers’ second try at a 2018 season opener, and let's hope that this one goes on as scheduled.
Colorado at Nebraska
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 8 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Nebraska -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez vs. the world
If there’s one person who was the most impacted by the lack of a game last Saturday, it’s probably Martinez. It would’ve been amazingly beneficial for him to see live action and get used to both success and adversity on the field. “I felt that I was prepared and ready to go regardless. I was excited. I wasn’t nervous,” Martinez said during Monday’s press conference.
2. Colorado quarterback Steven Montez vs. an inexperienced Nebraska defense
Montez looked fantastic against Colorado State's defense — one that, to be fair, has given up an average of 44 points per game (110th in the nation). Not only was he nearly flawless through the air, going 22-for-25 while throwing for 338 yards and four touchdowns against a lone interception, but he also contributed 34 yards and a score on the ground.
That athleticism will be key to giving Colorado an edge heading into Saturday, as this game may turn into a track meet. With the aid of running backs Travon McMillian, Kyle Evans and Beau Bisharat, the Buffaloes have a wealth of legitimate running threats in addition to Montez.
Should Colorado choose to challenge Nebraska’s coverage skills, Laviska Shenault Jr. and K.D. Nixon are both up to the challenge, as they combined for 323 yards and two touchdowns on 17 receptions versus the Rams.
It’s extremely likely that Colorado takes advantage of a few Nebraska miscues, which will result in points. The over as of this writing sits at 66.5 points. I’m not about to encourage you to lose your child’s college fund, but that’s a tempting take.
3. Nebraska’s tempo vs. Colorado’s game experience
Yes, the fact that the Buffaloes have actually played against a team wearing opposite colors is a major plus. Every member of the Colorado roster who played got that much more experience in live action, while the Huskers have been beating up on each other. It doesn’t help the Nebraska effort that the Buffaloes have both studied film from Frost’s time at UCF and run some similar schemes on both offense and defense.
That said, there’s one thing that Colorado cannot replicate and that’s the Huskers’ overall offensive speed. The pace that Nebraska’s new staff has implemented hasn’t gone away, nor have the Huskers stopped practicing it.
While Colorado State’s offensive successes against the Buffaloes were few and far between, Colorado did show gaps where an up-tempo offense with quick and agile skill players could make a huge difference. Whether taking out frustrations on the Rams will do them many favors down the road remains to be seen.
Well, Nebraska didn’t play last week, and Colorado beat a team that at least looks like it’ll field one of the worst defenses in the country. While some of Frost’s tendencies are available for defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot to attempt to exploit, his track record isn’t the best. When Eliot served in the same role at Kentucky under Mark Stoops, the Wildcats surrendered an average of over 30 points per game. His numbers didn’t improve much last season, as the Buffaloes held the opposition to an average of 28 points per contest.
Colorado has a respectable play-caller in Darrin Chiaverini, and as we’ve discussed, he has the weapons to do damage. This game likely comes down to whether or not the Buffaloes can keep up with the Nebraska offense and cause the Big Red defense to make more than its fair share of mistakes.
Prediction: Nebraska 45, Colorado 31
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces), and keep up with the Quick N Dirty podcasts on his Patreon page.
(Top photo by Joe Flanagan, courtesy of Brandon Cavanaugh)