Call it a rivalry, a blood feud or simply a nasty bit of business. No matter how you frame it, the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Colorado Buffaloes meet for the 71st time this Saturday and it'll be far from friendly. While the hatred now baked into the series wasn't injected until 1988 under then-Colorado head coach Bill McCartney, it stuck and the fan bases take delight in each other's misery.
Take last year, for example, when Colorado spoiled Scott Frost's first game as Nebraska's head coach with a 33-28 victory in Lincoln. Keep in mind that Frost is far from unfamiliar with the Buffaloes. He led Nebraska to 17-12 and 27-24 victories over Ralphie's boys in 1996 and '97 respectively as the Huskers' quarterback.
Frost has also tangled with Colorado as a member of the Oregon Ducks' coaching staff. During his time in Eugene, he was never on the losing end of a meeting between the two schools.
After the firing of Mike MacIntyre, Mel Tucker has taken over the reins in Boulder. Bringing SEC know-how following stints at Alabama and Georgia, Tucker has clearly seen how winning programs operate. So far, so good under his watch as Colorado knocked off in-state rival Colorado State 52-31 this past week.
The series history is tilted heavily in Nebraska's favor with the Huskers owning a 49-19-2 edge. Still, Colorado claims scoreboard and the Big Red is aching to do the same this year.
Nebraska at Colorado
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 7 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Nebraska -3.5
When Nebraska Has the Ball
Whatever caused Adrian Martinez to make poor decisions versus South Alabama won't cut it against a more talented Colorado squad. If he's able to bounce back, the combination of his abilities with that of Maurice Washington, JD Spielman, Wan'Dale Robinson and others has the potential to slice and dice the Buffaloes' defense.
That's only half the battle, though. Significant pressure to do so also lies on an offensive line that struggled against the Jaguars' defensive front. It didn't help that Nebraska is breaking in two new starters at both center (Cameron Jurgens) and guard (Trent Hixson).
With Jurgens playing in his second ever game as an offensive lineman and at its most important position, he can't afford to make the same rushed errors he did versus South Alabama.
Watch for Colorado linebackers Nate Landman and Jonathan Van Diest to test the Huskers' offensive interior and work to stymie Nebraska's inside run game as the Jaguars did. Defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson will try and disrupt the proceedings at the line of scrimmage while safety Mikial Onu leads the secondary’s charge.
When Colorado Has the Ball
Much like Nebraska, the Buffaloes should do the most damage when spread out. Naturally, Steven Montez will be looking to get Laviska Shenault Jr. in space which South Alabama managed to do several times against the Huskers. Fellow wide receivers K.D. Nixon and Tony Brown give Montez several options.
Tight end Brady Russell can make hay underneath on drag routes as his quarterback works to confuse the Blackshirt linebacking corps. Alex Fontenot's tremendous day versus Colorado State proves that Nebraska can't rely on simply challenging Montez to pass.
If the Huskers are going to slow Colorado down, they absolutely have to get into the Buffalo quarterback's head early and often. He had some difficulty throwing off his back foot when under pressure last week against the Rams. Expect Big Red defensive coordinator Erik Chinander to repeatedly challenge the Colorado offensive front.
Cam Taylor-Britt burst onto the scene last week (five tackles, two TFL, one sack, one forced fumble, and an interception) and will be looking for an encore performance along with Centennial State product Eric Lee (two interceptions, one touchdown versus South Alabama).
Nebraska's offense last week was as imaginative as a blank canvas. It's understandable that Frost wanted to show as little as possible for the Buffaloes to properly scheme against. In the process, the Huskers' week one win was a bit too close for comfort. That said, Frost has all the tools necessary to scorch Tucker's first-year defense.
Still, one can't just shrug off the talent Colorado boasts on offense. Nebraska showed enough holes last week that the Buffaloes can exploit, especially with a dynamite receiving corps. Add a reliable running back to keep the Blackshirts honest and the foundation for a shootout is laid.
On paper, anything Colorado can do, Nebraska can do better. Whether or not the Big Red follows through comes down to execution.