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November 25, 2010

Remembering the Big 12: Colorado

Nebraska wraps up its regular season "farewell tour" of the Big 12 Conference on Friday, and HuskersIllustrated.com continues its weekly feature remembering the history the Huskers have had over the years with their weekly Big 12 opponent.

We've picked the brain of legendary Nebraska football historian Mike Babcock of Huskers Illustrated the Magazine to come up with our memorable moments with each Big 12 opponent. Today we remember all the great moments against Colorado.

Most memorable match-ups

Huskers roll in '94: Babcock vividly remembers when Colorado came to Lincoln in 1994 ranked No. 2 in the nation, led by its version of the triplets: Kordell Stewart, Michael Westbrook and Rashaan Salaam, who won the Heisman that season. Nebraska was without star quarterback Tommie Frazier and had dropped from No. 2 in the polls to No. 3 two weeks earlier. Backup quarterback Brook Berringer came out firing and completed nine passes to tight ends Eric Alford and Mark Gilman, and Nebraska jumped out to a 24-0 lead before Colorado could get on the scoreboard late in the third quarter. The Huskers moved up to No. 1 in the AP poll on the basis of the 24-7 victory.

Brown's walk-off winner in 2000: Ranked No. 10 heading into its final regular season game of the season, Nebraska jumped out to a 14-0 lead over Colorado in the first quarter, but the Buffaloes stormed back with 17 unanswered points. The Huskers were able to reclaim the lead on a 26-yard touchdown run by Eric Crouch, but Colorado answered in the final minute with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Craig Ochs to John Minardi with 47 seconds remaining. Trailing 31-30, the Buffs elected to go for the two-point conversion, and Ochs found Javon Green in the end zone to seemingly give Colorado the victory. However, NU marched 47 yards in six plays with Crouch, who was 4-for-5 passing for 45 yards on the final drive, connecting with Bobby Newcombe for a 17-yard pass to the Colorado 12-yard line with 10 seconds to go. Kicker Josh Brown then nailed a 29-yard field goal as time expired to give Nebraska its first walk-off victory in school history, 34-32.

Henery and Suh stomp CU in '08: There may not be a more memorable 42 seconds in the history of the series than when kicker Alex Henery and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh finished off Nebraska's 40-31 win over Colorado in 2008 in the most dramatic of fashions. The Huskers trailed 31-30 with 4:35 remaining in the game, and were able to drive into CU territory behind two big runs by Roy Helu, who finished with 166 yards. With just 1:37 left on the clock, Henery came out to attempt not only a career-long 57-yard field goal, but also the longest field goal in school history. Henery drilled it, putting NU up 33-31. As the Buffs tried to make one last comeback drive, Suh intercepted a tipped Cody Hawkins pass and rumbled 30 yards for touchdown before slamming the ball onto the back wall behind the end zone.

Games to forget

Bieniemy leads 4th quarter blowout: As far as fourth-quarter collapses go, there might not have been a worse one ever for Nebraska than the 27 unanswered points Colorado scored in the fourth quarter to beat NU 27-12 in 1990. A pair of field goals by kicker Gregg Barrios and a touchdown pass from Mickey Joseph to Johnny Mitchell (followed by a failed two-point conversion) gave the No. 3 Huskers a 12-0 lead heading into the final quarter. Unfortunately, one quarter was all ninth-ranked Buffaloes needed to make the game a blowout. After fumbling five times already in the game, running back Eric Bieniemy rushed for 75 of his game-high 137 yards in the final 17 minutes and scored four touchdowns in the fourth quarter to give CU the comeback victory. As it turned out, the Buffaloes went on to win their first and only national championship that season.

Buffs run wild in '01: Few games still make Nebraska fans as sick to their stomach to this day as the Huskers' 62-36 debacle in Boulder in 2001. The Huskers came into the game ranked No. 1 in the BCS standings and appeared well on their way to playing for their sixth national championship. That was until they ran into Colorado and running backs Chris Brown and Bobby Purify. The two backs rushed for a combined 353 yards and seven touchdowns, including a CU record 198 yards and six rushing scores by Brown. The loss marked the most lopsided Colorado victory in the history of the series between the teams and at that point the most points Nebraska had ever allowed in a single game. The Huskers still managed to sneak into the BCS national championship game, but we all know how that turned out.

Callahan's last stand in 2007: The futility of the Bill Callahan era couldn't have been exemplified much better than in the former coach's final game with the Huskers at Colorado. While the offense, led by five total touchdowns from quarterback Joe Ganz, was able to put up an impressive 51 points, it was no match for the 65-point onslaught by the Buffaloes, who scored 41 points in the second half. The loss ended Nebraska's season at 5-7, which marked its second losing season in Callahan's four years in Lincoln. Before Callahan, the Huskers hadn't had a losing season since 1961, and, coincidently, haven't had one since.

A moment or play in the series you'll never forget

Osborne sticks with Nebraska: One of the most significant aspects of the Colorado rivalry has nothing to do with a game, Babcock says. In 1978, at season's end, head coach Tom Osborne was a candidate to replace Bill Mallory at Colorado. He looked at the job because of Nebraska fan unhappiness over his record against Oklahoma, which was 1-5 at that point. Osborne and his wife Nancy went to Boulder to tour the campus and discuss the job with Colorado athletic director Eddie Crowder. Osborne had talked to his assistants about the possibility of going to Colorado, too. He wanted their input, and he was close to taking the job. Babcock said Osborne even addressed the Colorado players, but recalls that while talking to them, he realized he couldn't coach them against the players he had recruited to Nebraska. Plus, he trusted and was loyal to Bob Devaney, Nebraska's AD, so he turned down the job. Consider if Osborne had taken that Colorado job how the course of Cornhusker football would have changed, Babcock said.

Huskers are CU's Halloween nightmare in '92: On Halloween of the 1992 season, No. 8 Nebraska and No. 8 Colorado faced off in the first time ever that two teams with an identical ranking in the AP poll met in the regular season. The Buffaloes came to Lincoln with a top-20 defense going up against a redshirt freshmen quarterback in Frazier. Well, the Huskers simply rolled CU in a 52-7 beat down in which running back Calvin Jones ran for 101 yards and three touchdowns and NU rolled up 428 yards of offense compared to 144 yards for Colorado. The loss snapped Colorado's 25-game Big Eight Conference winning streak, and the Buffs managed only eight yards rushing against the Blackshirts. Babcock remembers NU's defense being led by defensive lineman John Parrella, who was offered a scholarship by CU only to have it withdrawn, so he walked on at Nebraska.

Henery's kick changes the culture: Looking back, it's hard to argue that Henery's 57-yarder to beat Colorado in 2008 wasn't one of the single most identifiable moments of Nebraska returning to prominence under new head coach Bo Pelini. Prior to that kick, the Huskers had endured four years of disappointment under Callahan, and it had been a long time since the team had been resilient enough to make that kind of comeback. When Henery's kick sailed through the uprights, it was a spark that reignited the program and its fan base, and, as some argue, perfectly symbolized Nebraska's resurgence under Pelini.

Colorado players and coaches to remember

Eric Bieniemy: Bieniemy was the definition of a "Husker Killer" during his four years Colorado. Along with his unforgettable fourth-quarter performance against Nebraska in 1990, Bieniemy was a unanimous All-American selection and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting that season while leading the Buffaloes to a national title. He remains CU's leader in rushing and all-purpose yards to this day, and he still holds over two dozen school records.

Kordell Stewart: Stewart ended his career as one of the most productive quarterbacks in Colorado history, as he set several school passing records including most completed passes, most passing yards and most touchdown passes. However, for as heralded of a college football player Stewart was, he was actually one of Nebraska's biggest victims. Stewart was 0-3 against the Huskers in his career, and he put up a total of 23 completions on 64 passing attempts for 282 yards with three interceptions and no touchdowns against NU.

Darian Hagan: Few players are as synonymous with the rise of Colorado football in the late-1980s than Hagan, who amassed a 25-8-2 career record as a starting quarterback and, like Stewart, set countless school records along the way. Unlike Stewart, however, Hagan was able to get the best of Nebraska more often than not. He was 2-0-1 against the Huskers, and CU was 20-0-1 in the Big Eight under Hagan.

Bill McCartney: No person, player or coach, is more responsible for fueling the Colorado-Nebraska rivalry than former CU head coach Bill McCartney. From 1982 to 1994, McCartney compiled a record of 95-55-5 and won three consecutive Big Eight titles between 1989-91, including the national championship in '90. But it was his absolute disdain for Nebraska that makes him so memorable for Husker fans. As Babcock remembers, people in the CU athletic complex couldn't even drive red vehicles during McCartney's era.

Remembering Boulder

There isn't a more scenic campus in the Big 12 than Boulder, and there are only a few that come close nationally. Resting on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, many Husker fans have taken advantage of NU's trips to play Colorado as a way to make the game into a Thanksgiving ski trip.

Along with all the mountain sites and activities, Boulder also offers one of the better nightlife scenes in the conference with the Pearl Street Mall, a four-block pedestrian-only street that features a number of local shops, restaurants and bars. The West End Tavern, BJ's Pizza Grill and Brewery, and Connor O'Neil's Irish Pub were always some of our favorites.

For those who love the mountains, the trip to Boulder was always a must when it showed up on Nebraska's schedule. The rivalry between the fan bases got a little hostile at times, but when the intensity of game day dies down, it doesn't get much better than a weekend in Boulder.


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