November 24, 2006
NU aims for North Division sweep
Before Nebraska can turn it's attention to the Big 12 Conference Championship game in Kansas City, the Huskers have one more item of business to take care of Friday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
The Colorado Buffaloes.
Nebraska has already clinched an outright North Division title, but the Huskers insist that Colorado has their full attention this week as they close out the regular season with the nationally-televised contest.
"We are concerned about winning the football game," Nebraska coach Bill Callahan said. "Nothing has changed, from how we approach this game. We want to go into that championship game with momentum, and we want to go down to Arrowhead and represent the Big 12 North in good fashion."
Callahan and his players who addressed members of the media at the team's press conference earlier this week said they expect a four-quarter battle with Colorado, a team that has struggled to a 2-9 record under first-year coach Dan Hawkins.
Callahan warned that CU's record is deceiving and he's noticed steady improvement in the Buffs' play as the season has progressed. He believes the CU players have adjusted well to a new coaching staff and new schemes.
"I expect them to come in here highly competitive," Callahan said. "If you watch what they've done in the last few weeks, and you look at the numbers, within the conference play, and you look at some of the key categories of their play, I think it lends itself to a really competitive situation and a competitive team coming in here."
Colorado's improved running attack, a solid linebacking corps on defense and All-America place kicker Mason Crosby are among Callahan's biggest concern for Friday's game.
NU I-back Brandon Jackson said Husker coaches have stressed the importance of finishing off the regular season in strong fashion and haven't allowed the players to think ahead to a Big 12 title game matchup with either Texas or Oklahoma.
"We're just going to go out and play like it's any other game. We still have a season to finish off and nothing changes for us, so we're going out here and playing our best," Jackson said. "Coach talks to us and he tells us that even though we won the North, it doesn't mean we can just relax because we still have goals to accomplish. Our goals were winning the Big 12 North and dominating it and going out and doing our best."
With just one game to play in the regular season, the Huskers own a two-game cushion over Kansas State and the rest of the Big 12 North field. A victory on Friday would give the Huskers a clean (5-0) sweep of North Division opponents, one of the team's goals since the start of fall camp back in August.
"It would mean a lot. We haven't even won the Big 12 championship since 1999, and a sweep would mean a lot," NU wide receiver Maurice Purify stated. "That would mean we restored the order in the Big 12 North, and it would just give us all the more momentum to go into the Big 12 Championship."
Nebraska coaches and players have talked all season about the importance of winning their division, something they've already accomplished, but a sweep of divisional competition would be icing on the cake and send a strong message that the Huskers are again the team to beat in the North
"I think it's big. It's something that I shared with the players, and it's something that we take pride in," Callahan said. "It's hard to go through any conference and come out undefeated, and it's something that we take great pride in. Nothing is guaranteed, and we have to go out and earn this. These kids don't take anything for granted, and the last few times we've been out practicing, there's a tremendous focus right now, and I hope that continues throughout the week up until Friday."
Nebraska and Colorado's roles are somewhat reversed from last season's regular-season finale in Boulder when the Buffaloes came into the game with the North Division title already clinched. The Huskers dominated the game en route to a 30-3 victory. The game is still viewed as the turning point of the Bill Callahan era at Nebraska and led to the eventual demise of former Colorado head coach Gary Barnett.
The Huskers know the Buffaloes would like nothing better than to turn the tables Friday afternoon.
"We feel like we kind of destroyed their tradition or whatever they had going on," Jackson said. "I feel like they're out to prove something, and they'll probably try to kill our season or make the rest of our games just like theirs."
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