BOULDER, Colo. — This had to make Bill Callahan feel like he did back in his heyday with the Raiders. Before kickoff, players woofed at one another. A guy dressed as the Burger King character danced out of the safety of his metal-bleachered kingdom.

Then, Callahan’s Nebraska football team repeatedly bloodied Colorado with its unrelenting physical play, and before the clock could wind out on this 30-3 rout, the Huskers had unnerved enough folks in Folsom Field to the point where entire sections of trash-talking, trash-throwing Buffalo fans had to be displaced.

Welcome to Oakland Coliseum East. Or Memorial Stadium West. Whichever you prefer, it felt like home to a heavy-underdog Husker team that produced the biggest freak show you never could have imagined.

I know, Big Red is now 6-1-1 in its last eight trips here. It just doesn’t figure that Nebraska could make a team like Colorado, with the Big 12 North Division title riding on the outcome, look like it didn’t want to play. And yet, that’s how easy the Huskers made it on their beleaguered second-year head coach.

“It was a tremendous collective effort,” said Callahan, working hard to keep his emotions in check. “It’s a huge win for our team, our program.“

His program. One that finally has Husker Nation dreaming big again.

I think now the next time Callahan tries to convince me he’s got Nebraska headed in the right direction, I’ll be more apt to give him the benefit of the doubt. Before Friday, I would have tended to think the guy was just trying to convince himself that was the case.

Sure, those who know the Buffaloes better will try and convince us this was the biggest choke job since the Yankees couldn’t close out the Red Sox after winning the first three games of the 2004 ALCS.

What I believe really happened to the Buffaloes is they raised the ire of their rival and were made victims to what happens when crisp execution matches desire.

Let’s make no mistake that CU is Nebraska’s rival. The Huskers admitted it as much by breaking out their RESTORE THE ORDER T-shirts while preparing for the Buffaloes. (Callahan’s idea, by the way?)

Let’s also remember that NU has a ways to go before returning things to the way they once were. After all, Colorado still can backdoor its way to a fourth North crown in the past five seasons.

But even if the Buffs are misfortunate enough to have Kansas beat Iowa State and get thrust into another bloodletting against Texas, they wake up today knowing they haven’t exactly run away and hidden from the rest of the division.

Nebraska could not have imagined to play as well as it did Friday, but Colorado can’t use that as an excuse. The Huskers, against a defense that ranked No. 1 nationally against the run, dented the Buffaloes for 28 first downs. They converted 11 of 21 third-down plays and limited CU to an ineffective 3-for-15.

They also were free of turnovers.

“Colorado is always a special game — they always play us tough. This was our day to play them tough,” said sophomore linebacker Bo Ruud. “You can see today we really played at another level. We played a complete game on both sides.“

It was fitting that Denver native Cory Ross led the charges. The senior caught a Nebraska running-backs record nine passes for 129 yards and put the Huskers in front to stay by swerving his way 19 yards on a second-quarter screen pass.

After Ross had run for five yards on the next-to-last play of the third quarter, the press box announcer, wanting to make sure he was about to identify the correct player, asked: “Is that Ross?”

The Buffaloes’ defense had to be pondering the same question as they futilely attempted to track him down.

“It feels so good, man,” said Ross. “I’ve never seen a group of guys play so tight together.“

As he left the field, Ross was serenaded to chants of: “Cor-ee! Cor-ee! Cor-ee!” He acknowledged the Husker faithful by pumping his helmet in his left hand.

Later, Ross exited the locker room sporting a killer look in black-and-gold suit. Just a coincidence those are the Buffaloes’ colors, right Cory?

“I can’t say that out loud,” he said.

Ross then disappeared among his large throng of well-wishers.

Where he and the Huskers reappear next is unclear. Perhaps, they will move up to a second-tier bowl like the Holiday (which could happen if Kansas beats Iowa State and Oklahoma State upsets Oklahoma today).

Right now, however, destination matters little compared with direction. And I’d say after Friday, you’ve got to like where the Huskers appear to be headed.

“This really is a big booster,” Ruud said, “for now and the future. “We know there’s bright things in Nebraska’s future.

Reach Curt McKeever at 473-7441 or cmckeever@journalstar.com.