BOULDER, Colo. — John Wertz, a member of the Holiday Bowl team selection committee, summed up nicely how drastically Nebraska’s bowl picture might have been altered by Friday’s stunning win against Colorado.
“I thought I was here looking at Colorado, but maybe I’m looking at Nebraska,” Wertz said as the Huskers (7-4, 4-4 Big 12) were putting the final touches on a 30-3 pasting at Folsom Field.
Wertz quickly pointed out that the picture for most of the Big 12 Conference-affiliated bowls remains about as clear as mud.
“It’s likely we’ll have to wait until after the Big 12 championship game (next week) to see how it all shakes out,” Wertz said.
In addition to Wertz, officials from the Champs Sports and Houston bowls were on hand Friday.
Entering the day, prevailing wisdom pointed to Nebraska playing in either the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla., or the Houston Bowl. Suddenly, the Holiday and Alamo bowls become possibilities for the Huskers.
After the Big 12’s BCS bowl, the pecking order goes Cotton, Holiday, Alamo, Independence, Houston, Champs Sports and Fort Worth.
“Nebraska’s going to be a very attractive bowl pick,” Steve Cohen of the Champs Sports Bowl said as Nebraska roared to its most significant victory in Bill Callahan’s two seasons as head coach.
“Nebraska looked like one heck of a ball team today,” Cohen said.“I’m sure the Champs Sports Bowl isn’t the only one watching them.”
Bowl officials figure Nebraska’s upset of Colorado will galvanize Husker Nation and perhaps create a surge in bowl interest and, of course, ticket sales.
A lot of “ifs” preclude Nebraska returning to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego for the first time since a 1998 loss to Arizona.
For instance, Wertz said, Iowa State probably would have to lose today to Kansas, and Oklahoma would probably have to fall to Oklahoma State.
At this point, Wertz said, Nebraska joins the Holiday Bowl list of possibilities with the Sooners, Buffaloes and Cyclones.
“Any bowl that would get Nebraska — regardless of its record — would be pleased,” Cohen said.
Time runs out
Nebraska led 20-3 and appeared on the verge of adding to the lead in the final seconds of the first half Friday. Quarterback Zac Taylor gunned a 34-yard strike to Grant Mulkey that gave the Huskers a first down at the Colorado 4-yard line with two seconds left.
Taylor hurried the team to the line of scrimmage and spiked the ball, but officials said time ran out. Taylor was incredulous. NU offensive line coach Dennis Wagner threw up his arms in dismay as the Buffaloes trotted toward the locker room.
“We’re playing at Colorado, so the guy’s not going to stop the clock,” Taylor said after the game. “We won, so it doesn’t matter.“
Hot in red zone
Nebraska’s struggles in the red zone early in the season are a distant memory. The Huskers were 5-for-6 in the red zone Friday, continuing their recent success in the area.
In Big 12 play, Nebraska is now 27-for-31 inside the red zone. The Huskers have failed to convert in the red zone only twice in the past seven games.
Cory Ross was snubbed, but didn’t seem to mind.
After the game, he stood with Taylor and Callahan waiting to be interviewed on national television by ABC Sports sideline reporter Suzy Shuster.
Right before the interview commenced, Shuster told Ross he wasn’t needed but that she would mention his name (she didn’t). Ross trotted off and headed toward a joyous locker room.
Call it a complete meltdown by the home team at Folsom Field.
First, the Buffaloes laid an egg with an uninspiring performance against a fired-up Nebraska team. Then the fans got unruly. And even the main scoreboards went hay-wire in the fourth quarter, showing nothing but garble.
Most concerning, though, was the behavior of the Colorado fans, who repeatedly threw water bottles and other debris on the field. The public-address announcer repeatedly warned the fans, and finally security ordered two sections of the Colorado student section to clear entirely. The game was delayed about 10 minutes.
“We were smiling quite a bit when they were leaving,” Nebraska linebacker Bo Ruud said.
But despite the delay and the repeated warnings from the PA guy, Colorado was never penalized.
Also, two fans left the stands and ran around the field on their own free will. Security didn’t bother to apprehend either of the trespassers while they were on the field. One, who took off his shirt and ran from one end of the field to the other, was reportedly released by security.
“Colorado fans? C’mon, dude,” Nebraska linebacker Corey McKeon said. “I mean, you’ve got to have respect for your own team. You can’t do that to your team. You’re not supposed to play that kind of a factor in a negative way on your own team.”
By the midway point of the fourth quarter, more than half of the Colorado crowd had vacated Folsom Field.
For the second straight week, senior guard Jared Helming earned a start in Nebraska’s offensive line. He replaced Greg Austin, who’s ailing from a sore knee.
“Greg Austin has been giving us everything we has,” Nebraska offensive line coach Dennis Wagner said. “He’s struggled a little bit at the end of the season here (with his leg), so we wanted to give Jared the opportunity.”
Austin played “every two or three series,” Wagner said. Also, senior tackle Seppo Evwaraye, who missed the Kansas State game with a foot injury, returned Friday and played some series.
“He’s not himself, but he gave us some depth,” said Wagner, who rotated three guards and four tackles.
“It’s definitely helping us,” Wagner said of the line depth. “It’s something we couldn’t do at the beginning of the year. We just hope they progress and get better.”
Nebraska’s margin of victory Friday (27 points) exceeded that of its previous six wins in the series (5, 3, 2, 3, 2 and 9 points, for 24 points). It also was larger than the Huskers’ last loss in Boulder, 62-36, in 2001.