• Dan Hawkins typically sticks closely to the coach’s mantra about how no one game has greater importance than another. But he’s veering from that script this week, as the 5-6 Buffs prepare to play the 5-6 Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Frankly, there’s a lot at stake for both teams. For the Buffs, it’s Senior Day, the final home game for 16 Buffalo seniors. A win for either team puts them in contention for a bowl game, while a loss guarantees they’re done for 2007. And, it’s Nebraska.
“You kind of have everything rolled up into one so there is definitely a lot of focus there,” Hawkins said. “We have talked to the players about that, you try to spell things out week to week and it all kind of got rolled up into one big game this week.”
• Hawkins said he’s grown close to this group of seniors, even though he’s coached them only the past two seasons.
“It is sad because you realize you are never going to have this group of guys together again, and some of these guys you may never see again,” the coach said. “I think over the course of my career and the kids that I’ve coached and the kids that I’ve had and you have so much fun with them and enjoyed them so much when they are in your program. Then because of the nature of things you don’t get to see them again.
“Football is a very emotional game and I think that is what makes it such a special event. Even though I haven’t been here long, you don’t have to be around long to appreciate what guys like Jordon (Dizon) bring to the table, that kid is a special kid.”
• One CU senior whose status is still up in the air for Friday’s game is cornerback Terrence Wheatley. He’s nursing a fractured bone in his foot and has only been able to do light jogging in recent days. He missed the Iowa State game, and said he was going to participate in Tuesday’s practice to see if he’ll be able to play Friday.
Asked what he thought the chances were Wheatley would be able to play, Hawkins said, “I think they’re good.” Wheatley, though, didn’t sound as positive. If he does play, don’t expect him to return kicks.
• The Buffs are practicing in the mornings this week because the players don’t have classes (school is out for Thanksgiving Break), and in preparation for Friday’s 10 a.m. kickoff. But most are still hitting the books this week with study hall sessions.
• While the Buffs and Cornhuskers will be playing for bowl eligibility, the big game in the Big 12 this weekend is between No. 2 Kansas and No. 4 Missouri on Saturday. The winner plays the Big 12 South champ (either Oklahoma or Texas) in the Big 12 title game. If Kansas (11-0) or Mizzou (11-1) wins the conference championship, there’s a good chance they’ll play in the BCS national championship game.
Hawkins said after the Buffs were blown out by Missouri at home he thought they were the best team Colorado had faced this season. He wasn’t backing off that sentiment on Monday. He picks Missouri slightly over Kansas.
The Jayhawks beat Colorado in Boulder 19-14 in October. The 19 points Kansas scored are the fewest they’ve managed in a game this season. Anyone who watched the game knows Colorado with some dropped passes, two interceptions and an untimely fumble.
Now, with Kansas two wins away from a likely entry into the national title game, does the loss look like a “good loss?” Hawkins wasn’t taking that bait. He feigned excitement and hollered, “Hey, Honey, we had a good loss today” when asked that question by a reporter.
But the close game with the Jayhawks points out what’s been CU’s nemesis in many of its losses this season. Mistakes.
“It comes down to making a play here or there,” he said. “A little bit of confidence, a little bit of swagger, turnovers, penalties, limiting big plays; it is just a combination of those things, it isn’t just one thing or everything it is just being able to be cleaner in some of those areas.”
• The Cornhuskers will enter Friday’s game at the tail end of a season that unraveled on them. There is wide speculation that head coach Bill Callahan will be replaced following the season, whether that comes Friday or later.
The Nebraska defense, in particular, has played poorly in 2007. They gave up 76 points in a loss at Kansas. The Cornhuskers offense has been potent at times, however. Hawkins talked about the offense that scored 73 points in a win over Kansas State, more than the one that managed just six points in a loss to Missouri.
“They do …a lot of really good players and schemes that give you problems,” Hawkins said. “Despite their record they are a formidable squad, they have good players, they really do and they do good stuff.”
• Cody Hawkins said he started to realized the importance of the annual CU-Nebraska game to CU fans when he first got on campus his first year in Boulder. He said the first thing most people said to him was “You have to beat Colorado State and you have to beat Nebraska.”
Senior linebacker Jordon Dizon began to understand the rivalry from Nebraska’s perspective during the game in Lincoln, his freshman year in 2004.
The myth about Nebraska having the nicest or classiest fans in America has been exposed this year. Several media reports from Nebraska have detailed how NU players have been mistreated by NU fans as the losses piled up in 2007. There have even been reports of death threats toward NU defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove, and some Nebraska coaches’ children have been subject to verbal abuse at their respective schools.
Dizon said he doesn’t hate the Nebraska program or players. His passion for the game is born out of respect for Nebraska football, one of the most successful programs in college football history. But he got a taste of “classy” Nebraska fans back in ’04, and that’s when he began to understand the nature of the rivalry.
“We were dressed in all white walking through that tunnel and there were these old ladies chucking tomatoes at us,” Dizon recalled on Monday. “Once I saw that I knew this was a real rivalry.”
• If you’re coming to Friday’s game, bundle up. Cold weather is forecast for Friday. Temperatures aren’t expected to get above 35 degrees, and snow flurries are possible.