LINCOLN — If the Nebraska football program had to take a step back this season before it started going forward again, it became official Friday.
In terms of win-loss records, this will stand as the biggest step back in 43 years.
"The way I see this is that great empires, they fall,'' Husker sophomore quarterback Joe Dailey said. "Great leaders, they fall. And great college football teams, they fall. Sometimes you need to start over again in order to really appreciate what happened in the past. That's exactly what's happened.''
Anybody who thought Nebraska was immune to such a tumble has now learned otherwise. Colorado slammed the exclamation point on that Friday with a 26-20 win over the Huskers, leaving them 5-6 and with nowhere to go for the holidays.
Spectators in a semi-stunned Memorial Stadium crowd of 77,661 can someday reminisce that they were there when two of NU's three remaining marquee streaks bit the dust.
The NCAA-record 35-year bowl streak? Gone.
The 42-year run of non-losing seasons? Over.
"I feel like it hasn't really set all the way in yet,'' NU junior defensive tackle Titus Adams said. "I know that it is a shock. There's just a lot that's been going on, and it don't really feel right.''
Change didn't come without a price in 2004. Nebraska installed a new offense and totally revamped its defensive coaching staff and some of its philosophies.
Neither unit quite put things together, and never was that more apparent than Friday as the NU season ended at 5-6 overall and 3-5 in the Big 12 Conference. Oh, well, at least the Memorial Stadium sellout streak — now at 268 consecutive games — lives on.
The Huskers' offense had 11 total yards and no first downs in the first quarter Friday. By the time they got untracked late in the third, they already trailed 26-7.
The Husker defense allowed 198 rushing yards and 420 total against Colorado (7-4, 4-4). The Buffaloes might have set the tone early with a 14-play, 90-yard scoring drive on their first possession.
Nebraska's last-gasp effort included two fourth-quarter scores before time ran out on the season.
"We were in position today to win a game, and we just didn't get it done,'' NU Coach Bill Callahan said. "We felt very confident coming in, and we just didn't play our best today.''
Asked if the first step in the process was harder or longer than he anticipated, Callahan talked instead of the future. He said he doesn't foresee any coaching staff changes ahead and said recruiting will continue to be a key.
"We're building for a championship season, and I don't want to get away from that,'' Callahan said. "That's our goal, to win a national championship. It's going to take time. How much time? I don't know.
"We set a good foundation to build upon, in terms of some of the things that we did this year. I'm confident that this group will bounce back, and we'll have success in the future.''
Callahan said he would rather not comment on the end of the bowl streak, which had sent Nebraska somewhere for the postseason every year starting in 1969. But some Huskers offered apologies to anybody affected by them falling short.
"To the fans, I just want to say sorry that we didn't live up to expectations,'' said linebacker Chad Sievers, a senior from Valley, Neb. "We let you down. As a home-state kid, that really hurts me. I'm really sorry.''
Ira Cooper, a senior linebacker from Omaha, said the 5-6 record was something the Huskers never could have envisioned back in August.
"It stinks for us, but the worst part is letting all the former Nebraska players down,'' Cooper said. "Breaking all these records they were able to keep going and continue ... but that's the way things go sometimes.''
Things went poorly from the start Friday, even after Nebraska recovered an onside kickoff out of the chute.
Colorado used a 14-play, 90-yard drive to go ahead 7-0. The Buffaloes then turned the first of four Dailey interceptions into a Mason Crosby field goal to make it 10-0 with 4:50 left in the first quarter.
After leading 20-7 at halftime, Colorado tacked on Crosby's third and fourth field goals to hold what looked to be a safe 26-7 advantage going into the fourth quarter.
Cooper's interception and 44-yard return then set up Dailey's 4-yard touchdown pass to fullback Steve Kriewald. Another defensive stop led to Dailey's 4-yard TD pass to Ross Pilkington.
But when NU failed to cover an onside kick with 1:38 left — and no timeouts remaining — Colorado had only to run out the clock. Now the Buffs can still win the Big 12 North if Missouri wins at Iowa State today.
"This game makes a statement about the character of our team,'' CU Coach Gary Barnett said. "I'd really rather say a statement for the next 365 days. We're a really young football team, and we have a chance to be really good. We're looking ahead all of the time, we're not looking behind.''
Colorado won by establishing a running attack. Senior tailback Bobby Purify ran for 130 yards on 22 carries, and Lawrence Vickers added 71.
Nebraska mounted no such threat, managing just 67 rushing yards and averaging 2.9 per carry. I-back Cory Ross' hot streak ended with the junior running 11 times for 35 yards.
Colorado wasn't afraid to claim vindication afterwards. Last season, the Buffs were 5-6 and trying to become bowl-eligible when Nebraska went to Boulder and beat them 31-22.
"It was especially (sweet) for the seniors, because it's the last time they're going to get to ever play these guys,'' CU sophomore receiver Blake Mackey said. "They're going to be thinking about this game for the rest of their lives. We're happy to get a victory for them.''
|Yards per carry||4.1||2.9|
Nebraska is 49-20 all-time against Colorado.
|Western Illinois||Sept. 4|
|Southern Miss||Sept. 11|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 9|
|Kansas State||Oct. 23|
|Iowa State||Nov. 6|
Nebraska has played 15 games on Nov. 26. See them all »
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