July 24, 2009

Summer forecast: Colorado

In a game that could very well put the finishing touches on Nebraska's postseason fate, the Huskers will end their regular season with a trip to take on Colorado. The last time the Huskers played in Boulder, the Buffaloes hung up 65 points on NU and kept it out of bowl contention.

This year, however, hopes to be a much different story for Nebraska. The Huskers got a taste of postseason success last season, and while Colorado likely won't completely dictate their bowl fate, a trip to the Big 12 Championship and a chance at a BCS bowl bid very well could be at stake.

In the final installment of HuskersIllustrated.com's "Summer Forecasts" series, we take a look at Nebraska's biggest strength and weakness when they take on the Buffaloes on Nov. 27 in Boulder.

NU's biggest strength: Smashmouth football

After losing three starters from its defensive line, Colorado decided to switch up its defensive scheme to a three-man front. While the Buffaloes have some talent at linebacker to help with the switch, the glaring holes that must be replaced along the defensive line are undeniable.

This is where Nebraska's physicality up front and the running back duo of Roy Helu and Quentin Castille can really exploit the Buffs. At the moment, CU looks to start two sophomores at left end and nose guard, and there's a chance it might ask incoming freshman Nick Kasa to start immediately at right end.

Pair that inexperience with the fact that the Buffs also only return one starter at linebacker, and Nebraska should have little problem figuring out an offensive game plan to attack CU's young front seven.

In last season's win in Lincoln, the Huskers out-rushed Colorado 178-42, highlighted by Helu's career-best 166 yards on 25 carries. Coincidently, NU posted nearly 20 more minutes of time of possession in the game. Expect the game plan to be exactly that this time around.

NU's biggest weakness: Containing CU's running game

With fall camp just a few weeks away, Colorado still has yet to figure out who its starting quarterback is going to be. Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen battled it out all spring, but neither was able to take control of the position, and there's even been talk of the Buffaloes running a two-quarterback system.

Whether that's still the case by the final game of the regular season is questionable, but what is for certain is that Colorado is going to try to run the ball regardless.

The Buffs are hoping lauded sophomore running back Darrell Scott will finally take the next step in becoming the star many assumed he'd be. They've also got the luxury of working sophomore Rodney Stewart into the mix, as Stewart rushed for 622 yards as a freshman last year in an injury-shortened season.

Nebraska made CU's running game essentially non-existent in last year's win, putting the pressure on Hawkins to move the football. Seeing how the Buffaloes haven't been impressed enough with Hawkins this offseason to officially name him the starter yet, you can bet the Huskers would be fine doing the same thing again.

Early HI.com projected point spread: -6

Early HI.com final score prediction: NU 31, CU 21

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