Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
An unexpected surge during the second half of the season has Nebraska playing better than most observers might have expected before the season.
Even with a 7-4 record and a likely berth in a New Year's Day bowl game set with a victory Friday against Colorado, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini still sees more progress needed.
"I'm a guy who's pretty hard to satisfy because I want perfection," Pelini said. "I just feel like we haven't put our four quarters of our best football together. If we put a performance out there like Oklahoma did last week, I'd been pretty fired up."
Pelini has seen the Cornhuskers turn around their season since a 62-28 loss to Oklahoma on Nov. 1. That loss capped a mid-season swoon that saw them lose four of six games at one point earlier this season.
But since then, Nebraska has rebounded to win their next two games, scoring 101 points in convincing conquests of Kansas and Kansas State. That spurt has boosted them into second place in the Big 12 North heading into the final game of the season.
"We've come a long way," Pelini said. "I see improvement in a lot of guys individually and I've seen a lot of guys develop. But is this program where I want it to be? No, not yet."
The biggest reasons for the Cornhuskers' improvement this year has been a steady, ball-control offense keyed by quarterback Joe Ganz. That unit has taken much of the pressure off of a young defense that has grown up over the last several weeks.
Ganz remembers his struggles last season against Colorado when a loss in the regular-season finale denied the Cornhuskers of a bowl trip. The Buffaloes claimed a 65-51 victory last season, taking advantage of three second-half interceptions thrown by Ganz to erupt on a 41-point scoring binge over the final two quarters of the game.
"This is an absolute redemption game for me and all the seniors and the guys who were part of it last season," said Ganz, whose turnovers overshadowed a game where he threw for 484 yards and four touchdowns. "That's one thing on our mind is we have to come out and play our best football and do everything we can to keep them out of a bowl like they did to us last year."
Nebraska offensive lineman Matt Slauson was even more verbose, providing some definitive bulletin board material in an interview earlier this week with the Denver Post.
Slauson, who was recruited by Colorado before choosing to go to Nebraska, said the once simmering rivalry with the Buffaloes is no longer what it once was for the Cornhuskers.
"They're in the Big 12 and when you think Big 12 schools you think Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska," Slauson said. "(The Buffs) seem irrelevant."
The banged-up Buffaloes can make the Cornhuskers choke on those words by sneaking out of Lincoln with an upset. According to Colorado athletics, Buffaloes players have lost a collective 109 games to injuries and illness this season, but could turn around their season by winning on Friday and earning a bowl trip.
"I knew it wasn't going to be easy," Colorado coach Dan Hawkins told the Rocky Mountain News about the Buffaloes' injury-plagued season. "I knew there were going to be a lot of curveballs and a lot of testing going on. But that's part of throwing yourself in the fire."