Three weeks ago, the idea of Nebraska losing to Colorado was almost unthinkable.
Suddenly, it's a very real possibility with a probability that only rose with the team's announcement that leading receiver Niles Paul will miss the Huskers final Big 12 regular season game with a foot injury, and his status for the rest of the season is within doubt.
Only two Nebraska receivers have more than 13 catches this season, and Paul leads the team with 39 grabs for 516 yards and a touchdown. He's also one of the team's fastest players and an explosive kick returner who returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Oklahoma State. For the offense, that means Brandon Kinnie will need to play well, but outside of tight end Kyler Reed and converted tight end Mike McNeill, the Huskers are short on reliable receivers. Curenski Gilleylen will likely replace Paul at the "Z" receiver position.
Taylor Martinez has been limited in Nebraska's last two games with a sprained ankle, and the Huskers running game, one of the nation's best earlier in the season, has suffered as a result. He's expected to be available on Friday, but it's doubtful he'll be anywhere near his usual self after re-injuring the ankle last week in a loss to Texas A&M when lineman Mike Caputo stepped on his foot as a tried to make a move.
So as much as other receivers will have to fill Paul's void, the real onus for beating Colorado will fall on the shoulders of the offensive line and running backs Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead. Nebraska didn't use much of its Wildcat formation with Burkhead taking the snap against Texas A&M, but with Martinez gimpy and Paul out, it'd be surprising if the formation that was so effective when Martinez sat against Iowa State isn't a big part of Nebraska's game plan.
It's not ideal, but thanks to those injuries, a Colorado upset is a real possibility. Questions about Pelini's sideline behavior and an incident with a cameraman involving defensive coordinator Carl Pelini have provided distractions that may or may not have an effect on what we see from Nebraska this week. At the very least, after conversations with athletic director Tom Osborne and chancellor Harvey Perlman, I'd expect to see a more docile Bo Pelini roaming the sidelines.
The penalty discrepancy (16-2 in favor of Texas A&M) last week has provided more talking points and motivation for Nebraska, but against a surging Colorado team that's found new life under interim coach Brian Cabral and is one win away from bowl eligibility, getting the win won't be easy.
Few thought that would be the case only a few weeks ago.