The stakes go way beyond bowl eligibility when the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Colorado Buffaloes play their annual grudge match on the day after Thanksgiving.
Only interim athletic director Tom Osborne knows for sure if this is Bill Callahan's last game as Nebraska's coach, and the Buffs could clear up the matter for everyone else with a win Friday.
That also would make the Buffaloes bowl-eligible just a year after going 2-10 in Dan Hawkins' inaugural year as coach.
Both teams are 5-6 and need a win to avoid staying at home for the holidays.
The Buffaloes are aiming to avoid consecutive losing seasons for the first time in 22 years. The Cornhuskers are hoping for their 38th trip to a bowl game in 39 seasons despite a five-game losing streak that put Callahan's job in peril.
Callahan is scheduled to meet Saturday with Osborne, who has given no indication which way he's leaning.
``No disrespect, but we're just focused on Colorado,'' Callahan said.
However, he's given his players notice that change could be coming, receiver Todd Peterson said.
``Basically, they've just told us that this is a business and it's about putting a product out on the field,'' Peterson said. ``And when you put the product we've put out this year, eventually there are going to be some changes. Whether it will be this year, we don't know. We can't control that.''
Colorado linebacker Jordon Dizon, one of the nation's top tacklers, knows exactly what the Huskers are going through, having experienced Gary Barnett's fade into firing in 2005, and he expects Nebraska to look nothing like the team that couldn't seem to stop anybody for much of the season.
``I can kind of put myself in their shoes. Two years ago when we were hearing that Coach Barnett was going to get fired we all started playing harder, trying to keep him around, and I can only see what they're doing,'' Dizon said. ``And that is trying to keep him around because he is pretty much their father away from home and they are going keep him around as long as possible.
``To do that they have to play their hardest, and I know they are going to play their best game against us and they're going to bring their hard hat.''
The Huskers did that last week, snapping their five-game skid with a 73-31 whipping of Kansas State in which Joe Ganz threw for 510 yards and seven touchdowns in his second start.
The Buffs, coming off a bye, tied a school record by blowing a 21-point lead in a 31-28 loss at Iowa State two weeks ago. It was the first time they had squandered a three-touchdown advantage in a loss since 1950, when Kansas State rallied for a 27-21 win.
Still, of these two programs, it's Colorado that appears on the rise with Nebraska slipping.
The Huskers have one of the worst defenses in the country, having allowed 40 points or more in five games. That includes a 76-39 loss at Kansas and other weeks in which Nebraska wasn't even competitive.
It's not in Callahan's favor that Steve Pederson, the athletic director who hired him, was fired last month. Nor does it help Callahan that he changed many facets of the program, structurally and philosophically, that were established by Osborne during a 25-year coaching run that netted three national championships in his last four years.
Those changes have brought minimal success by Nebraska standards, and it's widely believed that Callahan will be dismissed Saturday.
``I've never been one to get all tensed up and tightened up about anything like jobs,'' Callahan said. ``You go out and do the best you can. I'm not worried about next week or next month or next year.''
Callahan said a win is important Friday not to salvage his job but to save the season.
``There's no better way to conclude a year than have an opportunity to go to a bowl and finish on a winning note,'' Callahan said. ``That's in both program's minds, because no one likes to be 6-6.''
Yet, .500 is something both teams and both coaches are cherishing right now. ^ =
AP Sports Writer Eric Olson in Lincoln, Neb., contributed to this report.
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