Colorado vs. Nebraska set for primetime: Burning questions as Huskers seek

It was revealed on Monday that Nebraska’s clash with Deion Sanders and Colorado on Saturday, Sept. 7 will air in primetime with a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff on NBC in Week 2 at Memorial Stadium. The former Big 12 rivals will meet for the 73rd time in the final game of a four-game home-and-home series that was agreed to back in 2018.

The first home game of the Sanders era last season was a 36-14 statement win over Nebraska to improve to 2-0 for the first time since 2020. Colorado star quarterback Shedeur Sanders overcame a slow start and finished with 393 yards on 31-of-42 passing with three total touchdowns.

Colorado allowed a season-high eight sacks against the Cornhuskers in that game — foreshadowing future issues with the offensive line that prompted Sanders to completely overhaul the unit for the second consecutive season. The Buffaloes allowed 56 sacks during the 2023 campaign and dropped eight of their final nine games to finish 4-8.

Sanders and Nebraska coach Matt Rhule both enter Year 2 with expectations of leading their respective programs to a bowl game. Nebraska was on the doorstep of reaching its first bowl game since 2016 but dropped four consecutive games to Michigan State, Maryland, Wisconsin and Iowa to finish 5-7.

Nebraska’s matchup with Colorado could loom large in both program’s taking the next step. Here are four early storylines to track with the coveted time slot announced for the showdown.

Who wins the Colorado OL-Nebraska DL battle?

The matchup that could ultimately decide this game will be Colorado’s new-look offensive line against Nebraska’s stout defensive front that ranked inside the top 20 nationally in rush defense and total sacks in 2023. Colorado ranked near the bottom in almost every offensive line category last season, which led to a complete overhaul. The Buffaloes brought in first-time offensive line coach Phil Loadholt to replace Bill O’Boyle, and the Buffaloes added blue-chip tackle Jordan Seaton from the 2024 recruiting cycle to pair with transfer portal additions Payton Kirkland (Texas), Kahlil Benson (Indiana) and Tyler Johnson (Houston). The depth of Nebraska’s defensive line is what makes it a strength. While Nash Hutmacher, Jimari Butler and Ty Robinson headline the list of returners, eight different Nebraska defensive linemen recorded at least 100 snaps last season. If Nebraska can get to the quarterback at the same level it did last season, the edge could be in its favor.

Will star freshman Dylan Raiola lead the Nebraska offense?

Raiola is the current frontrunner to win the starting quarterback job this season. The former five-star signal caller and the second-ranked player at his position in the 2024 recruiting cycle by 247Sports will be competing with Heinrich Haarberg and Daniel Kaelin. Rhule hasn’t publicly named him the starter, but it appears more likely than not that Raiola will start in the season-opener against UTEP on Aug. 31 and the following week against Colorado. Raiola threw for 239 yards and two touchdowns on 16-of-22 passing in Nebraska’s spring game last month, while Haarberg tossed a pair of touchdown passes. One factor that could help Raiola ease into the college game is that five of Nebraska’s six games are at home. Raiola has the size and the tools to be successful at the college level, and Colorado should offer him his first real test.

Will we see more drama leading up to the game?

The first matchup between Sanders and Rhule was filled with drama. Last offseason, Rhule made comments that appeared to be directed at Sanders and Colorado. While Rhule did not mention Sanders or the program by name, he scoffed at other schools who were making a name for themselves on the “transfer portal” and “hype,” noting how his program handled business in a more traditional manner.

“I hear other schools [say] they can’t wait for today, the transfer portal, they can’t wait to go out. … I can’t wait to coach my guys, let me tell you that,” Rhule said. “I’m not here … I’m not thinking about anybody else but this team out here.”

“If you notice in our videos that we post — and I’m proud to post those — they’re always of us working,” Rhule added. “They’re never of us talking. [This] program is built on work; it’s not built on hype.”

Following the game, the younger Sanders responded months after the initial comments were made.

“The coach said a lot of things about my pops and about the program, but now, he wants to act nice,” Sanders told reporters after the victory. “I don’t respect that because you hated on another man. You shouldn’t do that. It was just, all respect was gone for them and their program. I like playing against their defensive coordinator [Tony White]but the respect level ain’t there because [Rhule] disrespected us first.”

Hunter is one of the most dynamic players in college football. Colorado’s two-way star has proved he can play as a wide receiver or cornerback at the Power Four level, and there appears to be no plans of that changing ahead of the 2024 season. In a recent interview with DNVR Sports, Sanders explained why Hunter will continue to play on both sides of the ball.

“Travis came out of high school playing both ways,” Sanders said.  “Travis came out of youth ball playing both ways (and) Travis going to college playing both ways, came from Jackson State playing both ways. Why would we change what he’s always done in his life. Just because some guy with no talent, sitting up here saying, ‘well, he should watch his number of reps.’ How you know? You count your number of reps when you go to the refrigerator every day?”

Hunter caught three passes for 73 yards and recorded four solo tackles and a pass deflection while playing 127 total snaps (70 on offense, 57 on defense per PFF) against Nebraska. In CBS Sports’ way-too-early 2025 NFL mock draftHunter was slotted No. 2 overall. While Hunter projects as a cornerback at the next level, he might have to play on offense more than last season. With leading receiver Xavier Weaver off to the NFL, Hunter should see more involvement as a security blanket and a deep-play threat for Sanders.

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