Former coach Bill McCartney, who red-lined the Huskers on the Buffs' schedule and began referring to Nebraska as CU's rival in the now-defunct Big Eight Conference, addressed the Buffs for about 20 minutes Sunday before practice.
Sophomore quarterback Tyler Hansen said McCartney, CU's winningest football coach (93-55-5, 1982-94), received a standing ovation from the team and staff at the conclusion of his talk.
"He was awesome," Hansen said. "(Sunday) was the first time I'd ever heard him talk or met him . . . he really got us fired up."
Since he retired, McCartney has not been a stranger to addressing CU teams; he's done it for every coach that followed him -- Rick Neuheisel, Gary Barnett and now Dan Hawkins. The thrust of McCartney's message on Sunday, said Hansen, was that physical play is a must if CU is to defeat Nebraska on Friday afternoon at Folsom Field (1:30 p.m., ABC).
"His underlying message was, 'Go out and hit them in the mouth,'" Hansen said. "He told us, 'Those guys are good . . . but don't be afraid to go hit them in the mouth.'"
Nebraska comes to Boulder as the Big 12 Conference's North Division champion after defeating Kansas State 17-3 Saturday night in Lincoln, Neb.
The Cornhuskers improved to 8-3 overall and 5-2 in the league, while the Buffs stand at 3-8, 2-5 after their 31-28 loss at No. 12 Oklahoma State on Thursday night.
With no bowl awaiting them, Hansen said the Buffs are viewing Friday's season finale "as a preview of 2010 . . . at least for the young guys.
"We don't have many seniors (17), but all of them are really good guys who have been through a couple of rough years. And, of course, we want to send them out on a good note.
"Even if this hasn't been the kind of season any of us wanted, we want to end it on a good note."
In the same team meeting that featured McCartney's talk, Hansen said Hawkins addressed his future, telling his players he was "solid" for 2010, but adding, "there will always be doubters.
"We think he's solid, but I think we'll be playing as if we were playing for our coach's job. I think we'll look at it like a must-win for us and a must-win for our coach.
"It's not an ideal situation, but he said he and Mike (Bohn, athletic director) are good - and we're going to believe that. But the bottom line is we just need to get a win to help us going into next year."
In the Cornhuskers, the Buffs will face one of the Big 12's top defenses. Nebraska is third nationally in scoring defense, yielding 10.3 points a game, and eighth in total defense, allowing 281.3 yards a game.
By contrast, CU ranks No. 108 among 120 FBS teams in total offense (306.2 yards a game), No. 113 in rushing offense (83.7) and is No. 117 in sacks allowed (3.91).
The Buffs obviously believed passing provided their best chance to win against the Cowboys, with Hansen and backup Cody Hawkins completing 30-of-49 attempts for 238 yards and three touchdowns (five sacks between them).
CU ran 22 times for only 13 yards (minus-35 sack yards) against OSU.
"We know Nebraska has a really good defense, and we've got to put up some points to have an opportunity to win," Hansen said.
The Cornhuskers' run defense is anchored by tackles Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick. Hansen said their presence is likely to make the Buffs "spread the ball around, maybe throw the ball on them.
"But we have to see what happens early, find an identity and go from there. We've done pretty well in the passing game for a couple of weeks now."
That's primarily due to the emergence of receiver Markques Simas, whose combined totals in the past three games are 25 receptions for 353 yards and two touchdowns.