BOULDER - Tyler Sale may or may not play Friday against Nebraska, but in his final week of college football he's playing a major role for the Colorado Buffaloes.

As the Buffs prepare for the Cornhuskers, Sale, the former Ralphie Handler who couldn't suppress his love for football and walked onto the team two years ago, has drawn a fairly large assignment.

The guy in the red No. 93 jersey in CU's practices for the past several days has been Sale. The guy in the red No. 93 jersey on Friday in Folsom Field will be Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh.

There are, oh, a couple of differences in Sale's and Suh's games.

Here's the first: Suh generally is regarded as this college season's premier defensive linemen and is up for every national award that can be won by a grunt - someone who usually lines up with all of his knuckles on the ground.

Suh, whose first name is pronounced En-dom-uh-ken and last is simpler (Sue), also has been mentioned as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate. But despite being the Huskers' tackle-for-loss leader (15) and co-leader in total tackles - he shares that honor with fellow tackle Jared Crick at 65 - Suh's Heisman chances probably are as good as your kid sister's.

"Is he worthy? Yeah," CU coach Dan Hawkins asked rhetorically the other day. "Will he win it? No. But he's as good as any player in the country."

There's another noticeable difference, too, between Suh and his CU impersonator: Sale stands 6-foot-3 and weighs maybe 270, Suh is an inch taller and at least 30 pounds heavier. And no knock on Sale's strength, which is considerable, but Suh appears strong enough to slap around 18-wheelers.

On Friday, CU guard Ryan Miller makes the game-day switch from Sale to Suh. He's hoping Sale has done a decent job of selling Suh to him and center Mike Iltis, who also figures to be involved in trying to slow down the Husker giant with an occasional double team.

 "He's pretty strong and doing a phenomenal job, giving us an awesome look," Miller said of Sale. "Tyler's working his butt off, and I'm thankful for him. He's a down-to-earth, genuine kid . . . I like him a lot."

An all-state lineman at Arapahoe High School whose early college football dreams were shorted out by a pair of knee injuries, Sale found out on Sunday he would be mimicking Suh.

"I've been doing my best, giving it everything I've got to make sure they're ready for him," Sale said. "I mean, he's a great player and I want them to be as prepared as they can. They've been doing a great job all week."

Sale studied for the part by watching tape of Suh "just to get a feel for how he plays. He's got a different style . . . he's so big and strong he can do many different things. I'm trying to mirror that as much as possible."

What Miller has seen of Suh on tape is "a phenomenal athlete. He takes advantage of your technique defaults and capitalizes on your mistakes . . .

"If you step too far one way, he takes advantage of that. He's so good at spotting a crevice and taking advantage. Some kids try and correct their mistake right away, but it's usually not enough. And then there's his strength . . ."

But Miller, who has played both right guard and tackle this season, believes going head-to-head with Suh is a once-in-a-career opportunity. (That's all many O-linemen want to see of Suh.)

Said Miller: "What better place for me to showcase what I can do . . . on national TV, in front of a sellout crowd at home and against a great athlete like him?"

How well Miller & Co. fare against Suh, Crick and their Big Red defensive mates will be a huge factor in the Buffs' final game fortune.

CU has had problems running effectively (a paltry 13 yards most recently at Oklahoma State), and Nebraska is allowing just 99 ground yards a game (No. 14 nationally). Miller, though, believes the Buffs still can find their legs.

"As an offensive line, we want to say we can run against anybody," he said. "And we can run on anybody if we do what we're supposed to do - execute.

"We're right there . . . you get to the point where you just say, 'Come on guys, let's do this right.'"

Under second-year coach Bo Pelini, the Cornhuskers have made their biggest improvement on defense - and Pelini doesn't hesitate in identifying one big reason:

"I just think we have gradually gotten better (and) Suh has obviously been a big part of it. But you talk about our guys up front, when you play well up front - which we have this year - it gives you a lot of options."

With any number of reasons for justification, Pelini calls Suh "special. I believe this: there is no one that leaves college football that is NFL-ready. There's a lot to learn . . . and you have a lot to develop.

"Guys really reach greatness because they keep working every day and they keep that hunger. I think Suh understands that. I think when he developed that mindset is when he became the player he's become now in college."

In Nebraska's 40-31 win against CU last season in Lincoln, Suh didn't register a sack and managed just two tackles. But he added a 300-pound exclamation point to the Huskers' victory by intercepting a Cody Hawkins pass in the final minute and returning it 30 yards for the clinching touchdown, bulldozing the CU quarterback near the end of his run to the end zone.

Anxious, covetous NFL scouts have arrived in Lincoln by the bus load to size up Suh. Pelini recently was asked what he tells them.

"Pick him," he said. "You know what they're telling me? We're going to pick him."

And very high, at that.

Tyler Sale, meanwhile, won't be picked - unless it's for a half-court basketball game or something else in a recreational arena. Doesn't matter . . . he's spent this week and the past two seasons following his passion, living his dream.

In my best thoughts about covering college football, guys like Sale always will come to mind.

"Just walking out on that practice field . . . it's one of the best places in the world," he told me last year. "I'm playing football; I can't ask for anything more."

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU