HUSKER FOOTBALL

BOULDER, Colo. -- Sam Wilder will be OK by April.

The Colorado offensive lineman who went down early in the first quarter of the Buffs' 31-22 loss to Nebraska suffered only a slight tweak of his calf, returned to play against the Huskers and "is probable for spring football," according to the post-game injury report.

That's all the Colorado Buffaloes have to look forward to now.

When Nebraska rallied with a 10-point fourth quarter to beat CU for the first time in three years, it ended all postseason hopes for the Buffs, who needed a win to finish at .500. Instead, Coach Gary Barnett lost for the seventh time in Colorado's disappointing 5-7 season, which started with high hopes, but ended Friday with locals calling for Barnett's job on talk radio.

"In reality," Barnett said, "6-6 teams are lucky to get a bowl. We would have been lucky to get a bowl game. I just thought we had so much momentum and had such a positive thing going in our locker room, it would have been nice to finish that way."

It would have. But woulds, coulds and shoulds are more salt than they are Neosporin for the open wound that was CU's season. It appeared for a while, though, that CU was headed in the right direction.

"The last four games, up until today," Barnett said, "our team has really come around."

The turnaround never got a whole 180 degrees, though, thanks to Nebraska's poise and Colorado's inability to fend off the Huskers.

It started with an inspiring loss to No. 1 Oklahoma, in which the Buffs took the nation's best team to the fourth quarter before falling short. Then CU hung tough with Texas Tech and reeled off wins against Missouri and Iowa State before falling to NU.

A brutal non-conference schedule that included losses to Florida State, Washington State and UCLA caused a Buff hangover, which led to a shocking loss to Baylor -- the Bears' only conference win. It was too much of a hole from which to dig out this year.

During the year, some stars shined for the Buffs. Quarterback Joel Klatt emerged from less-than obscurity to become the Buffs' most consistent offensive weapon. He was expected to be more liability than asset but entered the NU game ranked in the nation's top 25 in passing efficiency. He's completed most of his throws to receiver D.J. Hackett, and broke Michael Westbrook's school record for receptions in a season.

He and Derek McCoy gave NU fits Friday, as the pair caught all three of CU's touchdowns.

"We definitely had the year we wanted (individually)," McCoy said. "But it doesn't mean much when you're not winning games."

That's the basic sentiment around Colorado, which had built up high expectations after winning the Big 12 Conference championship in 2001 and making the title game a year ago.

In 2003, Barnett's team returned to the abysmal territory Buff fans had hoped were long gone after two straight title game appearances. There's no winning record, no bowl game, just spring practice far, far away on the horizon.

"We didn't play well enough to win (against Nebraska). We made too many mistakes that killed us," Hackett said, "and now our season's over."