Nebraska was cruising toward the Big 12 North title a week ago, but a close loss may be the least of the team's concerns after a whirlwind of controversy followed.
The No. 16 Cornhuskers try to put their distractions aside against visiting Colorado on Friday, when they'll again try to wrap up a spot in the conference title game in the rivals' final meeting as Big 12 members.
Nebraska (9-2, 5-2) carried a four-game winning streak - and a chance to wrap up the division - into Saturday's game at Texas A&M. The 18th-ranked Aggies matched Nebraska defensively, however, and a battle of field goals was decided when A&M's Randy Bullock converted a 19-yarder with 3:02 left for a 9-6 victory.
The Huskers can clinch the North title with a win over Colorado (5-6, 2-5) or a Missouri loss at Kansas, but all isn't well in Lincoln. Coach Bo Pelini spent much of Saturday's contest berating an officiating crew that called 16 penalties for 145 yards against his team, both school records.
Pelini drew a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct in the fourth quarter, and the officials weren't the only target of his tirades. Quarterback Taylor Martinez, who left in the first quarter after aggravating an ankle injury, was chewed out by his coach on the sidelines during the second period. That sparked rumors a day later that the freshman had quit the team.
Pelini apologized for his treatment of the officials Monday before assuring that Martinez hadn't gone anywhere.
"My policy is I don't talk about what happens in our family,'' Pelini said. "I can say this: the things that are out there speculating over what that was (about) are completely off base. Taylor is with the football team. He and I are on the same page and there are no issues there. We put all that behind us.''
Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini also issued an apology Tuesday, saying he's sorry for grabbing a camera held by a reporter for a Texas A&M fan website. He said he made a poor decision in trying to prevent the reporter from recording the scene.
Martinez is favoring his right ankle, and he showed up at practice Monday wearing a walking boot on his left foot after having a toe stepped on Saturday. Backup Zac Lee - who has been out for three games because of a hand injury - is close to returning, and could get the call ahead of Cody Green if Martinez can't go.
Leading rusher Roy Helu, meanwhile, has a sore calf that kept him out of the fourth quarter Saturday.
That seems like a lot to overcome in a short week, but Pelini says the Cornhuskers are prepared to put the distractions aside.
"If we take care of business next Friday, we'll give ourselves a chance at the league championship. That's our main focus anyway,'' he said.
Colorado (5-6, 2-5) seems to have its focus back two weeks after firing coach Dan Hawkins, who was let go after the Buffaloes' fourth-quarter collapse at Kansas on Nov. 6 turned a 45-17 lead into a 52-45 loss.
Hawkins' son Cody threw three touchdown passes in a 34-14 win over Iowa State on Nov. 13, and had three more in a 44-36 victory over Kansas State last Saturday. Interim coach Brian Cabral has Colorado a win from bowl eligibility, a surge that could make him a contender for the permanent job.
"If you don't take coach Cabral as a serious candidate, there might be a problem,'' defensive end Josh Hartigan said.
The Buffaloes have averaged 441.3 yards of offense in three November games - 100 more than they averaged during the first eight contests.
As well as Hawkins has played, the biggest difference has been on the ground. Junior tailback Rodney Stewart has 493 yards and five TDs in the past three weeks, equaling his touchdown total from the first two months.
The Buffaloes may continue to ride Stewart as Nebraska ranks 57th in the nation against the run, yielding 151.4 yards per game. The Huskers allow only 143.1 yards through the air and have the best pass efficiency defense in FBS.
Nebraska has won four of five in a rivalry that will at least take a hiatus with Colorado joining the Pac-12 after the season and the Cornhuskers heading to the Big Ten.
Cabral, who played at Colorado in the 1970s, is eager to participate in it once more.
"(My players) are going to know ... what this game means," Cabral said. "The very core of this program is centered around Nebraska. There is no question in my mind."