Buffs may have blown shot at Rose Bowl

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - MARK KISZLA Den­ver Post Colum­nist

Did a Rose Bowl dream wilt and die? Quar­ter­back Sefo Li­u­fau was bat­tered and the CU Buf­faloes were beaten, 41-10, here Fri­day night in the Pa­cific-12 cham­pi­onship game.

And know what hurts the most? The Buffs wrote the most un­likely, beau­ti­ful come­back story of the 2016 col­lege foot­ball sea­son. They called it “The Rise.” And this story de­serves a bet­ter end­ing and a sweeter re­ward than the Alamo Bowl.

But now Colorado must sweat the bowl se­lec­tion show on Sun­day, and pray that this blowout loss does not drop them be­hind South­ern California in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off rank­ings. That would al­low the Tro­jans to stay home in nearby Pasadena as the Pac-12 rep­re­sen­ta­tive in a bowl revered as the Grand Daddy of Them All, while the Buffs are forced to set­tle for a pity party on the River­walk in San An­to­nio, where the Alamo seems like a poor con­so­la­tion for the CU pro­gram’s first bowl trip since 2007.

In the most re­cent CFP rank­ings, Colorado was No. 8. USC, which has won eight straight, in­clud­ing a vic­tory over the Buf­faloes, lurked only three slots be­hind CU. The Tro­jans have tra­di­tion. The Tro­jans have Adoree’ Jack­son, who has mounted a late-sea­son cam­paign for the Heis­man Tro­phy. The Tro­jans have tele­vi­sion ap­peal and that an­noy­ing fight song. If the com­mit­tee goes for the glitz, the clos­est the Buffs will get to the Rose Bowl pa­rade is a tele­vi­sion back home.

On the big­gest stage of their re­mark-

able sea­son, with play­off com­mit­tee mem­bers and the coun­try watch­ing, the Buffs came un­done. To be blunt, Colorado did not look ready for prime time.

It started badly for CU. And then it got worse. Much worse.

Washington punched the Buffs in the gut on the open­ing drive on the game, with a bone-crush­ing at­tack that sent the CU de­fense reel­ing. The 1-yard touch­down by run­ning back Lavon Cole­man was the first time all year Colorado had yielded points to a foe on its first pos­ses­sion.

Any re­al­is­tic chance Colorado had of win­ning the game dis­ap­peared less than two min­utes later, when Washington linebacker Psalm Wooching sacked Li­u­fau on a blitz, and the right an­kle and leg of the CU quar­ter­back crum­bled un­der him.

In ob­vi­ous pain, Li­u­fau kneeled, his face planted in the grass near mid­field of Levi’s Sta­dium. It was ob­vi­ous from the body lan­guage of run­ning back Phillip Lind­say what CU team­mates were think­ing: Get up. Please get up.

“Sefo Li­u­fau, that’s my guy. And he will be my guy un­til the end,” Lind­say con­fided to me ear­lier this sea­son.

“I never like to see Sefo just sit there on the field. I’m al­ways think­ing, ‘Get up, man. Just get up. Please get up.’ It makes me mad when I see him on the ground. Be­cause Sefo Li­u­fau should never be on the ground. He’s my quar­ter­back. He will al­ways be my quar­ter­back.”

Af­ter be­ing en­cir­cled by CU coach Mike MacIn­tyre and team train­ers, Li­u­fau made a deter­mined ef­fort to walk to the team bench, but had to stop twice in his slow, painful 25-yard jour­ney to find the re­solve to fin­ish the trek.

Backup quar­ter­back Steven Mon­tez re­placed Li­u­fau. The Buffs hung tough, trail­ing 14-7 at half­time.

When CU play­ers re­turned to the field from the locker room, Li­u­fau warmed up on the side­line. He took the field for his Wil­liam Wallace mo­ment. But this is not the movies. The se­nior quar­ter­back’s heart was brave, but his body was bro­ken.

Li­u­fau’s first pass was in­ter­cepted and re­turned 35 yards for a touch­down by Washington’s Tay­lor Rapp. His sec­ond pass of the third quar­ter was also in­ter­cepted by Rapp. And the rout was on.

“I re­ally messed up, to say the least,” Li­u­fau said.

It stunk, smelling noth­ing like a Rose.

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