Bowl of plenty awaits Buffs
Colorado’s NFL prospects have no plans to skip game.
boulder» Chidobe Awuzie recently read a story about former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, who suffered tears to two major knee ligaments and had nerve damage after being injured in the Fiesta Bowl last season against Ohio State.
Smith was a projected top-five draft pick, and stood to make at least $20 million over the course of a four-year rookie contract had he been drafted that high last April. Instead, he dropped to the second round and signed a deal that guaranteed $4.5 million.
So Awuzie, Colorado’s senior all-Pac-12 cornerback who could be a high-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft, can sympathize with players such as running backs Christian McCaffrey of Stanford and Leonard Fournette of LSU, who are passing up the opportunity to play in bowl games this month to prepare for the draft.
“It’s fair and it’s smart,” Awuzie said.
But don’t expect Awuzie or any of CU’s other NFL prospects to follow suit. After waiting their whole careers to get to a bowl game, and with the postseason offering the chance to cement an impressive legacy, draft-eligible players at CU are leaving their professional aspirations in the background — at least for two more weeks.
“This has been a goal for me and the teammates in my class for a long time, to not only play in a bowl game but win a bowl game,” said Awuzie, who will play his final college game when No. 11 CU meets No. 13 Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio on Dec. 29. “It’s a very special thing for us. A lot of those players (such as McCaffrey and Fournette) have been to bowl games every year. This is our first time, so we definitely want to experience it and make sure we’re leaving here on the right note.”
Success in a bowl game can often come down to which team can discover motivation. With as much as a month between games, sandwiched around finals and the
holidays, focus is often a problem.
The Buffs insist they are discovering motivation in the unknown. No player on the CU roster has played in a bowl game. Oklahoma State, on the other hand, has made it to nine consecutive bowls. CU’s last bowl appearance was in 2007.
“These guys have been excited at practices and have done really well,” CU coach Mike MacIntyre said Monday. “We haven’t had to get them going or anything like that. They’ve been into it.”
There are plenty of carrots being dangled in front of the Buffs (10-3). They can become just the fourth team in school history to win 11 games and finish with a top-10 ranking. They can also earn the school’s first bowl victory in 12 years.
The Buffs leave for San Antonio on Saturday to begin on-site preparations.
“The fact that it’s something new and it’s a chance to play a very good team is exciting for us,” said senior quarterback Sefo Liufau, who will try to bounce back from a dismal performance in the Buffs’ 41-10 loss to Washington in the Pac-12 championship game. “We also have the opportunity to continue to play with each other, which is a big thing for us. The thing that really (stinks) is the time between (games), because we really want to play these guys and get back out on the field.”