Bowl of plenty awaits Buffs

Colorado’s NFL prospects have no plans to skip game.

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Kos­mider

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.”

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