AN OPPORTUNITY TO END ON A HIGH NOTE
CU lost 41-10 to Washington in Pac-12 championship game
Colorado gets a chance to write a better ending to a storybook season when it faces No. 13 Oklahoma State (9-3) in the Alamo Bowl on Thursday.
san antonio» One by one, they peeled the strands of tape away from their fingers, wrists, ankles and feet, crumpled them up into wads and tossed them into giant waste bins in the middle of a cavernous locker room at Levi’s Stadium.
Colorado players showered and hastily dressed into team sweats four weeks ago in Santa Clara, Calif. They pulled hoodies over their heads, grabbed the styrofoam containers of chicken and trudged slowly toward the team bus, trying to wrestle with the sick feeling that had landed in their stomachs after their dream had been snatched away in a 41-10 loss to Washington in the Pac-12 championship game.
“It was something we had wanted since I was a freshman,” CU senior safety Tedric Thompson this week said of winning a league title. “I remember one day in the dorm, Chido (Awuzie) said before we leave, that’s what we needed to do. The fact that we were there and came short, it hurt. It took us a little while (to get over). It hurt.”
Luckily for the Buffaloes, a chance to write a better ending to a storybook season lies ahead. When No. 11 Colorado (10-3) faces No. 13 Oklahoma State (9-3) in the Alamo Bowl on Thursday night at the Alamodome, the Buffs will be
playing for the chance to become just the fourth team in school history to reach 11 wins. That number would just so happen eclipse the total number of wins seniors such as Thompson had won in their entire careers before this season.
It’s fitting that the group that resurrected a once-proud program in Boulder has a second shot to put a final stamp on a remarkable season. No matter what happens on the banks of the River Walk, there will be no taking away the double-digit victories CU amassed this season.
Win or lose, coach Mike MacIntyre still will be able to proudly place the horde of national coach of the year trophies he won this month on the shelves in his home or office. The members of CU’s 2013 recruiting class, a group that wanted to lead a turnaround, always will be remembered as the players who did just that, having guided the program to the Pac-12 South Division title nobody outside the program had seen coming.
But make no mistake: Four days after Christmas is the perfect time to get greedy in college football. The Buffs want more.
“We’re definitely anxious to leave a legacy, to leave the legacy we want to leave,” CU junior safety Ryan Moeller said. “We recognize the previous years that it’s unfortunate when you lose and when you can’t send seniors out right. Fortunately, now we have the opportunity to do it again. I think that’s definitely a big part of the legacy we want to leave.”
It didn’t take too long for MacIntyre to see his players regain their spirit after the disheartening loss to Washington. It was a longer process for coaches, who MacIntyre said kept chewing on thoughts of how things could have been different.
Then they turned on the Oklahoma State tape. It was quickly clear any energy being wasted on grieving the Pac-12 championship that never came needed to be transferred.
“We keep watching Oklahoma State on film day after day, and they’re extremely talented,” MacIntyre said. “It’s going to be a very, very tough contest. It’s kind of like your first game of the year. You get ready to play, play, play. Now we’re ready to go.”
The Cowboys have been a model of consistency under coach Mike Gundy, who took over the program in 2005. Oklahoma State, which has won at least eight games in eight of the past nine seasons, is playing in its 11th consecutive bowl game.
If not for an incorrect call on the final play of a nonconference game against Central Michigan, the Cowboys would already have the 10th win they’ll seek Thursday. But Oklahoma State, too, is coming off a dejecting loss four weeks ago, a 38-20 defeat at the hands of rival Oklahoma that cost the Cowboys their chance at the Big 12 championship.
With almost everybody coming back next season, including experienced quarterback Mason Rudolph and electric wide receiver James Washington, a victory in the Alamo Bowl could propel the Cowboys into a top-10 preseason ranking in 2017.
“I feel like this is the best bowl matchup of the year,” Gundy said. “We’re very excited about playing Colorado, a team that’s had a tremendous season, plays hard and is very well-coached. It’s a terrific matchup with quarterbacks that have had great success. And Colorado’s defense could very well be the best defense we’ve played.”
Both CU’s quarterback and its defense are eager to remove the sour taste from performances that prevented the Pac-12 championship trophy from being delivered to Boulder. Disrupted by an ankle injury, senior Sefo Liufau threw three crippling interceptions against Washington — the same number of passes he completed to his receivers.
The defense, which set the tone for a remarkable season and is playing under acting defensive coordinator Joe Tumpkin, is still seething after surrendering 265 rushing yards against Washington.
“We’re ready to come out and play physical,” CU senior defensive tackle Jordan Carrell said. “We’re ready to go out there and make up for what happened last game.”
The Buffs earned a chance to write another ending. The big stage awaits once again.
Buffaloes coach Mike MacIntrye this month has won a horde of national coach of the year trophies. Andy Cross, The Denver Post