CU lost 41-10 to Wash­ing­ton in Pac-12 cham­pi­onship game

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Nick Kos­mider

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

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