November 17th – @ Kansas State Kansas State 38, Colorado 6
Kansas State offered the Buffs several opportunities. The first was to finish sixth in the Big Eight, ahead of both Kansas State and Iowa State. The second was to avoid the indignity of joining the 1980 squad as the only ten-loss Colorado team’s in school history. Finally, the game provided the Buffs and their coach the chance to give Coach McCartney and the 1985 Buffs something to build on.
None of these opportunities, though, came to fruition, as the Buffs played one of their worst games of the year.
Trailing 14-0 heading into the fourth quarter, Colorado fell apart in the last fifteen minutes of the season. The Buffs surrendered 24 fourth quarter points to the Wildcats, including two almost comical scores in the last three minutes. With the score 24-6 after a Lee Rouson touchdown, the Buffs attempted an onside kick with 2:58 to play. Kicker Larry Eckel finally made it into a game, but his onside kick was not recovered by the Buffs. Rather, it went straight to Kansas State freshman Kent Dean, who dashed 47 yards for a Wildcat touchdown. Kansas State kicked off the Buffs, but sophomore quarterback Chuck Page’s pass (Page subbed for starter Craig Keenan in the second half after Keenan had been allowed to surpass the 1,000 yard passing mark for the season) a few seconds later was tipped. Brad Lambert did the honors for the Wildcats, returning the interception 39 yards for the final score. With 3:00 on the fourth quarter game clock, the score had been 24-0. Before the game clock had reached 2:00, the score had ballooned to 38-6.
Game. Set. Match. Season.
Despite the Buffs’ year-long failure to create a rushing game, senior tailback Lee Rouson did not go out with a whimper. Rouson rushed for 120 yards on 19 carries against the Wildcats, also catching six passes for an additional 40 yards and the Buffs’ only score. Tight end Jon Embree hauled in six catches, giving him 51 for the year, shattering the team record of 41 set by Dave Hestera in 1982. Both Embree and wide receiver Ron Brown broke the single season receiving yardage record set by teammate Loy Alexander just a year earlier. In 1983, Alexander had posted a mark of 557 yards. In 1984, Embree totaled 680 yards; Brown, 673.
The 38 points allowed by the Buffs represent the most points ever allowed by Colorado in the series against Kansas State. It was a sad end to a sad season. Perhaps sophomore center Eric Coyle best summed the finish to the game, and to the Buffs’ season: “About that time (of the second KSU score in 37 seconds) I walked up to Barry (Remington) and we looked at each other. Just looked at each other. It’s almost the kind of thing where one can only laugh. What else can go wrong if you’re a Buffalo?”
“What else can go wrong?”?
It was a frightening thought. With the Buffs going 7-25-1 under Bill McCartney and 14-51-1 over the previous six seasons, we had to have endured the worst.
It had to get better, didn’t it?
Back on August 1, 1984, before the optimism fostered by the 4-7 1983 campaign had become the grim realities of the 1-10 1984 season, a transition took place which would have a profound effect on the future of the Colorado football program. Effective August 1st, Bill Marolt took over for Eddie Crowder as Athletic Director for the University of Colorado.
Crowder had served as Athletic Director at Colorado since 1965, and had been head football coach from 1963-73. Under Eddie Crowder, the Colorado football program reached its highest level of success ever, finishing 3rd in the nation in 1971 (behind only Nebraska and Oklahoma in the final poll). Five of Crowder’s teams had played in bowl games. It was Eddie Crowder who hired Bill McCartney as head football coach. Now the task of deciding the future of McCartney as coach fell to Bill Marolt.
As chronicled previously, Bill McCartney, with the 1-10 campaign in 1984, would finish his first three seasons with a cumulative 7-25-1 record. This was only a fraction better than the 7-26 record which had help show Chuck Fairbanks the way out of Boulder in 1982.
It was a tough call for a new Athletic Director.
Marolt made his decision. Before the 1984 campaign had come to its woeful conclusion, Bill McCartney was awarded a three year contract extension.
The reaction was mixed, which is polite way of saying that most of us thought Marolt was nuts. McCartney was supposed to be a great recruiter, but his recruits had yet to produce any more wins than had the Fairbanks’ signees. McCartney was also supposed to be a defensive genius, but the 1984 squad had allowed an average of almost 400 yards of total offense per game, and the Buffs’ defense had managed to come up with a grand total of three interceptions … for the entire season.
Every time the Buffs seemed to be taking a step forward, they took two steps back. Six straight losing seasons. 1-10 in 1984, tying the 1980 team for the most futile record in almost 100 years of Colorado football.
There was no reason to be optimistic. No reason to care. Now the coach with the 7-25-1 record had been given a contract extension. What was the athletic director thinking?
What did Marolt see that we couldn’t?
Call it: “Belief without evidence”.
“Belief without evidence” is a phrase installed as a theme by Northwestern head coach Gary Barnett for his team prior to the 1995 season. That year, the Wildcats, who had not been to a bowl game since 1949, and who had not had so much as a single winning season since 1971, shocked the nation by winning the Big Ten Conference crown and earning a trip to the Rose Bowl. Barnett asked his team to believe, without evidence, that the Northwestern Wildcats were good enough to earn a Rose Bowl bid. The players responded, and the rest, as they say, is history.
After the 1995 campaign, Barnett wrote, “High Hopes: Taking the Purple to Pasadena”, chronicling the Wildcats’ magical season. Barnett also shares in his book the path that he and his team took to prepare for 1995.
Astute Buff fans already know where this is going – Gary Barnett was, in 1984, completing his first season as an assistant coach at the Division 1-A level. Barnett was an assistant for – you guessed it – Colorado head coach Bill McCartney.
In recalling the 1984 season at Colorado, Barnett writes: “It was a miserable environment. It really looked like we were going to be fired, but for some reason the administration kept us. In retrospect, I’d have to call that belief without evidence.”
What the 1995 Northwestern Wildcats accomplished was uninmaginable. Taking one of the most ridiculed programs in the history of college football to a championship, seemingly overnight, was considered nothing shy of a miracle. Yet the Northwestern players believed all season that they could do the “impossible”.
Belief without evidence.
While not as famous as the Northwestern turnaround, the metamorphosis experienced by the University of Colorado football program between the 1984 and 1985 seasons was just as miraculous.
If you have made it this far, dear reader, hang on.
Now it starts to get fun.
Game Notes -
- Senior quarterback Steve Vogel did not play against Kansas State, the final game of his career. Despite being benched for the final three games of the 1984 season, Vogel still set the record for single season passing yards, 1,432, passing his own record of 1,385 set in 1983. In his career, Vogel set most of the passing standards at Colorado, completing his career owning the records for career attempts, completions, yards gained, touchdown passes, and interceptions.
- Colorado was out-scored by Kansas State 31-6 in the second and fourth quarters. This was consistent with the Buffs travails in 1984. On the season, Colorado was out-scored 115-37 in the second quarter; 104-62 in the fourth quarter.
- Kansas State finished the 1984 season with a 3-7-1 record. Despite the convincing 38-6 season-ending victory, Kansas State head coach Jim Dickey was fired. In his seven seasons as Wildcat coach, Dickey compiled a 24-56-2 record, but did take Kansas State to its first bowl game in school history, the Independence Bowl, in 1982.