November 18th – at Kansas State No. 2 Colorado 59, Kansas State 11
Having learned their lesson against Oklahoma State, the Colorado Buffaloes did not allow Kansas State to open up strong. Instead, the Buffs dominated from beginning to end, rolling up the most points by a Colorado team in 20 years, mauling Kansas State, 59-11. J.J. Flannigan rushed for a career-high 246 yards and four touchdowns as Colorado rushed for 518 yards. The defense also contributed, holding Kansas State without a first down and only eight (eight!) yards of total offense in the first half.
Flannigan opened up the contest with a 57-yard run on Colorado’s first play from scrimmage. On the next play, Flannigan scored from two yards out as Colorado posted a 7-0 lead in the first minute of play. A few minutes later, quarterback Darian Hagan scored from a yard out, and the outcome was no longer in doubt. On the day, Hagan rushed for 156 yards while passing for 69 more. The numbers allowed Hagan to become only the fifth player in NCAA history to rush and pass for over 1,000 yards in the same season. Hagan’s totals for 1989: 1,002 yards passing; 1,004 yards rushing. Both totals could have been augmented against the porous Kansas State defense, but Hagan did not play in the fourth quarter as Colorado was already up, 52-8, at the end of the third.
Hagan was modest about his accomplishment, saying after the game that his rare achievement “hadn’t sunk in yet.” Added Hagan: “I think my offensive line is more excited about it than I am.” Others were more flattering. First-year Kansas State head coach Bill Synder gushed, “To me, he seems to have done as much for his team as any football player in the United States.” While Heisman voters were focusing in on Indiana’s running back Anthony Thompson and Houston quarterback Andre Ware, Hagan was receiving more and more attention on the national stage. “If not this year, then maybe next year,” said Hagan of the Heisman. “I think there may be one in my future, but I’m not thinking about that now.”
Unbeaten Colorado was now 11-0, 7-0 in Big Eight play. The Big Eight title was the first for Colorado since 1976, when the title had been shared with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The championship also prevented either Nebraska or Oklahoma from at least sharing the Big Eight title for the first time since 1961. A title showdown against defending national champion Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl now seemed to be Colorado’s destiny.
Here is a link to the KOA radio call of Darian Hagan’s run to put him over 1,000 yards rushing for the season (courtesy CU at the Gamer Paul).
All the stars seemed to be aligned for Colorado. The Buffs had run the table for the first time since 1937, and were heading for the Orange Bowl for a championship showdown with the defending titlists, Notre Dame. As Colorado was man-handling Kansas State, Notre Dame was taking care of business against 17th-ranked Penn State, defeating the Nittany Lions, 34-23. The only remaining undefeated team in the nation was fourth-rated Alabama, as Fresno State dropped from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 45-22 loss to New Mexico.
While the Buffs were done for the year, both Notre Dame and Alabama had tough games to close out their seasons. First up was Notre Dame, facing 7th-ranked Miami in the Hurricanes home stadium, the Orange Bowl. As Colorado and the nation watched on, Miami put an end to the 23-game winning streak of the Irish, dominating Notre Dame, 27-10. A week later, Alabama, which had risen to #2 after the Notre Dame loss, also fell from the ranks of the unbeaten, losing 30-20 to 11th-ranked Auburn.
Colorado, for the first time in school history, was now the No. 1 team in the nation. It was the ultimate for a program which had spent its first 100 years without such recognition. The only remaining unbeaten team in the nation, the No. 1 ranking was a mixed blessing. Yes, it was great to be #1, but now the Buffs had the bulls-eye firmly planted on their jerseys. A Notre Dame win over Miami would have closed out all other contenders – No. 1 v. No. 2; Notre Dame v. Colorado; winner take all. Now it was a four team race.
Colorado was firmly entrenched as the nation’s top team, receiving 55 of the 60 first place votes. A win over Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl would ensure a national title. A loss, though, opened the doors for other teams. Miami, #7 just a few weeks earlier, was now the nation’s #2 team. Michigan, which had opened the season as the nation’s #2 team, had climbed back to the #3 position. Even 4th-ranked Notre Dame, with help from Michigan’s Rose Bowl opponent (12th-ranked USC) and Miami’s Sugar Bowl opponent (#7 Alabama) aspired to repeat as national champions with a win over the Buffs.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever been in this position and I think it’s something the entire state is taking pride in”, said Bill McCartney of his team’s No. 1 status. “It (the game against Notre Dame) is going to be our ultimate challenge. Anyone who knows anything about Notre Dame and its great traditions knows that they will bounce back from the Miami loss. You can count on that.”
The added difficulty for Colorado was that, in rising to No. 1, the underdog status against Notre Dame was lost. What was worse, the Miami win opened the door for a possible title for the Hurricanes. The Orange Bowl in Miami, then, was about to become a road game for the Buffs. Miami fans hated Notre Dame, to be sure, as the “Catholics v. Convicts” rivalry was one of the most heated in college football. If a win by the Fighting Irish would pave the way for a Miami title, though, then the home town fans, who would have been Colorado supporters – or at least neutral – were now ardent Notre Dame fans. Still, Colorado had faced adversity all season. One more added burden would not be the Buffs’ downfall.
Six Weeks to History
After a final week of play which saw only a handful of teams compete, Colorado completed its third week as the nation’s #1 team with 51 first place votes. Second-ranked Miami garnered four votes; third-rated Michigan one (apparently four voters took the week off, as only 56 of 60 voters posted their opinions). On idle since the November 18th win over Kansas State, the Buffs had to content themselves with post-season honors. Darian Hagan finished fifth in the Heisman race (to Houston’s Andre Ware), but it was still the highest finish of any Buff since Byron “Whizzer” White finished second in the balloting in 1937 (to Clint Frank, a Yale running back).
Hagan did receive the nod, though, as the Player-of-the-Year by The Sporting News. “What he had meant to this team is immeasurable”, said Bill McCartney of his sophomore signal-caller. Hagan’s total of 2,006 yards of total offense was the second-highest in school history (to Bobby Anderson’s 2,129 in 1968). What made Hagan’s numbers more impressive, though, was that he accomplished his feat in only 33 quarters of play. Colorado was so often ahead by such a large margin that Hagan often sat out the fourth quarter. In fact, Hagan did not play in the fourth quarter of any game until the Oklahoma contest, Colorado’s eighth game of the season. In a season which Colorado set 43 school records, including marks for touchdowns (59) and points (452), Hagan was the undisputed leader.
While Hagan was receiving his much deserved praise, his head coach was also finally receiving notoriety. Bill McCartney, who in his eighth season had finally reached the .500 mark in overall record, was the unanimous choice for Coach-of-the-Year.
There was only one hurdle left for the Buffs and their head coach to overcome. In the past seven years, seven teams had needed only a bowl win to secure a national title. Six of those seven teams had lost.
If the title was to come to Boulder, it would take one more win.
Game Notes –
– Kansas State, under first-year head coach Bill Snyder, finished 1-10, posting its only win over North Texas, 20-17, in week four.
– The 59 points scored against the Wildcats set a new standard as the highest total ever against Kansas State by Colorado. The 59-11 final bested the 56 points put up by the Buffs the year before, a 56-14 rout in Boulder.
– The 518 yards rushing were the most for the Buffs in 18 years (505 v. Oklahoma State in 1971), and the second all-time (551 v. Arizona in 1958). The 59 points scored were the most in 19 years (61 points v. Iowa State in 1970).
– J.J. Flannigan’s 246 rushing yards against Kansas State was the 4th-highest single game total in Colorado history (Charlie Davis had 342 yards against Oklahoma State in 1971).
– Senior kicker Ken Culbertson hit on a 21-yard field goal early in the second quarter against the Wildcats, giving him eight consecutive kicks made. The eight conversions in a row lasted until Mason Crosby hit on ten consecutive kicks (over a five game span, 2004-‘05).
AP poll – November 20, 1989
1. Notre Dame (57)
2. Colorado (3)
5. Florida State
AP poll – November 27, 1989 (after Notre Dame fell to Miami, 27-10) – Colorado idle
1. Colorado (53)
2. Alabama (2)
3. Michigan (1)
4. Miami (3)
5. Notre Dame
6. Florida State
AP poll – December 4, 1989 – last poll before bowls (after Alabama lost to Auburn, 30-20) – CU idle
1. Colorado (55)
2. Miami (4)
3. Michigan (1)
4. Notre Dame
5. Florida State