Preseason – 1996
The August 16, 1996, edition of the Buffalo Sports News had quarterback Koy Detmer and linebacker Matt Russell on its cover. Modeling the Buffs’ new uniforms, Detmer and Russell were posed wearing uniform numbers 19 and 96. The headline read: “Is this the Year?” It was a question which was being asked often about the 1996 Buffs, and not just in Boulder.
Nebraska was the two-time defending national champion, but the consensus of the preseason prognosticators was that Colorado had the talent to win it all. Sixteen starters returned from the 10-2 1995 squad, and Koy Detmer would be back after missing most of 1995. If the Buffs could just figure out a way to get past Nebraska, the National Championship was theirs for the taking.
If the Buffs could get to the Nebraska game, that is.
In the 1996 season, Colorado was scheduled to play six teams which had finished ranked in the final 1995 Associated Press poll. Michigan, Texas, and Kansas State would travel to Boulder, while the Buffs would hit the road to face Texas A&M and Kansas before facing Nebraska the last game of the season. Perhaps Lindy’s magazine preseason forecast was the most accurate. Lindy’s had CU No. 1 in talent, No. 100 in schedule, resulting in a preseason forecast of a No. 10 ranking.
In the Associated Press poll, Colorado started the season where it left off in 1995, ranked No. 5. Three voters tabbed the Buffs for No. 1. Nebraska was the majority’s pick for the national championship, but there was no true consensus. No fewer than six teams received No. 1 votes in the first poll.
Colorado head coach Rick Neuheisel gave title to the season’s quest as Mission: Possible (a play on the old Mission: Impossible series, which had been made into a feature film in 1996).
1996 promised to be a wide open season, and the University of Colorado was being tabbed that summer to be a player on the national stage.
With the kickoff of the 1996 football season, the new and improved Big 12 Conference was inaugurated. Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, and Nebraska from the old Big Eight were to comprise the Northern Division of the Big 12, with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State from the Big Eight joining Baylor, Texas, Texas A & M, and Texas Tech from the now-defunct Southwest Conference to form the Southern Division.
Each team would play eight conference games, being five games against the other teams in their division, along with three teams from the opposite division. For the 1996-97 seasons, Colorado’s opponents from the South would be Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas A & M, with the Buffs having to wait for the 1998-99 seasons to play Baylor, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech.
Before taking the field against a Big 12 opponent, the Buffs would face Washington State, Colorado State, and Michigan in non-conference play. The Wolverines appeared to be the stiffest competition, as Michigan had national title aspirations of its own. Michigan had finished the 1995 season with a 9-4 record, and a No. 17 national ranking. Colorado State, though, could never be taken for granted, and the Rams were coming off an 8-4 season of their own in 1995.