Colorado v. Oklahoma – Big 12 Championship – December 4, 2004
Big 12 North Champions
There was reason to cheer for Iowa State the day after the Buffs’ win over Nebraska. An Iowa State win would give the Cyclones the Big 12 North title, relegating Colorado to a minor bowl bid. After the Nebraska win, the Buffs were 7-4, on a three-game winning streak, and the darling of the media for the first time in several years. Why not root for Missouri? Who wanted to spoil the positives of the last three games with a potentially disastrous confrontation with #2 Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game?
Well, me, for one.
It had bothered me over the past several seasons that Nebraska had gotten too much credit for their 2001 season. When Frank Solich was fired after the 2003 season, comments were made like: “Nebraska, only two seasons removed from playing for the National Championship … ”. Then when Bill Callahan was hired, the comments were like: “Callahan will try to restore the Cornhuskers to championship game form from three years ago ……”.
Wait a second.
In 2001, Nebraska got to the National Championship game on a fluke. The Cornhuskers didn’t even win their own division, much less their own conference. Humbled by the Buffs, 62-36, Nebraska got to the Rose Bowl against Miami based on obscure computer rankings, only to be shelled. Didn’t anyone remember that Miami was up 34-0 at halftime? No, it was always, “Nebraska, which played for the national title in 2001 … ”.
Who was to say that Colorado would string together three titles in four years again anytime soon? Who was to say, what with recruiting restrictions or further scandals, that it might not be years before the Buffs would win another championship? Who wanted to hear: “Even Iowa State has won a title since the Buffs put a championship season together”? Not me. I liked the sound of “three rings in four years”. I rooted hard for Missouri, though with a few minutes left, it certainly seemed as if Iowa State was going to prevail. When Missouri pulled it out in overtime, there was time to cheer the Buffs’ title – then it was time to look at the daunting task ahead.
I understood that the Buffs only had a puncher’s chance against the Sooners in Kansas City. I was willing to endure the loss just to have the satisfaction of opening up the 2005 preseason magazines with the Buffs on top of the 2004 recaps. There were even some delusional moments when I allowed myself to envision the Buffs catching lighting in a bottle, and upsetting the 11-0 Sooners.
Okay. Maybe not.
December 4th - Big 12 Championship – Kansas City No. 2 Oklahoma 42, Colorado 3
In 2004, the South Division of the Big 12 dominated the North Division. The North went 3-15 against teams from the South – 0-15 if you didn’t count games against Baylor.
Make that 0-16.
Colorado entered the Big 12 Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City against Oklahoma with every intention of demonstrating that the 22-point spread on the game was inaccurate. Unfortunately, the Buffs just added fuel to the fire, as the Sooners completely overwhelmed Colorado, 42-3. Oklahoma scored on its first offensive possession, and never looked back. Heisman trophy candidates for the Sooners shone, as quarterback Jason White connected on 22-of-29 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns, while freshman tailback Adrian Peterson ran for 172 yards and three more scores. The game was 28-0 at halftime, with the Sooner faithful spending much of the second half confirming travel plans to Miami, where Oklahoma would be slated to face #1 USC in the Orange Bowl.
The outcome was never in doubt, as Oklahoma scored on its first three possessions. Meanwhile, the Colorado offense went nowhere. The Buffs had only three first downs in the game (two by penalty), and, with sacks included, ran for a minus-4 yards on sixteen carries, the fourth worst showing in school history. Overall, the Buffs managed only 46 yards of total offense, third worst ever, and the worst in 58 years. The only bright spot was a Mason Crosby 34-yard field goal late in the third quarter, coming after a Lorenzo Sims’ interception.
“Well, I think there is no question our team is embarrassed by our performance,” understated Gary Barnett. “We were inept at best. They played the game the way it’s supposed to be played, they just took it right at us, and especially with the defense.”
Yet the Buffs’ season did not have to end in defeat. Redemption was possible in a bowl game. “It’s always hard to rebound from a tough loss, but that’s what we have to do,” said Joel Klatt, who connected on just eight-of-26 passes against the Sooners. “We’ll regroup and get things going, but this one will sting for a couple of days. Hard. But the character of this team is such where we will bounce back.”
Smoke and Mirrors?
The pundits were correct. Colorado had no business playing for the Big 12 Championship.
The Buffs were beaten in every facet of the game, and were in fact lucky to extend the club record of points scored in consecutive games to 196. The Buffs had three first downs; two by penalty. Colorado had a minus-four yards rushing; 46 yards of total offense.
Heading into the game, Oklahoma was ranked in the top twenty nationally in twelve statistical categories, including total offense (8th), total defense (16th), and scoring defense (6th). The Sooners, as if they needed it, also had the extra incentive of wanting to avenge their loss in the 2003 Big 12 Championship game to Kansas State.
The Buffs, for all the bluster to the contrary, were lucky to be allowed into the stadium. In contrast to Oklahoma, Colorado ranked in the bottom half nationally in many important categories. Out of 117 Division 1-A teams, Colorado ranked 80th in rushing offense, 78th in total offense, 70th in rushing defense, 100th in pass defense, and 93rd in total defense.
With those numbers, it was not a question of how well the Buffs stacked up against the Sooners, it was a question of how the Buffs made it to 7-4 in the first place.
Smoke and mirrors? No, the answer was heart. Every coach preaches “team, team, team”, but the 2004 Buffs lived up to that ideal. With all of the controversy they had faced, the team was all they had left. They could have folded (and, if the early last-second wins over CSU and Washington State had turned out differently, who knows?), but the Buffs refused to quit.
Their reward was a trip to Kansas City to face one of the most dominant teams in the country. Oklahoma came into the game with only six losses in the first five years of the new millennium. Yes, the team with heart could have played a better game against the Sooners. But the Buffs still had the title – “Big 12 North Division Champions” – and had it for the third time in four years. Plus, their coach, Gary Barnett, was named Big 12 Coach of the Year for the second time (2001).
Time to move forward: Up next, the UTEP Miners in the EV1.Net Houston Bowl.
- After the 2004 season, the championship tally in the Big 12 North looked as follows: Colorado 3 titles, Nebraska 3, Kansas State 3. In the South, Oklahoma grabbed title #4, with Texas at 3 and Texas A&M 2. The remaining six teams in the Big 12 had yet to claim a division title.
- The loss to Oklahoma was the ninth straight for Colorado. Previously, the Buffs had strung together a record of 15-4 against Big 12 South opposition.
- Overall, the Buffs set a pair of dubious team season records in 2004, giving up the most passing yards in a season (2,793) and most third down conversion attempts by opponents (205 – worsening a record which had been in place, 189, since 1971).