November 25th – Boulder Nebraska 30, Colorado 3
Colorado failed spectacularly in its attempt to win the Big 12 North on its home field, falling to Nebraska, 30-3.
The Buffs were held to a season-low 212 yards of total offense, but were dominated in all aspects of the game, leaving the door open for Iowa State to claim the North Division title with a win over Kansas the following day.
In a game which meant so much, the day actually began quite well for the Buffs. After forcing a three-and-out possession by Nebraska to start the game, the Buffs’ first play from scrimmage featured a 45-yard run by running back Hugh Charles. The drive stalled after that run, but Colorado did take a 3-0 lead after Mason Crosby hit a 33-yard field goal.
So much for the good news.
Nebraska responded with a field goal drive of their own to tie the game midway through the first quarter. The remainder of the half belonged to Nebraska as the Cornhuskers built a 20-3 halftime lead. Cory Ross, a Denver native not recruited by Gary Barnett and the Buffs, scored on a 19-yard screen pass from quarterback Zac Taylor early in the second quarter to put Nebraska up 10-3. The Buffs then assisted on the Cornhuskers’ next two drives, with 15-yard penalties leading to a Glenn Cody one-yard run and a 30-yard field goal by Jordan Congdon.
Any hope that Colorado would mount a comeback in the second half quickly vanished, as the Buff offense continued to struggle.
With the Buff passing game stymied (Joel Klatt finished the day 20-of-40 for 159 yards, one interception and four sacks), and the rushing game inept (53 total yards), it was only a matter of time before Nebraska upped the lead. A Zac Taylor to Nate Swift 21-yard scoring pass halfway through the third quarter made the score 27-3, and the near-record crowd of 54,831 began to slowly filter out. Before the Cornhuskers could tack on a final field goal with 2:02 remaining, the game was stopped for ten minutes as the game officials cleared out much of the student section after the field was showered with debris by the disgruntled fans.
“The most obvious thing is that one team responded to the challenge of this game and one didn’t,” said Gary Barnett. “My team did not, and I take full responsibility. I did not see this coming in any way.” Senior quarterback Joel Klatt was also at a loss. “It was very strange. We had a good week of practice,” said Klatt. “I thought we did a good job going out in the first quarter and getting points on that drive. After that, we kind of sputtered the whole game.”
The loss left both Colorado and Nebraska at 7-4, but heading in different directions. The Cornhuskers were on a high heading into the bowl season, while the Buffs were left to ponder their fate. Iowa State now controlled its own destiny in the North Division race. A win over Kansas the day after the Colorado/Nebraska game would give the Cyclones a 5-3 conference record, equal to that of the Buffs. Based upon the Iowa State win over the Buffs, the Cyclones would get the opportunity to face the Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 title game.
Just as in 2004, though, the Cyclones failed in their attempt at gaining a ticket to the championship game. In 2004, Iowa State was a home win over Missouri away from their first-ever title in football, but lost in overtime. In 2005, the Cyclones needed a win over Kansas to earn the berth, but again fell in overtime, losing 24-21.
Colorado was now, despite losing its last two games, Big 12 North champions for the fourth time in five years. The reward? A rematch against Texas in the title game, to be played in Houston’s Reliant Stadium. Senior running back Lawrence Vickers’ prediction after the 2004 Houston Bowl that the Buffs would return in eleven months to play for the conference championship had come true.
Be careful what you wish for …..
Couch Potato Champions
For the second year in a row, Colorado won the Big 12 North division while watching television.
In 2004, the Buffs finished the season strong, winning their final three games, but still needed an Iowa State loss to claim the title. The Cyclones accommodated, losing inexplicably at home to a struggling Missouri squad.
In 2005, the teams were the same, and the math was the same – if Iowa State won its final game, they were the North champions; if they lost, Colorado was the winner. While the scenario was the same, the feel was different. The Buffs had lost their final two games, and were left to root for someone else to make them champions. In 2004, the Buffs had rebounded from a 1-4 conference start to earn a share of the title, and had momentum heading into the title game against Oklahoma.
Not so in 2005. The 2005 Buffs were a wreck. The weather and poor execution doomed the Buffs in Ames, and there were no explanations for the debacle at home against Nebraska. While in 2004 I openly rooted for Missouri to upset Iowa State to give Colorado the division, I was not so sure about winning by default in 2005, then having the unenviable task of facing undefeated and second ranked Texas in a week’s time.
I was at the Denver International Airport while the Iowa State/Kansas drama unfolded. I was confident that the Cyclones had learned their lesson from 2004, and would not allow another championship to slip through their fingers. I was certain that the Buffs would finish their regular season 7-4, with a minor bowl, perhaps in Shreveport, perhaps in Orlando, in the offing.
I had over an hour before my flight, so I settled in at an airport sports bar to watch the fate of the North Division play out. Despite knowing better, I found myself rooting for Kansas. I couldn’t stomach the idea of having Iowa State as the Division’s representative. I didn’t want to have to face next summer’s preseason magazines, all touting the up and coming Cyclones as the clear favorite to repeat as champions.
Despite the more immediate dire consequences of an Iowa State loss, I couldn’t help but cheer for Kansas.
By the time the game went into overtime, the odds that I might miss my flight were increasing. When Iowa State missed its field goal attempt in the first overtime, I resolved to leave after the Kansas possession, regardless of outcome. When the Kansas field goal sailed through the uprights to give the Jayhawks a 24-21 win, I bolted for my gate. Behind me, I could hear a smattering of applause from fellow CU faithful who also served as witnesses to the unlikely crowning of the Buffs as champions.
The spin began almost immediately. Players were hustled into the Dal Ward Center to face the media. It was less than twenty four hours since the blowout loss to Nebraska, but here were the Buffs, talking about facing Texas.
No, the Buffs did not “back into” the title, they said. A 5-3 conference record was better than a 4-4 conference record, and the rest of college football would have to live with the fact that the Buffs were division champions. “I guess if you can call the last guy who graduates from med school ‘Doc’, you can call us champions,” offered Gary Barnett. It helped to a degree that Florida State, losers of three games in a row, also backed into its ACC title game with a loss on that same Saturday. The Seminoles struggles helped take some of the national spotlight off of the Buffs.
Up next was a Texas team which was averaging over 50 points a game.
A team which had defeated Colorado handily, 42-17, earlier in the season.
A team which was a win away from a national title game against USC.
A team which was on a mission.
In 2004, Colorado had momentum going into the Big 12 Championship game. Winners of three straight, including two on the road against Kansas and Nebraska, the Buffs were given a puncher’s chance against the 2nd-ranked Sooners.
The result? A 42-7 whitewash.
In 2005, Colorado had no such momentum going into the Big 12 Championship game. Losers of two straight, including an embarrassing loss to Nebraska at home, the Buffs were not even given a puncher’s chance against the 2nd-ranked Longhorns.
What happened next was perhaps inevitable.
- The Buffs wore all black uniforms against Nebraska, falling to 15-12-1 overall in the unique look (but only 1-5 vs. Nebraska).
- The Folsom Field crowd was there for the Buffs’ home finale. The 54,841 ranked third all-time, bettered only by the last two games against Colorado State (54,954 in 2004, and 54,972 in 2005).
- The Buff defense held the Nebraska offense to 105 rushing yards as a team, only the third time all season an opponent topped the century mark.
- Quarterback Joel Klatt continued to climb the record charts, moving to fifth on the all-time Big 12 passing list (7,456). Note: CU doesn’t count bowl games, so Klatt’s career-best total stood at 7,275 after the Nebraska game.
- Running back Hugh Charles did manage to put up 78 yards against Nebraska, giving him 806 yards on the season, the 10th-best-ever season by a Colorado sophomore. (Charles would add 36 against Texas, giving him 842 on the season, good enough for sixth best by a sophomore in CU history, behind only Charlie Davis (1,386), Eric Bieniemy, Darian Hagan, Chris Brown, and Rashaan Salaam).
- The Buffs’ 30-3 loss to Nebraska was the worst at home to the Cornhuskers since 1980, when the Buffs fell to Nebraska, 45-7, as part of a 1-10 campaign.