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No. 23 Clemson – Champs Sports Bowl, a/k/a The Lack of Interest Bowl

// Dec 27 - 2005

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December 27th – Orlando, Florida           No. 23 Clemson 19, Colorado 10

Champs Sports Bowl

The tumultuous 2005 season came to an end for the Colorado Buffaloes with a lackluster 19-10 loss to 23rd-ranked Clemson in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Florida. Playing with an interim staff and an uncertain future, the CU defense kept the Buffs in the game throughout, with Clemson scoring the game-clinching touchdown with 1:38 to play.

The game went into the record books as a Gary Barnett coached squad, but the former coach was nowhere to be seen on the CU sidelines. The Buffs were lead by a lame duck staff, with defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz named the Colorado interim coach for the game. As new head coach Dan Hawkins had named much of his new staff prior to the bowl game, most of those on the sidelines and in the booth for Colorado knew that they were coaching their last games as a Buff.

The game started out all too typically for Colorado.

Clemson scored first on a 26-yard field goal by Lou Groza semi-finalist Jad Dean, capping a 77-yard drive midway through the first quarter. The teams swapped field goals in the second quarter, with the Buffs’ Lou Groza semi-finalist, Mason Crosby connecting from 36 yards out (the Buff “offensive” drive went for all of 11 yards), with Dean giving the Tigers a 6-3 halftime lead on an 18-yarder after the Buff defense again denied Clemson a touchdown from inside the 10 yard line.

Other than the defense, the only bright light for the Buffs in the first half was senior punter John Torp. Breaking out of a slump he had endured over the previous three games, Torp had six punts before halftime, including a school bowl record punt of 68 yards. On the day, Torp would punt nine times for a 49.7 yard average, with three punts reaching inside the Clemson 20 yard line.

With the CU offense anemic (34 yards at halftime), Clemson seemed to put the game away with a 67-yard touchdown drive to start the second half. A five yard touchdown run by quarterback Charlie Whitehurst gave the Tigers a 13-3 lead, a seemingly insurmountable edge considering that the Colorado offense had now gone 13 quarters without a touchdown.

Needing a spark, and with nothing to lose, Hankwitz inserted sophomore quarterback Brian White into the game.

Junior James Cox had gotten the start, the second of his career, after Joel Klatt was deemed unfit to play. Klatt had suffered a concussion in the Texas game, and was unable to obtain medical clearance to continue. Cox, though, was wholly ineffective, completing all of four passes in 12 attempts, for a meager 26 yards (16 of which came on the game’s first play). Cox had also been sacked three times, leaving his net offensive output for the day at a grand total of five yards.

White had only seen mop up duty in the Texas A&M game, not throwing a pass. Yet in the fourth quarter, he came in to lead the Buffs to their first touchdown drive since the Iowa State game. Capping a six play, 69-yard drive with a two-yard scoring pass to tight end Quinn Sypniewski, White pulled the Buffs to within 13-10 with 5:45 to play. Despite being completely outplayed all afternoon, the Buffs now had a chance to win the game.

Unfortunately, the Colorado defense, which had been stalwart throughout the game, could not make a final stand. Clemson responded with a touchdown drive of their own, with a six yard touchdown run by running back James Davis giving the Tigers a 19-10 lead with only 1:38 remaining (the extra point was blocked).

“I was disappointed that we couldn’t stop them at the end of the game and give us a chance to win,” said interim head coach Mike Hankwitz. “Our players can hold their heads high. It wasn’t a win, but it’s hard to explain the impact of all the distractions our players have had.”

The loss was the Buffs’ fourth in a row, and the defeat by Clemson represented the Buffs’ ninth consecutive loss to ranked teams overall. Colorado finished the season 7-6, with very little to take into the off-season in terms of momentum. The euphoria of the hiring of Dan Hawkins was already starting to wane. The retention of two Buff coaches with longtime CU ties – linebackers coach Brian Cabral and receivers coach Darian Hagan – created some goodwill, but the gloomy clouds hanging over the Dal Ward Center refused to go away. With the Buffs likely to finish at or near the bottom of the Big 12 in the recruiting wars, more bad press was just over a month away.

The 2006 season could not start soon enough.

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Here is the YouTube video replay of the game, courtesy of CU at the Gamer Paul:

 

The Lack of Interest Bowl

There was not much reason to tune into the CU/CU match-up on December 27th. The game featured one team which was 7-4, but the four losses had been by a total of 14 points, including two losses in overtime. That CU had won five of six to climb to No. 23 in the polls, and was looking to make a statement about 2006. The other CU had lost its last three games, been embarrassed by a total score of 100-6 in the past two games, and had fired its coach. That CU had nothing to play for other than pride, and was being coached by a staff spending at least some of its time on the phone looking for new employment.

The kickoff was set for 5:00 p.m. Eastern time. Not exactly a “Must See TV” time slot. In an internet poll, over 90% of those who logged in picked the “other” CU, Clemson, to defeat the CU of Boulder.

Why tune in at all?

I must confess, there was a part of me that didn’t want to watch. Embarrassed and defeated, I wasn’t in the mood to watch another blow out unfold. The Buffs had nothing to play for, and a staff with nothing to gain. Other Buff fans showed their lack of interest by staying home altogether. Colorado sold 580 tickets to the game, and used just over 1,400 of its 12,000 allotment. The announced attendance of 31,470 was not a record low for the bowl game, but only because so many Clemson fans showed up for the party.

Funny thing happened on the way to the blow out, though.

The Buffs came to play.

Well, at least the defense came to play.

The butt of the national media’s jokes for the past four weeks, the Colorado defense made a statement. The Buffs did allow the first 100-yard rusher of the season (James Davis put up 150 yards on the day), but overall the defense came to play. Stopping the Tigers twice inside the ten in the first half made the halftime score a more than respectable 6-3. If the defense had received any support at all from the offense (124 yards of total offense, 69 of which came on the Brian White led touchdown drive in the fourth quarter), the Buffs may have pulled off the upset.

But it was not meant to be.

The 2005 season was now – finally – over.

What had such great expectations in early November had sunk to 2000 and 2003 lows. What would Dan Hawkins bring to the table? Was he the “home run” which Athletic Director Mike Bohn envisioned? Colorado would begin 2006 in much the same manner as they had the previous three seasons: an unranked team looking to move up. In one sense, the preseason schedule unfolded nicely for the new head coach. The Buffs would open with Division 1-AA Montana State. It would be Colorado’s first game – ever – against a 1-AA school, and as easy an opponent as a major college program could realistically hope to have for an opener. Next would be Colorado State, coming off a 6-6 season and a 51-30 bowl loss to Navy. The Rams were always tough, and the game would be at Mile High Stadium, but Colorado State had slipped the past two years, and the whispers about Sonny Lubick’s future had begun.

After two winnable games, the slate would get tougher.

Arizona State would come to Boulder the week after the CSU game. The Aztecs were a wild card. They had led top-ranked USC 21-3 at halftime before succumbing, 38-28, but had also been defeated by a nondescript Stanford squad. Dan Hawkins had raided the ASU coaching staff for their new offensive coordinator, Mark Helfrich. That had to help, right? The game against ASU, provided the Buffs won their first two games, would be a good indicator of where the Buffs stood in 2006. After that, Colorado would go on the road for the first time, facing perennial top ten Georgia.

A 3-1 preseason in 2006 would mean that the Hawkins’ era was off to a great start. A 2-2 preseason would mean that a winning record and a bowl game were in jeopardy of being out of the Buffs’ reach. Anything less, and speculation about the hiring of Dan Hawkins would begin.

The bowl season was over. The jokes about Colorado were beginning to subside, if not the pain felt by its followers. In re-reading the above, I note that I spent as many lines talking about the start of 2006 as I did about the end of 2005.

It was time to close the book on the last days of the Gary Barnett era.

It was time to move on.

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