October 26th – at Kansas State          No. 16 Colorado 10, Kansas State 0

The 1991 Kansas State team was different from the Wildcat teams which Big Eight teams had grown accustomed to playing.

Third year coach Bill Snyder was building a program in Manhattan.  The joke of the conference throughout much of the ‘1980’s (and, in all honesty, for a number of decades), Snyder had taken a woeful team over in 1989, going 1-10 in first campaign.  The second team improved to 5-6, and in 1991 the Wildcats were 4-2, falling only to No. 3 Washington and No. 9 Nebraska.  The 38-31 scare put into the Cornhuskers in Lincoln put the world on notice that these Wildcats would have to be dealt with from here on as a serious threat.

It was all the Buffs could do to come away with a 10-0 win against a resilient Wildcat squad.  The Colorado defense carried the day, posting a shutout for the second time in a season for the first time since 1977.  Colorado sacked Wildcat quarterback Paul Watson nine times on the day, including three by sophomore defensive tackle Leonard Renfro.

Colorado’s offense could muster only one touchdown, and that coming after Kansas State’s Watson fumbled the ball deep in Wildcat territory early in the second quarter. Sophomore nose tackle Jeff Brunner recovered the fumble, giving the Buffs a golden opportunity.  Lamont Warren capped the 13-yard “drive” with a seven yard run.  Midway through the third, kicker Jim Harper connected from 29 yards out to post the final points of the game.

Not a convincing win, but for the 5-2 Buffs (3-0 in conference play), a win was a win.

The next poll saw the Buffs move up only one spot, to No. 15, but rankings were no longer the focus.  Four games remained in the season, and the three teams remaining on the Buffs’ schedule not named Nebraska had a combined record, as October came to a close, of 6-13-2.  The season, and the chance to three-peat as Big Eight champions, then, would come down to one game.  The Cornhuskers, despite a 63-6 mauling of hapless Missouri, held at No. 9 in the polls.  Nebraska was also 3-0 in Big Eight play.

It was pretty clear to anyone who looked at the Big Eight standings as the 1991 calendar turned to November:  The winner of the Colorado/Nebraska game would become the prohibitive favorite to represent the conference in the Orange Bowl.

For a Colorado team which struggled out of the gate to a 2-2 non-conference record, the thought of returning to Miami as the three-time defending Big Eight champions had a nice ring to it for the Buffs and their fans.

And there was this salient fact:  Nebraska had to travel to Boulder for the showdown.

Nerves of Spaghetti

After being four years removed from living in Boulder, you would have thought that I would have been used to it.

I was sweating out yet another Colorado game from a great distance.

Yes, Kansas State was 4-2.  And yes, the Wildcats had given the Cornhuskers all they could handle before succumbing by seven in Lincoln.  But come on.  This was KANSAS STATE.  These were the “Mildcats” from Manhattan!  Kansas State was the only team in the early 1980’s which had made Colorado look good.  When the 1991 schedule was laid out, the Kansas State game was perceived as nothing more than a bye week between the Oklahoma and Nebraska slugfests.

Still, the 10-0 win was far from easy.

I was in Bozeman, patiently waiting for updates of the inevitable Colorado rout.  The television offerings for the day were sparse (the only games between ranked teams that week were No. 12 North Carolina State v. No. 19 Clemson and No. 20 East Carolina v. No. 23 Pittsburgh – hardly dream match-ups for television executives), making the wait all the harder.  I stayed tuned as No. 5 Notre Dame struggled to defeat a mediocre USC squad at home, waiting as returns slowly came in: 0-0 at the end of the first quarter; 7-0 Colorado at half.  The 10-0 lead in the third gave some breathing room, but it was not until the “F” for final replaced the “4” for 4th quarter in the updates did I relax.

The win over Kansas State was not pretty, but it was a win.  A victory over the hated Cornhuskers, at home, would send the Buffs back to Miami.  The national title chase was long gone, but a 10-2 season, complete with a top ten finish, was not out of the question.  Colorado was riding an 18-game conference winning streak, and the three-peat was there for the taking.

There would be sweating for the Nebraska game, but at least it would all be laid out before me.  I was not planning on attending the game in person (November home games were rarely attended after I moved to Bozeman.  I drove to most games, and travel conditions across Montana and Wyoming in November were not those one could depend on).  Brad would be there along with Scott, though, and I would be able to tune into the game as ESPN had picked up the game as its national Saturday night game.

I would shiver throughout the contest, but only from nervousness. Brad and Scott’s shivers were from the cold.

Kickoff temperature for the Nebraska game was 12 degrees, with a wind-chill factor of minus-eight.

Game Notes:

– When Colorado did not score in the first quarter against Kansas State, it marked the first time since 1987 in which the Buffs had not scored in each quarter against the Wildcats (a string of 15 quarters).

– The Buffs sacked Kansas State quarterback Paul Watson nine times, tying the mark Colorado posted against Wyoming in the opener, with nine being the second-most sacks ever in a game by the Colorado defense. Leonard Renfro’s three sacks were a team high for the season.

– Senior nose tackle Joel Steed, who had two sacks amongst his seven tackles against Kansas State, would go on to be named a first-team All-Big Eight defensive lineman, and was also a first-team Walter Camp All-American.

– Red-shirt freshman safety Chris Hudson had his fourth of four interceptions on the season against the Wildcats. Hudson led the team in interceptions on the season, and in so doing became the first freshman ever to lead the team in interceptions, and the first non-starter to do so since 1964. Hudson would go on to win the Thorpe Award for the nation’s best defensive back after the 1994 season.

– Red-shirt freshman offensive tackle Derek West received his first career start against Kansas State, subbing for an injured Craig Anderson. While West did not have any other starts in 1991, he would go on to start every game in 1992, 1993, and 1994, earning honorable mention All-Big Eight honors as a senior.

– Lamont Warren had 26 carries (a season-high for the Buffs) for 118 yards and one touchdown.

– Michael Westbrook’s seven receptions (for 91 yards) was also a season-high for the Buffs, as were Darian Hagan’s 25 pass attempts and 12 pass completions.

– Kansas State would go on to win three of its final four games in 1991, posting a 7-4 record … the best record for a Kansas State team since 1954, when the Wildcats finished with a 7-3 record.



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