CU At Its Best – No. 19          December 31, 1999 – Colorado 62, No. 25 Boston College 28

Note … This is the second in a series of the best CU games of the past 35 seasons. We will be counting down the top 20 games, with a new game each weekend leading up to the season opener against Hawai’i.

CU at Its Best – No. 20 – September 2, 1995 – No. 14 Colorado 43, No. 21 Wisconsin 7

A Good Loss

While the Buffs and their fans were still mourning the lost opportunity of the final moments of the Nebraska game, some good did come from the 33-30 overtime loss.  Nebraska had come into the game against Colorado ranked third in the Bowl Championship Series standings, behind only undefeated Florida State and Virginia Tech.  The Cornhuskers needed a convincing win over the Buffs, along with a win over Texas in the Big 12 Championship game, to play for the national title.  The narrow escape from Boulder virtually eliminated the Cornhuskers’ title chances.

The game also had repercussions on the Buffs’ bowl chances.

The Big 12 had seven bowl eligible teams, but contracts for only six bowl slots.  At the bottom of the list were Colorado and Texas Tech, both at 6-5 (OSU lost its last game to Oklahoma to finish 5-6).  The Red Raiders had an edge over the Buffs, in that they had trounced Colorado 31-10 earlier in the year, but now Colorado had the national attention of almost upsetting the third-ranked team in the nation.

The near win was enough for the officials of the Insight.com Bowl, formerly the Copper Bowl.  The Buffs were invited to play 8-3 the Boston College Eagles from the Big East Conference on New Year’s Eve in Tucson, Arizona.  The national exposure, along with the extra practices a bowl bid represented, were of enormous value to the Buffs.

Still, the greatest impact of the game was several years from being realized.  Fifteen recruits attended the Colorado/Nebraska game, and were on the sidelines to witness the near miracle comeback.  Several of those present committed to play for the Buffs.  Whether the Nebraska game was the deciding factor for these players is speculation, but it had to help to have the loudest crowd in years cheering on the determined team effort.

By any account, as the Buffs settled in to practice for Boston College, hoping to finish the 1999 season on a winning note, few would soon forget the last Colorado/Nebraska game of the century.

December 31st – at Tucson – Insight.com Bowl                      Colorado 62, No. 25 Boston College 28

On the final day of the 20th century, the Colorado Buffaloes played the Boston College Eagles in the Insight.com Bowl.  The meeting was the first between the two schools, and, after a 62-28 rout by Colorado, it could be some time before Boston College would want a re-match.

Scoring in almost every way imaginable, Colorado rolled over Boston College.  Running back Cortlen Johnson scored twice, and had a career-best 201 yards out of Colorado’s 365 total rushing yards.  Playing in his final game as a Buff, Mike Moschetti completed 14-of-24 passes for 149 yards before sitting out much of the second half.  Not to be outdone, the Buff defense and special teams also contributed, with the defense returning two interceptions for scores, while Ben Kelly brought back a punt 88 yards for a touchdown.

By the end of the first quarter, the score was 21-0, Colorado.

The Buffs took the opening kickoff and marched 65 yards in 13 plays, with Cortlen Johnson scoring the first touchdown of the afternoon on a ten-yard run. Boston College answered with a drive of their own, making it as far as the CU 26-yard line before missing a 43-yard field goal.

Touchdown drive No. 2 was a 12-play, 74-yard effort by the Buffs’ offense. This time Mike Moschetti finished off the drive with a two-yard run with 1:47 left to play in the first quarter.

Thirty seconds after Moschetti’s two-yard run had given Colorado a two touchdown cushion, linebacker Jashon Sykes intercepted a pass by Boston College quarterback Tim Hasselback, returning the ball 29 yards for a touchdown. 21-0, Colorado.

A few minutes later, senior free safety Rashidi Barnes intercepted a pass by backup Eagle quarterback Brian St. Pierre, returning the pick 21 yards for the Buffs’ fourth score.  Less than two minutes later, Ben Kelly returned an Eagles’ punt 88 yards for a touchdown, and the rout was on, with Colorado up 35-0 midway through the second quarter.

Down five scores, Boston College finally got on the scoreboard, but not with its offense.

The fourth non-offensive score in succession was a 78-yard interception return by Eagle George White. Order was quickly restored, however, as Cortlen Johnson posted his second touchdown of the afternoon a few minutes later on a two-yard run to make it 42-7, with Jeremy Aldrich making it a 45-7 game with a 26-yard field goal just before halftime.

The 45 points set an all-time NCAA record for first half points in a bowl game, besting 42 points posted in the first half by Toledo in 1969, and tied just a few days earlier by Illinois against Virginia.

The outcome of the game was no longer in doubt, but the second half still remained to be played.

A 21-yard field goal by Jeremy Aldrich midway through the third quarter made it a 48-7 game, with Boston College recovering its own fumble in the CU endzone for a touchdown to give the Eagles their second quirky touchdown of the game. Mike Moschetti’s Colorado career came to a close with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Roman Hollowell late in the third quarter, making it 55-14.

A Zac Colvin four-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter made it 62-14, with Boston College getting two consolation touchdowns to make it a 62-28 final.

“Gary has come back in here, and he brought a sense of team,” said offensive coordinator Tom Cable, coaching his last game for the Buffs before assuming responsibilities as head coach at his alma mater, Idaho.  “To be part of that is pretty awesome.”

Cortlen Johnson, in besting his previous career high of 185 against Iowa State, was hesitant to accept all the praise. “I can’t take all the credit,” Johnson said.  “The offensive line did a great job of opening up holes, and the wide receivers blocked well downfield.”

Johnson’s coach, though, had nothing but praise for his sophomore tailback. “Cortlen really started to turn it on as the year went on,” said Gary Barnett after the game.  “He kept looking better and better his last five or six games, and we became a better team.”

The Buffs had indeed become a better team, though not quite enough to make it into the final polls for the 1999 season (CU finished 28th in the AP polling; 29th in the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll).  7-5 was not the record Colorado had envisioned in August, but after the debacle against Colorado State and the disheartening losses to Washington and Texas Tech, a 7-5 record, capped with an amazing comeback against Nebraska and a thorough domination of a ranked Boston College squad, certainly gave Buff fans reason to be optimistic about the future.

On to 2000

The 1999 season certainly ended on a high note.  The Buffs were finally “buying into” coach Gary Barnett’s system, and there was plenty of talent returning for the 2000 campaign.  The last five quarters of play were the best all year, and highly touted recruits were giving Colorado more than just a casual glance.

But there were gathering clouds on the horizon as well.

Shortly after the season ended, junior cornerback Ben Kelly announced he would forego his senior season at Colorado in order to make himself eligible for the NFL draft.  With the losses of senior safety Rashidi Barnes and cornerback Damen Wheeler, the Buffs were now faced with the loss of three quarters of their secondary.  Along with Moschetti, the Buffs’ offense would have to replace three starters along the offensive line.

And then there was this …

In an article in The Sporting News (“2000 and 12″, January 10, 2000), TSN looked into its crystal ball and predicted twelve teams which would emerge as contenders for the national championship in 2000.  In addition to the expected Florida State’s and Florida’s of the college football world, there were four teams from the Big 12 (Nebraska, Kansas State, Texas, and Texas A&M), all four of which were on Colorado’s schedule for the fall.  Also given national title hopes was USC, which just happened to be on CU’s 2000 schedule as well.

In all, five of Colorado’s first six games in the upcoming year were against 1999 bowl participants (the lone “breather” was against USC on the road).

At the end of the 1999 season, the University of Colorado emerged as a team on the rise.  For Colorado to remain on the way up, though, it would have to navigate a difficult 2000 schedule.

[CU would, of course, go on to suffer through its worst season in sixteen years in 2000.  Opening with four tough losses – including three to teams ranked in the top 11 in the nation – the Buffs would endure a 3-8 campaign.]

Insight.com Bowl notes

– Against Boston College, the 200-yard barrier was surpassed by a Buff back for only the 21st time in school history.  Cortlen Johnson’s 201-yard effort, though, was only the third best effort by a Colorado running back in a bowl game, falling short of the 254 yards posted by Bobby Anderson against Alabama in the 1969 Liberty Bowl, and 202 put up by Charlie Davis in the 1971 Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl. Johnson’s average per carry, however, (13.4 – on 15 for 201 yards) did set a new school bowl game record.

– Colorado’s 45 points were the most ever in a first half of a bowl game in NCAA history, besting the 42 points put up by Toledo against Davidson in the first half of the 1969 Tangerine Bowl.  The 45 points, though, only tied Colorado for the most ever in a half, as Oklahoma State posted 45 against Wyoming in the second half of the 1988 Holiday Bowl (ironically enough, a game which I attended, taking in the Cowboys vs. Cowboys game after watching CU in the Freedom Bowl against BYU the day before. My story for the Holiday Bowl, 1988, can be found here)

– Ben Kelly’s 88-yard punt return for a touchdown was the longest in NCAA bowl history, placing Kelly’s name in the record book alongside fellow CU defensive back Marcus Washington, who set the record for the longest interception return in bowl history, 95 yards, against Oregon in the 1996 Cotton Bowl.

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