CU on New Year’s Day

Colorado is 4-7 all-time in games played on New Year’s Day or New Year’s bowl games.

The 1957 Orange Bowl was CU’s first-bowl victory (and first-ever national television broadcast of a Buff game), while the 1996 Cotton Bowl rout of Oregon capped a successful inaugural season for Rick Neuheisel (but has come back to haunt the Buffs over the last two decades). The other New Year’s Day wins? Oh yeah, the 1991 Orange Bowl and 1995 Fiesta Bowl.


– January 1, 1925 — Hawai’i, 13, Colorado 0 …

The 1924 season … The Buffs posted one of the most dominating seasons in school history in the fall of 1924. Colorado was undefeated during the campaign, going 7-0-1 in dominating the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Colorado did not give up a point all fall, with the only blemish being a 0-0 tie against Denver.

The game … The Buffs traveled to the islands in December, defeating Hawai’i Naval All-Stars on Christmas Day, 43-0, extending the un-scored upon streak to nine games. On New Year’s Day, 1925, however, the Buffs gave up their first points of the season, and suffered their first loss, falling to Hawai’i, 13-0.

– January 1, 1938 — No. 18 Rice 28, Colorado 14 … Cotton Bowl …

The 1937 season … As was the case in 1924, Colorado went unbeaten during the fall, only to suffer its first loss on the first day of the New Year. Behind future Hall of Famer and Supreme Court justice Byron “Whizzer” White, the Buffs went 8-0 in their final year in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (joining the Mountain States Conference in 1938). The Colorado defense did not allow more than seven points in any one game, out-scoring its opponents 248-26. White led the nation in rushing (1,121 yards), total offense (1,596 yards), and scoring (122 points), going on to finish second in the balloting for the Heisman trophy.

The game … In the second-ever Cotton Bowl, CU lost its first-ever bowl game. The Cotton Bowl is the fourth-oldest bowl game, behind only the Rose (1902) and the Orange and Sugar bowls (both had their first games in 1935). Despite CU’s 8-0 record, the Buffs were “4-to-1” underdogs to the Rice Owls, who were champions of the powerful Southwest Conference.

White led the Buffs to a 14-0 first quarter lead, but the Owls went on to score the final 28 points of the game. Accounts at the time in the newspapers in both Colorado and Texas praised the CU effort, despite the 28-14 final.

– January 1, 1957 — No. 20 Colorado 27, No. 19 Clemson 21 … Orange Bowl

The 1956 season … Colorado posted an 8-1-1 record in the regular season, with a 4-1-1 record in Big Seven play. The Buffs only loss in conference play was to No. 1 ranked Oklahoma, which was in the middle of a 60-1-1 run in conference play in the 1950’s. The Sooners topped the Buffs, 27-19, but the CU’s loss was so impressive that the previously unranked Buffs entered the polls the next week as the No. 18 team in the nation.

… The game … In CU’s second-ever bowl game, and first-ever national television appearance, Dal Ward’s Buffaloes got first half touchdowns from John Bayuk, Howard Cook and Boyd Dowler to take the seemingly safe 20-point halftime lead. But Frank Howard’s Tigers roared back to go ahead by 21-20 with 11:12 left in the game on a one-yard run by fullback Bob Spooner.

But the Buffs responded, driving 53 yards for the winning score. Eddie Dove carried four times and Bayuk three in the drive, with
Bayuk getting the touchdown from the one-yard out midway through the fourth quarter, giving CU a 27-21 victory.

– January 1, 1962 … No. 4 LSU 25, No. 6 Colorado 7 … Orange Bowl

The 1961 season … Colorado went undefeated in Big 8 play, even taking down mighty Oklahoma. The Buffs went 8-1 in the regular season, including a road win over Miami which pushed Colorado into the top 10 nationally. The only loss in the regular season was a non-conference loss to, ironically enough, to Utah. Record-setting quarterback Gale Weidner and future Rhodes Scholar guard Joe Romig (and the second Buff, after Bryon White, to be nominated to the College Football Hall of Fame) led the offense. It was the Buff defense, however, which held opponents to 7.9 points per game, which got the Buffs back to Miami for the Orange Bowl.

… The game … Big Eight champion Colorado was outclassed by Louisiana State’s Tigers, and the Buffaloes lost a 25-7 decision in the 28th Orange Bowl Classic before 62,391 onlookers. Sonny Grandelius’ Buffs managed only 129 yards in total offense against the LSU “Chinese Bandit” defense, while the Tigers earned 315 yards.

– January 1, 1977 … No. 11 Ohio State 27, No. 12 Colorado 10 … Orange Bowl

The 1976 season … The Buffs finished the regular season with an 8-3 record. After a season-opening loss on the road against Texas Tech, the Buffs ran off three consecutive non-conference wins, including wins over Washington and Miami. The Buffs went 5-2 in Big Eight play, with losses to No. 6 Nebraska and No. 16 Missouri. The Buffs did beat both Oklahoma schools, however, which proved decisive in determining the Big Eight’s representative in the Orange Bowl. CU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State all finished with 5-2 conference records, but the Buffs earned the trip to Miami due to their wins over the Sooners and Cowboys.

The game … Colorado won the Big Eight for the first time since 1961, but, as had been the case 15 years earlier, the trip to Miami didn’t go well. As was usually the case with the Buffs on New Year’s Day, the Buffs started out well, taking a 10-0 lead over the Buckeyes. Unfortunately, the remainder of the game was also too familiar, with Ohio State out-scoring CU 27-0 the rest of the way.

– January 1, 1990 … No. 4 Notre Dame 21, No. 1 Colorado 6 … Orange Bowl 

The 1989 season … Darian Hagan, subbing for Sal Aunese, ran for 75 yards on the second play of the season, setting in motion a 27-6 rout of Texas. The death of Aunese after a 38-7 rout of No. 10 Illinois set the stage for an emotional 45-28 rout of No. 21 Washington in Seattle. In November, in a game which Bill McCartney labeled, “The greatest win I’ve ever been a part of”, the Buffs took out No. 3 Nebraska, 27-21. 

The game … It was not meant to be. After Colorado squandered several excellent scoring opportunities in the scoreless first half, Notre Dame took advantage of its chances in the second half.  The Fighting Irish posted two touchdowns in the third quarter before utilizing a time-draining fourth quarter scoring drive to seal a 21-6 win over the Buffs.  The Colorado offense, which had averaged over 40 points per contest during the regular season, could only muster one touchdown, a 39-yard run by Darian Hagan in the third quarter.

– January 1, 1991 … No. 1 Colorado 10, No. 5 Notre Dame 9 … Orange Bowl

… The 1990 season … A national championship was the furthest thing from the minds of the Buffs and their fans as the preseason top ten Buffs opened with a 1-1-1 record. The season turned on come-from-behind 29-22 road win over No. 22 Texas, inspired by running back Eric Bieniemy. An end zone interception by Deon Figures preserved a 20-14 over No. 12 Washington the following week, followed by the infamous “Fifth Down” game at Missouri. Another game for the ages against Nebraska, this time a 27-12 win in a game in which the Buffs trailed 12-0 after the third quarter, punched the Buffs’ return ticket to Miami for the Orange Bowl.

The game … In a game largely devoid of offensive highlights, the Colorado Buffaloes overcame the loss of two key starters to defeat Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, 10-9. The hard-fought win enabled Colorado to stake a claim to the Buffs’ first-ever national football championship. An Eric Bieniemy one-yard touchdown run tied the score midway through the third quarter, with Jim Harper’s extra point providing the margin of victory.

–  January 1, 1993 … No. 6 Syracuse 26, No. 10 Colorado 22 … Fiesta Bowl

The 1992 season … The Buffs entered the 1992 campaign as the No. 12 team in the nation, and found themselves in the top 10 after rallying from a 17-0 deficit to defeat Minnesota, 21-20 (with the debut of true freshman quarterback Koy Detmer), and surviving a Thursday night return to Missouri for the first time since the Fifth Down game. A tie against Oklahoma and a drubbing by Nebraska left the Buffs with an 9-1-1 regular season ranking and a No. 10 national ranking.

The game … The headline for the 1993 edition of the Fiesta Bowl could well have been:  “Syracuse Beaches Colorado”.  Taking advantage of a field which was little more than a green-painted sand box, the Orangeman took advantage of Colorado miscues and a 100-yard kickoff return to defeat the Buffs, 26-22.

– January 2, 1995 … No. 4 Colorado 41, Notre Dame 24 … Fiesta Bowl (okay, so the game was not played on January 1st, but the Fiesta Bowl is certainly a “New Year’s Day” bowl)

... The 1994 season … Perhaps the best team in Colorado history had one bad game, keeping the Buffs from a second national championship. With an offense which would see all 11 starters play in the NFL (and an excellent defense), the Buffs played some memorable games. The non-conference schedule included a 55-17 romp over No. 10 Wisconsin, the “Miracle at Michigan”, and then another thriller, a 34-31 win in Austin over No. 16 Texas.

In Big Eight play, the Buffs romped over No. 22 Oklahoma, 45-7 and No. 19 Kansas State, 35-21, to set up a showdown against Nebraska. Unfortunately, No. 2 Colorado didn’t show up against No. 3 Nebraska in Lincoln, falling 24-7. Undefeated Nebraska went on to win the national championship, leaving the Buffs to play in the Fiesta Bowl. The regular season did not conclude without some major drama, however. In a 41-20 win over Iowa State, Rashaan Salaam went over 2,000 yards rushing, Kordell Stewart went over 7,000 yards of total offense … and Bill McCartney announced his retirement.

The game … Notre Dame teams have always been noted for overcoming the odds and winning games they are not supposed to. This tradition continued under the direction of fiery head coach Lou Holtz. With several weeks to prepare, Holtz was often able to overcome long odds. Despite the mediocre record of the Irish in 1994, the Buffs had to take Notre Dame seriously.

For a half at least … With 1:45 remaining in the second quarter, the Fiesta Bowl scoreboard read: Colorado 31, Notre Dame 3. That the Irish were able to make the final score more respectable, at 41-24, was of little consequence to the Buffs as they won for Bill McCartney his 93rd game.

– January 1, 1996 … No. 7 Colorado 38, No. 12 Oregon 6 … Cotton Bowl

The 1995 season … Rick Neuheisel was a controversial pick to succeed Bill McCartney as head coach at Colorado. The choice, though, looked like a brilliant one, as the Neuheisel era opened with a 43-7 romp on the road over No. 21 Wisconsin. The Buffs kept rolling, with memorable wins over No. 3 Texas A&M (29-21, with Jon Hessler stepping in for an injured Koy Detmer) and over No. 10 Oklahoma (38-17, behind a record-setting performance by Hessler).

A surprising loss to No. 24 Kansas, followed by another defeat at the hands of No. 2 Nebraska took CU out of the national championship race. The Buffs faced a No. 4 finish … in the Big 8 … if they lost to Kansas State in the regular season finale. The Buffs rose to the occasion, however, defeating No. 7 Kansas State, 27-17.

The game … Head coach Rick Neuheisel concluded a successful first campaign at Colorado, leading the Buffs to a convincing 38-6 win over 12th-ranked Oregon.  The Buffs notched their 10th win of the season behind a sluggish offense and a turnover-producing defense. The game proved to be a Pyrrhic victory however, as the rout prompted Oregon alumnus Phil Knight to decide to pump millions into the Duck program, taking Oregon from a national afterthought to a national power.

(If you are not familiar with the story … Knight, a supporter of all things Oregon even before 1996, went all in on recreating the Ducks after watching the Buffs dominate his alma mater in the Cotton Bowl. If you want to grimace as to how money buys you wins, check out “University of Nike” by Joshua Hunt).

– January 1, 2002 … No. 2 Oregon 38, No. 3 Colorado 16 … Fiesta Bowl

The 2001 season … Coming off of a 3-8 season in 2000, a 24-22 home loss to Fresno State to open the 2001 season had the vultures circling, wondering if head coach Gary Barnett would last the season. The Buffs quickly righted the ship, however, taking out No. 24 Colorado State, 41-14, the following week. A 16-6 win over No. 12 Kansas State and a 31-21 win over No. 25 Texas A&M allowed the Buffs to rise to No. 14 in the polls. A humbling 41-7 loss to No. 9 Texas set the Buffs back.

Three more Big 12 wins got CU back to No. 14 in the country, with the Buffs facing No. 2 Nebraska in Boulder. The 62-36 domination of the Cornhuskers has become the stuff of Colorado legend, and the win gave the Buffs a second chance to take on Texas. The Buffs exacted their revenge with a 39-37 win over the No. 3 Texas got the Buffs within a few decimal points of the national championship game.

The game … Oregon gave the nation reason to wonder if the nation’s second best team had been given the opportunity to play Miami in the Rose Bowl, dominating Colorado, 38-16. Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington threw for 350 yards and four touchdowns as the Ducks routed what had been the nation’s hottest team.


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