CU Games of the Day – October 1st

October 1st … CU has an 4-3 record on this date over the past 40 years, with two of the victories (and one of the losses) holding historic significance (at least to me) … 1983: Notre Dame’s first (and to date, only) trip to Boulder comes on the same day that I took the LSAT … 1988: Buffs travel to Ft. Collins for only the second time since 1957, coming away with a 27-23 win on a last-minute touchdown … 1994: A 35-carry, 317-yard performance from running back Rashaan Salaam lifted the Buffs to a 34-31 road win over No. 16 Texas, and made Salaam a Heisman Trophy candidate (with game video) … 2005: Posting a shutout for the second time in three games, the Colorado defense led the way to a surprisingly easy 34-0 romp over Oklahoma State in Stillwater … 2009: Cody Hawkins had 292 yards passing and two touchdowns for Colorado, but also threw three interceptions as the Buffs fall, 35-24, to West Virginia … 2011: Buffs give up two touchdowns in final 2:30 in 31-27 loss to Washington State … 2016: Buffs suffer no let down after big win over Oregon, dominating Oregon State, 47-6 …

  • 1983: Notre Dame 27, Colorado 3 … The Buffs came into the game with a 2-1 record, but were no match for the Irish … Essay: “Taking the LSAT” – The Buffs may not have won the game, but we were drinking champagne in the Senior Section nonetheless …
  • 1988: Colorado 27, Colorado State 23 … Buff quarterback Sal Aunese hit wingback Mike Pritchard for a 13-yard touchdown with only 38 seconds remaining on the game clock, lifting the Buffs to victory … Essay: “Cardiac Kids” … For the third straight weekend, the Buffs rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit to pull out a win … 
  • 1994: No. 5 Colorado 34, No. 16 Texas 31 … Junior place-kicker Neil Voskeritchian boots a 24-yard field goal with one second remaining on the game clock to give the Buffs the win … Essay: On Oxygen” – While the game was televised in most of the nation, it wasn’t in Bozeman, which made it a tense afternoon for this Buff fan …
  • 2005: Colorado 34, Oklahoma State 0 … The Buffs have a surprisingly easy time of if it, with the defense leading the way to a shutout in Stillwater … Essay: “Cautions Optimism” … The Buffs looked good in the Big 12 opener against the Cowboys, but had looked equally as bad the week before against Miami …
  • 2009: West Virginia 35, Colorado 24 … The Buffs lose by double digits to an unranked team, but actually gave their fans some sense of optimism … Essay: “Best Effort By Far” … Dan Hawkins’ comments would have been infuriating – if they hadn’t been true …
  • 2011: Washington State 31, Colorado 27 … Buffs seize defeat from the jaws of victory, giving up two touchdowns in the final 2:30 to fall to the Cougars … Essay:Cougin’ It” … Such an improbable loss had happened before – to the same opponent – some 30 years earlier …
  • 2016: Colorado 47, Oregon State 6 … Buffs follow up huge road win over Oregon with a home domination of Oregon State, 47-6 … Essay:A Let Down? Not So Much” … Buffs return to the national stage after rout of the Beavers …

Check out the stories for all seven games below …

October 1, 1983 – Boulder           Notre Dame 27, Colorado 3

A boisterous crowd of 52,692 crammed into Folsom Field for the CU/Notre Dame game … a stadium with a listed capacity of 51,463.

It was at the time the largest non-conference crowd ever, and the eighth-largest crowd in Folsom Field history. Ripe with anticipation of an upset, the Buff faithful were instead treated to a demonstration as to how a talented major college football team takes care of business on the road.

Notre Dame took the opening kickoff and proceeded to put together an eight-play, 80-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead. Notre Dame halfback Allen Pinkett led the way, posting runs of 13 and 36 yards before scoring on a 10 yard jaunt.

The Irish would never look back, putting together an impressive 27-3 win.

On the day, Allen Pinkett rushed for 132 yards on 18 carries, with fullback Chris Smith contributing another 70 yards on ten carries, including a 29-yard touchdown run.

While arguably never really in the contest, the Buffs did have a chance to make a game of it early in the third quarter.

Down 17-3 at halftime, Colorado took the second half kickoff and marched smartly down the field. With a first-and-goal at the Notre Dame nine yard line, and the Buff Nation ready to explode, the following sequence of plays doomed the Buffs’ chances:

– Incomplete pass from Steve Vogel to Loy Alexander;

– Incomplete pass from Steve Vogel to (a wide open) Lee Rouson;

– Steve Vogel sacked for a 12-yard loss; and, painfully

– A missed 38-yard field goal by Tom Field.

“We just lost to a better football team”, Bill McCartney understated after the game. “They didn’t make any mistakes. They had been making mistakes – and paying for them – but today they didn’t make any.” The Buffs could only muster 236 yards of total offense, compared to 494 yards allowed to Notre Dame.

Now what?

The Buffs had completed the non-conference portion of the 1983 schedule with a 2-2 record. If offered such a mark in August, most, if not all Colorado fans, noting a total of only nine wins combined over the previous four seasons, would have jumped at the chance to have a .500 team.

Now, with the build up and subsequent disappointment associated with the Notre Dame game, the 2-2 mark seemed inadequate.

The mettle of the Buffs would now be tested. Up next was a Missouri team that was beatable to open Big Eight play. The game would be in Boulder (the Buffs’ fourth straight home game), and the Tigers were a tame 2-2, having fallen the previous week at home to East Carolina, 13-6.

If Colorado was to post its first record over .500 since 1976, this was a must win.

Taking the LSAT … 

The University of Colorado had never played the University of Notre Dame in football.

This simple statement, in and of itself, was enough to raise anticipation level for the matchup between the Buffs and the Irish.

But there was also this: heading into the October 1, 1983, Colorado/Notre Dame game in Boulder, Colorado was 2-1; Notre Dame 1-2.

As a result, there was excitement across the Boulder campus not only about the possibility of playing Notre Dame, but about the possibility of actually beating the Irish.

It would be safe to assume that I, as a fan of college football, and especially a fan of the (apparently) resurgent Colorado Buffaloes, would have done little else the week leading up to the game other than prepare for the historic encounter.

Unfortunately, I had a large distraction keeping from focusing on the game – the Law School Admission Test.

The LSAT is a test taken in preparation for applying to the law school of your choice. Like the SAT, ACT, GRE, and MCAT, the LSAT brings with it a great deal of self-inflicted pressure. I had grown up wanting to be an attorney, and my double major of history and political science was not going to open many other doors. I had to do well on this test to guarantee admission to the Colorado Law School. Good grades in my first four years in Boulder would not be enough.

The LSAT is given several times a year, but to meet application deadlines the best time to take the test comes in the fall of your senior year. The test for the fall LSAT?

Yup. Saturday, October 1st … 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Now, with a 12:15 p.m. kickoff scheduled, I knew that I would miss the kickoff, but was still likely to make most of the game.

I prepared for taking the LSAT by taking four hour practice exams every Saturday morning for six weeks leading up to the test. I scouted out the test area – the lecture hall in the basement of Duane Physics, right across the street from Folsom Field. Unlike many Buff fans, I got a good night’s sleep on Friday night. I was determined to block out what would be unfolding only a few hundred feet away.

Then Fate intervened.

Someone, somewhere, decided that it would not be a good idea to have such an important test be conducted amid such distractions. They decided that the test site should be moved, apparently oblivious to the fact the test site was actually underground, with no windows to the outside world.

Those of us arriving at Duane Physics at 7:30 that Saturday morning read a note on the door, telling us to go instead to the Guggenheim Geography building. We raced through the placid and as yet still quiet campus, hoping not to be late for the most important test of our lives. Lost on us for the moment was the irony that Guggenheim was originally the home of the CU Law School.

While overcast, October 1st was a warm, 70-degree day. On the second floor of the aging, un-airconditioned Guggenheim building, the proctors for the test soon took pity on the test-takers and opened the windows. This allowed for those of us attempting to stay focused and ensure our futures to get some fresh air.

It also served the purpose of making us fully aware of the impending Notre Dame game, courtesy of each and every fraternity throng passing the building on the way to the stadium.

While not wishing to generalize, I feel it is not an exaggeration to say that many of the fraternal order that morning had, despite the early kickoff time, imbibed during their pre-game activities. They were ready to take on the Irish themselves, offering various renditions of the school fight song, screaming out encouragement and threats to no one in particular, and generally made their presence known.

Rather than being encased in an air-conditioned tomb of Duane Physics, oblivious to the football game, we were in Guggenheim, where it became harder and harder to focus.

Chalk one up for the planners.

In the end, the test turned out fine. I did well enough to allow me to stay in Boulder for three more years. There was no way of knowing that at the time, though. All I knew as I staggered out of Guggenheim was that I was mentally and physically spent.

By the time I made it into Folsom, much of the first quarter had been played. The Buffs were already down, but I didn’t care at that particular moment – I had made it! Kyle and Kim, friends from freshman year in Libby Hall, somehow managed to smuggle in a bottle of champagne.

It was just a crying shame that I didn’t have more to celebrate that afternoon.

October 1, 1988 – at Colorado State           Colorado 27, Colorado State 23

For the third straight game, Colorado rallied from a fourth quarter deficit to pull out a win, this time a 27-23 win over Colorado State in Fort Collins.

Hosting the Buffs for only the second time since 1957, the Rams were not gracious to their guests, running out to a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter. It took a 58-yard interception return for a touchdown by senior Buff linebacker Don DeLuzio to put the Buffs on the board, making the score 13-7. By half, the Coloradso ship had apparently been righted, with a 22-yard touchdown run by Eric Bieniemy and a 28-yard field goal by Ken Culbertson giving the Buffs a 17-13 advantage.

After a second Culbertson field goal, this time from 48 yards out, gave Colorado a 20-13 advantage late in the third quarter, the Rams scored the next ten points of the game. A 49-yard filed goal and a 34-yard touchdown halfback pass off of a reverse gave Colorado State a 23-20 lead.

Just 9:13 remained.

Matters looked bleak for the Buffs as the Rams were driving with just over four minutes remaining. A decision to go for a first down on fourth-and-two from the Colorado 29-yard line by Colorado State head coach Leon Fuller proved costly, however, as Alfred Williams sacked Ram quarterback Scott Molander for a seven-yard loss.

Ten plays and 64 yards later, Buff quarterback Sal Aunese hit wingback Mike Pritchard for a 13-yard touchdown with only 38 seconds remaining on the game clock, giving the Buffs a 27-23 victory.

Colorado had now completed its non-conference slate 4-0. The win over Colorado State placed the Buffs on the verge of a national AP ranking. After accumulating enough votes to merit a 22nd ranking after the Oregon State win, Colorado edged up one more notch to 21st with the last minute escape from Fort Collins.

Up next was Oklahoma State, 3-0 and ranked 13th in the nation. A win at home over the Cowboys would ensure the first national recognition in almost ten years.

It had been a long, slow climb. The national spotlight was there for taking.

But the Buffs were more interested in giving.

Cardiac Kids

Sweating out Colorado victories was a new sensation, especially from a distance of 700 miles.

The Iowa win was a complete surprise, and, to be honest, I had only hoped the Buffs would keep the game close against a team which had started the season in the top ten in the national polls. After all, no McCartney-coached team had ever beaten a ranked team on the road. So when the Buffs ran out to a 14-0 lead early against the Hawkeyes, I was dumbfounded. The next television update was the 14-14 halftime score, and the “I knew it” pessimist in me returned.

The only other update before the game ended was “Iowa 21, Colorado 17”, and I returned to “well, we fought the good fight” mentality. The final score, Colorado 24, Iowa 21, had to be seen in print in the Sunday paper before I would believe it was true.

The Iowa game made the Oregon State and Colorado State games all the more difficult to endure.

The Beavers and Rams were not supposed to be capable of challenging a team which could defeat a ranked team on the road. After the Iowa game, the Colorado score merited more attention on the national networks (though still no television coverage), but that was a double-edged sword. The halftime scores (up 16-7 v. Oregon State, up 17-13 v. Colorado State) were closer than desired, but acceptable.

When the Buffs fell behind each opponent, though, the networks (I am talking, for the most part, about ABC and its game-of-the-week) were quick to spot the potential upset. When the Buffs retook the lead late, though, no special attention was given. For three straight weeks, then, the first time I was aware that the Buffs had rallied for victory was after the final score was posted.

Tense … but exciting.

Colorado was now 4-0 for the first time since before I had traveled to Boulder for my freshman year. The CNN/USA Today poll had the Buffs ranked 19th in the nation; the AP 21st. A win over Barry Sanders and 13th-ranked Oklahoma State would mean a national ranking, a milestone in the McCartney era.

I couldn’t sit home for that, waiting for updates while watching whichever game the networks had decided Montanans would be most interested in.

I made the pilgrimage to Boulder for the October 8th match-up. Brad had managed to score us some midfield seats in the Senior section (though I was now two years removed from being a student; Brad one). Just like 1986, when we had front row seats to witness the 20-10 win over Nebraska, we wanted to be there as McCartney and the Buffs surpassed the latest challenge. Sure, Oklahoma State was 3-0, and was averaging 53 points a game, but this was the Buffs’ year.

What we witnessed, though, was not the accomplishment of a goal.

Rather, we were in the audience for a frustrating loss of an opportunity.

October 1, 1994 – at Texas                          No. 5 Colorado 34, No. 16 Texas 31

Texas was more than anxious to take a crack at the No.5 Buffs.  Undefeated on the young season, the 16th-ranked Longhorns were 3-0 for the first time since 1985.  Playing at home in front of a sell-out crowd of 77,809 (the first non-conference sell-out for the Longhorns in ten years) Texas players looked to avenge the 36-14 pasting laid on them by the Buffs in 1993 season-opener.

Eight returning starters on offense and nine on defense gave Longhorn fans plenty of confidence that the media-drunk Buffs would leave Austin in a different mood than they had Ann Arbor.

But it was Texas and their fans that left the stadium displeased, as, for the second week in a row, Colorado scratched out a last-second win against a ranked opponent on the opponent’s home field.  Junior place-kicker Neil Voskeritchian booted through a 24-yard field goal with one second remaining on the game clock to give the Buffs a 34-31 win.

Sharing the spotlight with Voskeritchian was junior tailback Rashaan Salaam, who made a splash in the national media with a record-setting performance.  Salaam rushed for 317 yards on 35 carries, marking only the second time in school history that a CU player had eclipsed the 300-yard barrier (Charlie Davis ran all over Oklahoma State for 342 yards on 34 carries in 1971).  With his 45 yards receiving, Salaam also set a school mark for all-purpose yards at 362.

Game Story … Texas took an early 3-0 lead with a 45-yard field goal, but Colorado responded late in the first quarter with a six-yard touchdown run by Rashaan Salaam. Then it was the Longhorns’ turn, with Texas quarterback Shea Morenz hitting wide receiver Lovell Pinkney for a nine-yard score and a 10-7 Texas advantage early in the second quarter.

The rest of the first half belonged to the Buffs and Colorado rushing attack.

The Colorado offense responded to the Texas touchdown with a quick five-play, 83-yard drive. A 59-yard run by Rashaan Salaam gave the Buffs a first-and-goal at the Texas six, with the drive finished off two plays later with a three-yard touchdown run by Troutman. Later in the quarter, Troutman scored again, this time from seven yards out, giving Colorado a 21-10 halftime advantage.

Texas, though, playing before a home crowd of 77,809 (the fifth-largest crowd to ever see the Buffs play), fought back. A 29-yard field goal, followed by a second Morenz-to-Pinkney connection (followed by a successful two-point conversion), made it a tie game at 21-all midway through the third quarter.

A 44-yard Voskeritchian field goal late in the third quarter gave the Buffs the lead back, at 24-21.

Following a Texas punt, the Buffs next took the ball over at their ten-yard line. A 14-play, 90-yard drive ensued, with penalties on both sides of the ball moving the ball – and momentum – back-and-forth. Once again, a long run by Rashaan Salaam – this time a 26-yarder on third-and-six at the Texas 28-yard line, set up a scoring run by Herchell Troutman – this time a two-yarder – to make it a 31-21 game.

The six-minute, 90-yard drive by the Buff offense, taking six minutes of game clock, though, did not take the fight out of the Longhorns.  A 67-yard bomb from Morenz to wide receiver Eric Jackson brought the Longhorns to within three less than a minute of game clock after the Troutman score. Colorado 31, Texas 28, with 6:41 still left to play.

A quick three-and-out from the Buffs gave the Longhorns the ball back near midfield. A few plays later, Texas kicker Phil Dawson tied the game at 31-31 with a 47-yarder with 4:49 to play.

The stage was then set for the Buffs’ final drive.

A tipped pass on the second play of the drive went from Salaam to Westbrook. While not as dramatic as the Westbrook catch against Michigan a week early, the ball fell into friendly hands, keeping the drive alive. Later, on third-and-nine at the Texas 38-yard line, Salaam, who had gone over 300 yards rushing a few plays earlier, took a screen pass from Kordell Stewart and gained 16 yards to put the Buffs into field goal range.

In all, Colorado marched 73 yards in 13 plays, taking all but one second of remaining game time, setting up Voskeritchian’s game-winning 24-yard field goal.

After the contest, there was plenty to celebrate in the victorious Buff locker room.  “These guys have a lot of grit,” said relieved head coach Bill McCartney.  “They’ve had to reach deep and they’ve been able to do it.  (Beating three straight ranked opponents – for the first time in school history) is a hard thing to do.”

And what of the two heroes, Voskeritchian and Salaam?  They were both saying the right things to the gathered media.  “It’s definitely fun to be part of the victory,” said the kicker nick-named “Kavorkian”, “but you really have to look at it as just another kick.”  Said Salaam:  “We’ve shown the nation that we’re a top team, but we have to keep going and be successful week-in and week-out.  We feel good, but we have Missouri next week.”

As to his 35-carry, 317-yard performance, Salaam didn’t have enough energy after the game to form a long statement. “I’m shot,” said Salaam afterward. “The IV’s really helped out, but I’m dead. All I can say is I’m glad I don’t go to a southern school. This ain’t no joke out here.”

He gained 18 on his second carry of the day, then nine more on the next. He broke thru for a 59 yard run minutes later then, after two more carries, he was free for 20 more. Nearly everything Salaam did in the first half worked to perfection as he continued to consistently meander his way into the Texas secondary.

To many watching, it may have appeared that the heat was affecting the supposedly acclimated Longhorns much more than the unaccustomed Buffs.

“Rashaan is the man,” said quarterback Kordell Stewart. “He just took over out there on almost every play. He was incredible.”

“Despite the way I was playing, I never saw myself as the hero out there,” Salaam said. “When you see a back with all that yardage, you know the linemen had to be doing their job.”

After heavyweights Wisconsin, Michigan and Texas, the Buffs were finally moving on to a team outside the national spotlight, Missouri.

The 1-3 Missouri Tigers did not figure to be the equal of the Buffs’ three previous opponents, but it was to be the Buffs third straight game on the road.

As Salaam warned after the Texas game, “Every team is going to be gunning for us, so we can’t let up.”

Here is the YouTube video of the game … 

On Oxygen

As exciting as last-second wins are, and as fun as it is to cheer for a successful team, the Texas game was almost the end of me.  The Colorado/Texas game was a regionally broadcast game on ABC.  Regional games involving CU were often shown in Bozeman in the mid-1990’s, presumably on the theory of loyalty for Mountain Time Zone teams. For the first weekend in October, 1994, however, the powers that be at ABC decided that Montana fans would be more interested in watching 12th-ranked Washington beat up on UCLA, 37-10.

For me, then, participation in watching the Colorado/Texas clash came down to updates from ABC during the Husky rout.

Several times during the afternoon, I breathed sighs of relief, only to become tense once again.  Twice the Buffs built double-digit leads, only to see them evaporate.  After Texas scored 10 points in less than three minutes to tie the score at 31, I did what every loyal Buff fan should do in such situations.

I called Brad.

Brad, in Grand Junction, Colorado, was able to watch the game on the local ABC affiliate.  What was intended to be a short call to get an update became a marathon call.  I listened as Brad gave me the play-by-play of the Buffs’ final, 13-play, 73-yard drive.  On second-and-seven to start the drive, Stewart’s throw to Salaam was tipped, only to fall into the waiting arms of Michael Westbrook.  Later, Salaam pushed the ball up field on runs of nine and 18 yards.  After two Herchell Troutman runs netted the Buffs only one yard, The Buffs faced a critical third-and-nine at the Texas 39-yard line.  Colorado was still too far away to kick a field goal, and an unsuccessful fourth down try would give the Longhorns the ball with good field position and plenty of time on the clock.  Colorado called time out, and Brad and I discussed options while my wife, Lee, watched me with a mixture of confusion and bemusement.

Enter Rashaan Salaam.

The Buffs’ game-breaker broke the Longhorns on that crucial third down play, but not with a run.  The Buffs crossed-up the Longhorns with a screen pass to Salaam.  The play went for 15 yards down the right sideline, and the Buffs were in business.  Five plays later, Voskeritchian was called in.  Only seconds remained.

Back in Bozeman, the goings on the television screen were long forgotten.  I held Lee’s hand as Brad described the scene leading up the field goal attempt.  While only a 24-yarder, there were no guarantees.  I knelt beside my bride of two months (who was likely having second thoughts about her wedding vows), and closed my eyes.  The kick was up   …..   and GOOD!  The Buffs were 4-0!

The seemingly impossible non-conference schedule was over, with Colorado’s national championship aspirations in tact.

Before the Buffs now laid the Big Eight schedule, with three ranked opponents, Oklahoma, Kansas State, and Nebraska still to be played.  All three foes would come back-to-back-to-back after the Missouri game, so there was little time to enjoy the two last second wins.

The real season was about to begin.

October 1, 2005 – at Oklahoma State           Colorado 34, Oklahoma State 0

Posting a shutout for the second time in three games, the Colorado defense led the way to a surprisingly easy 34-0 romp over Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

The Buffs held the Cowboys to only 208 yards in total offense, posting a second shutout in a season since the 1991 and 1992 Buffs accomplished the same feat.

The afternoon started out well for Colorado. On the Buffs’ first play from scrimmage, sophomore running back Hugh Charles raced past the OSU defense for 74 yards and a 7-0 Buff lead. The run came just 18 seconds into the contest, the second-fastest score from scrimmage in Colorado history. On the day, Charles would account for 132 yards and two touchdowns, both career bests.

Colorado would not score again until there were only two seconds remaining before halftime, with Mason Crosby hitting from 48 yards out to give the Buffs a 10-0 lead at the break. The lead could have been much greater, as the Colorado defense was stymying the Oklahoma State offense. However, a Byron Ellis fumble in Cowboy territory, together with a blocked 44-yard field goal attempt by Crosby, combined to keep Oklahoma State in the game.

The game quickly turned into a rout in the third quarter.

Defensive end Abraham Wright intercepted a pass by Cowboy quarterback Bobby Reid, giving the ball to the Colorado offense on the Cowboy 29-yard line. Three plays later, the Buffs were up 17-0 after a 15-yard scoring run by Hugh Charles.

A quick three-and-out by the OSU offense gave the ball right back to the Buffs, who marched 59 yards in six plays, culminated by a touchdown pass from Joel Klatt to tight end Joe Klopfenstein for 11 yards and an insurmountable 24-0 Buff lead.

For the remainder of the afternoon, all the near-sellout crowd of 47,908 in Boone Pickens Stadium could do was to wonder whether the home team could avoid its first home shutout since 1991.

Backups played most of the fourth quarter for the Buffs, with the only offensive points coming on a 42-yard field goal by Mason Crosby with 2:07 left. Down 27-0, Oklahoma State mounted one final drive, but Reid was picked off by freshman CU linebacker Marcus Burton, who raced 99 yards for a touchdown with only 24 seconds to play to make the final score 34-0.

The Buffs’ offense, led by Hugh Charles, was efficient if not spectacular.

Joel Klatt passed for only 151 yards and one touchdown. The Buffs committed another eight penalties (for 95 yards), giving Colorado an even forty penalties through four games. “It’s the way it has been all year,” said Joel Klatt, “We kill ourselves with penalties and mistakes. To our credit, we didn’t let that haunt us in this game like it has in past games.”

With the victory, Colorado raised its 2005 season record to 3-1. More importantly, the Buffs were now 1-0 in Big 12 conference play.

The Buff defense was playing well, surrendering only 51 points in four games (12.75 points/game, good for 12th in the nation). After giving up only 208 total yards to the Cowboys, the Colorado defense was now the talking point for the team, ranked nationally in not only scoring defense, but rushing defense (11th best overall), and total defense (22nd). It was not a coincidence to many that the defensive coordinator for these Buffs, Mike Hankwitz, was the same defensive coordinator the last two times, in 1991 and 1992, that the Buffs posted two shutouts in one season. In his second year back with Colorado, Hankwitz had the Buffs and their fans believing again.

Up next was Texas A&M.

The Aggies were also 3-1, 1-0 on the season, but had taken a roller coaster ride to get there. Opening with a tough 25-24 loss to Clemson on the road, Texas A&M had fallen out of the polls after being ranked 17th in the pre-season. Comfortable wins over in-state patsies SMU and Texas State set the stage for the conference opener against Baylor. Baylor was also 3-0 heading into the contest, but the wins were over SMU, Samford, and Army. What should have been a rout turned into a 16-13 overtime win for the Aggies.

Texas A&M had defeated Colorado in overtime in 2004, 29-26, in College Station. The Buffs were once again in search of national respect. A win over the previously ranked Aggies would go a long way towards that goal.

Cautious Optimism

The phrase, “cautious optimism”, came up twice in my world the weekend of the Colorado/Oklahoma State game, both having connections to the Buffs.

The Colorado game against Oklahoma State was not televised, giving me less to write about than I would have had had I been able to witness the game first hand. As a result, I took the coincidence as a sign to detail the “cautious optimism” references.

The first occasion took place before the CU game had ended. The Buffs were up 24-0, and had matters well in hand, but the game was still in the third quarter, and crazier things had happened than a comeback by a seemingly defeated Buff opponent. As I was on the Internet, monitoring the game, I missed a call from Mac Keith, our daughter’s long time boyfriend (and future husband). Mac had just gotten back from taking the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), and was calling to tell me about it.

Being an attorney, and having lived through the LSAT myself, Mac had called me several times over the previous weeks and months as he prepared for the test. He did well on the practice tests, but there was no substitute for the stress of the actual test. Mac, though, reported that he was “cautiously optimistic” about his results. He managed to get through the test panic-free, and had time to finish each section. That was about all you could ask from such an ordeal.

The relevance to CU football?

It just so happened that on another October 1st, this one in1983, (22 years earlier – to the day) I took the LSAT. It was the day Notre Dame came to Boulder, and I took the test before heading over to the game. Fortunately for Buff fans, the 2005 Buff players fared better than the 1983 group, as Colorado on that October afternoon fell to the Irish, 27-3.

The latter use of “cautiously optimistic” came with my Sunday morning review of the coverage of the Colorado/Oklahoma State game.

Cautious Optimism is in Order” was the title to the column penned by Neill Woelk of the Boulder Daily Camera. Woelk cautioned the Buff faithful from reading too much into the Buffs’ win over the Cowboys. The Colorado offense was still struggling, there were way too many penalties, and the Buffs had yet to stretch a defense with the passing game.

All very true. Even with a 34-0 win, the Buffs had no reason to take the Texas A&M game for granted.

How could we? Only two days earlier, with the Miami debacle the last on-field valuation of the status of the Colorado football team, there was no reason for Colorado and its fans to look past Oklahoma State, much less Texas A&M.

Now, fresh off of a second shutout in three weeks, and with the Aggies looking more vulnerable than they had a month earlier, cautious optimism once again crept back into the mind-set of the faithful. A win over A&M would give the Buffs a 2-0 conference start. Even a competitive game against the 2nd-ranked Longhorns the following week could be used as a springboard to propel the Buffs into the final five games against Northern Division foes with – what’s that phrase?

Oh, yeah. “Cautious Optimism”.

October 1, 2009 – at West Virginia          West Virginia 35, Colorado 24

West Virginia running back Noel Devine rushed for a career-high 220 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown on the Mountaineers’ second play from scrimmage, leading West Virginia to a 35-24 win over Colorado in Morgantown. Cody Hawkins had 292 yards passing and two touchdowns for Colorado, but also threw three interceptions. Running back Rodney Stewart had 105 yards rushing for the Buffs, and tight end Riar Geer had a career-best 113 yards receiving, but a combination of missed opportunities and missed assignments doomed Colorado to a 1-3 record in non-conference play.

The game, played in good weather before a crowd of 60,055 at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, started ominously for Colorado.

The Buffs took the opening kickoff and strung together a 10-play, 45-yard drive, stalling at the WVU 23 yard line. Aric Goodman, the hero of the 2008 game against West Virginia, failed in this instance, missing a 40-yard field goal attempt. It took the Mountaineers only two plays to take the lead, with running back Noel Devine slicing through the middle of the Colorado defensive line, then outracing the Buff secondary for a 77-yard touchdown.

Two plays, 77 yards, 18 seconds. 7-0, West Virginia.

Visions of the Toledo debacle permeated the Buff Nation. The Toledo game, which began with a Buff drive stalled in enemy territory, followed by a quick touchdown by the Rockets, had set the tone for a 54-38 rout.

This time, however, the Buffs had an answer. A six-play, 59-yard drive was culminated in a 36-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Rodney Stewart. The longest run of Stewart’s career tied the score with 8:32 to play in the first quarter.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the Buffs would be able to stay with the Mountaineers.

After an exchange of punts, West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown fumbled on the Mountaineers’ first play from scrimmage. The ball was recovered by linebacker B.J. Beatty at the West Virginia 34 yard line, and Colorado was in position to take its first lead. The Buffs were not able to take advantage of the turnover, however, as three plays netted only six yards. Aric Goodman came on for his second field goal attempt, and while this effort was a little closer than the first – it hit the left crossbar – it was still a miss. The score remained tied at 7-7.

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“Best effort by far” … 

Yes, that was the quote by Dan Hawkins after the West Virginia game. The Colorado football program, in the eyes of its head coach, put forth its best effort of the season. Mind you, this “best effort” was an 11 point loss to an unranked team – a team which could have scored 50 if it had a better quarterback.

“Best effort”?

I don’t know what is more infuriating:

– The fact that the Buffs have fallen so far from mediocrity that a game in which they held the lead for just over two minutes, a game which ESPN’s Chris Fowler, a CU alum, politely (but correctly) suggested that the Colorado defense was “out-talented” by the West Virginia offense, a game in which the Buffs failed to take advantage of turnovers and went 1-for-4 on field goal attmepts – is considered the Buffs’ “best effort by far” …

– or the fact that Dan Hawkins is right.

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October 1, 2011 – Boulder        Washington State 31, Colorado 27

Washington State wide receiver Marquess Wilson sped past two Colorado defenders and hauled in a 63-yard touchdown pass from Cougar quarterback Marshall Lobbestael with 1:10 left to lead Washington State to a stunning 31-27 comeback win over Colorado in Boulder.

The Buffs (1-4, 0-1) were primed for a win in their Pac-12 debut before surrendering two touchdowns in the final 2 1/2 minutes. Lobbestael threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns in leading the Cougars (3-1, 1-0) to just their second road win in four years under coach Paul Wulff.

The game began as if the Colorado secondary, which was playing with two former offensive players (including senior running back Brian Lockridge, who was converted to a defensive back for the first time in his career five days before the game) would be in for a long day. In Washington State’s first possession, three of the Cougars’ first four plays went for over ten yards, as Lobbestael quickly led the Cougars into Colorado territory. There the drive stalled, however, with the Cougars facing a fourth-and-three at the Colorado 34-yard line.

Rather than go for a long field goal, Washington State went for a first down. Rushed, Lobbestael threw late across the middle, and was intercepted by junior safety Ray Polk, who returned the pick 52 yards to the Washington State 20-yard line.

The Colorado offense, though, was only able to generate eight yards in three plays in its first possession of the afternoon. The 29-yard field goal attempt by freshman kicker Will Oliver, who had made his first six attempts of the season, was then blocked, leaving the game scoreless.

Washington State did not turn the ball over in its second possession, marching smartly down the field. Converting four third down opportunities along the way, the Cougars pieced together a 15-play, 81-yard drive, culminated in a two-yard touchdown run by Carl Winston. Washington State 7, Colorado 0.

The Colorado offense also posted points in its second possession, but had to settle for a field goal. Highlighted by a 19-yard pass from senior quarterback Tyler Hansen to sophomore wide receiver Paul Richardson, the Buffs made it as far as the Washington State 31-yard line before setting up for a 48-yard field goal attempt by Oliver. This time, the kick was true, and the Buffs were on the board late in the first quarter. Washington State 7, Colorado 3.

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Deja vu – “Cougin’ it” against Washington State … 

Wake me up! This bad dream has got to come to an end!

Oh, it’s not a dream.

And it’s not the first time it has happened.

On Saturday, in the first conference game as a member of the Pac-12, the Colorado Buffs honored the 1961 Colorado football team. Those Buffs earned Colorado’s first title after joining the old Big 7 in 1948. All members of the team (players, coaches, staff) were invited back for the game. The Buffs finished 1961 with a 10-3 record with a 7-1 mark in conference games. Colorado finished the regular season ranked 6th in the nation, falling to No. 4 LSU in the Orange Bowl, 25-7.

While it was right and appropriate to honor the 1961 team, it may have been more appropriate to host the 1981 Colorado Buff team. It was 30 seasons ago that Colorado played its first-ever game against Washington State.

The final minutes of the 1981 game bear an eerie resemblance to what happened to the 2011 Buffs.

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October 1, 2016 – Boulder           Colorado 47, Oregon State 6

Steven Montez and Shay Fields hooked up for three first-half touchdowns, leading the Buffs to a 47-6 rout of Oregon State. Montez went 19-for-27 for 293 yards in three quarters of action, with Fields collecting seven of those passes for 169 yards. Fields tied a school record for touchdown receptions in a game, with 160 of his 169 yards coming in the first half as the Buffs turned an early 3-0 deficit into a 37-6 blowout by halftime.

Phillip Lindsay was the leading rusher for the Buffs, with 90 yards and a score in 16 carries. The defense was also stellar, holding the Beavers to 226 yards of total offense. While holding the Oregon State offense out of the end zone, the Colorado defense was able to get there on its own, with linebacker Rick Gamboa scoring on a 20-yard interception return.

“It proves we’re legitimate, maybe, that we can do it,” Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. “Everybody kept asking me all week, `Are they going to have a letdown? Did they play out of their minds?’ Like I said since Day 1, we’re a good football team.”

The win gave Colorado a 4-1 record overall, with a 2-0 record in Pac-12 play. In defeating Oregon State (1-3, 0-1), the Buffs equaled their 2015 win total, and made a claim for a national ranking for the first time since 2005.

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Let Down? Not so much …

It’s not like we haven’t been here before.

It’s just that we haven’t been here in a long time.

The University of Colorado Buffaloes, the laughing stock of the Pac-12 since joining the league, find themselves atop the South division two weeks into conference play. The Buffs are 4-1, 2-0 … the only team in the Pac-12 South without a conference loss after completing the sweep of the Oregon schools with a dominating 47-6 win over Oregon State.

“We’re a good football team. That’s the good thing, we don’t have any kids anymore; we’ve got some men,” said Mike MacIntyre after the rout. “They listen, they come prepared to practice, they ask questions, they come over after class, they do more studying, they’re involved. They say all the time, ‘Players make plays, players win games.’ They’re understanding that now. They’re taking their coaching. We don’t have guys late for things. They’re getting more professional. As you mature, that’s what happens. The less teenagers you have playing the better off you are.”

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