Top 40 of the Past 40 – No. 16

Previously posted:

As always, I look forward to your comments and suggestions as we count down my favorite 40 games and favorite 40 players of my 40 years as a Buff …

Top 40 Favorite Games … No. 16

November 26, 2016 – No. 9 Colorado 27, No. 21 Utah 22 – Buffs clinch Pac-12 South title with stout defensive effort

From the Game Story in the CU at the Game Archives …

Colorado relied upon its defense to bring home the school’s first ten win season since 2001, downing No. 21 Utah, 27-22. With the victory, the “worst-to-first” dream season was completed, with the Buffs going from 1-8 in Pac-12 play in 2015 to 8-1 in 2016, claiming CU’s first Pac-12 South title, and first division title since winning the Big 12 North in 2005.

The Buffs were held to 378 yards of total offense, but the CU defense held the Utes to 339 yards of total offense, forcing four turnovers along the way. A forced fumble from Utah running back Joe Williams was returned by Buff linebacker Kenneth Olugbode ten yards for a game-clinching score early in the fourth quarter. Olugbode’s score made it 27-16, and the Buff defense made it hold up.

Special teams almost cost the Buffs the game, with Utah scoring on a punt return for a touchdown early in the game, and almost scoring on a kickoff return early in the fourth quarter.

“I’m very excited to grind one out,” said Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau, who had 270 yards passing and a team-leading 59 yards rushing, but fumbled twice. “The defense got my back.”

“Nobody thought we’d be here, especially four years ago,” said senior safety Tedric Thompson, who had two interceptions and broke up four passes.

“I can’t really put it into words right now,” said Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre. “The best word I can use right now is joy. Joy from the bottom of my toes to the top of my head for the players, the coaches, everybody involved with our program, all the fans that stayed with us and all the fans that came back. It’s just really gratifying on that side of it. I’m so happy for these kids and we have the opportunity to go play for the Pac-12 Championship.”

Read full game story here

From my essay for the game, “No Conflict, No Story” … 

Worst. To. First.

Last season, Colorado finished 1-8 in Pac-12 play. This year, the Buffs went 8-1 in Pac-12 play.

This past August, in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, the Buffs were pegged as the 11th-best team in the Pac-12 conference. This past week, the Buffs were ranked as the ninth-best team … in the entire nation.

With a 27-22 victory over No. 21 Utah, the Buffs completed a regular season journey absolutely no one saw coming. The statistical “best since” accolades are cascading through the record books like an avalanche:

— First ten-win season since 2001, and first eight-win conference season in school history (the Buffs only played seven conference games in the Big Eight, and went 7-1 three times in Big 12 conference play);

— First six-game winning streak since 1996, and first back-to-back wins over ranked teams since 2002;

— First undefeated home slate since 1994, going 6-0 at home for just the sixth time in school history.

Et cetera … et cetera … et cetera.

But the Buffs’ tenth victory of the 2016 season did not come easily. Colorado trailed Utah for nine minutes in the first quarter, and did not take a two-score lead over the Utes until the fourth.

Continue reading essay here

Here are YouTube highlights from the Utah game … 

Top 40 Favorite Player … No. 16

Linebacker Matt Russell – 1993-96 

From the CUBuffs.com bio of Matt Russell … A consensus first-team All-American as a senior in 1996 (Associated Press, Walter Camp, FWAA and The Sporting News… A third-team All-American by the Associated Press his junior season in 1995 (honorable mention by UPI)… Won the Butkus Award as a senior, presented to the nation’s top linebacker… Two-time first-team all-conference selection (All-Big Eight as a junior in ‘95; All-Big 12 as a senior in ’96)… Co-winner of the Zack Jordan Award, selected by his peers, as the team’s most valuable player his senior season… Won the Dave Jones Award as the most outstanding defensive player in 1995… Finished his career as the second all-time leading tackler in Colorado history (446), with his 282 unassisted tackles setting a school record that still stands …

Sealed the Butkus with a big game on national TV at Nebraska (16 tackles, 12 solo, two third down quarterback sacks and two fumble recoveries)… Career-high in tackles was 23 at Missouri as a senior, as he had 22 career games with 10 or more stops… Established the freshman record for tackles in a season with 85 in 1993… He played in 44 career games, including starts in the last 40 (48 and 44, including bowls)… A fourth round choice by Detroit in the 1997 NFL Draft (130th overall)…

Russell played in 14 career NFLgames with Detroit (1997-99), and a pair of knee injuries cut short a promising career… Helped coach the secondary at Colorado during the 2000 season while assistant coach Tom McMahon was battling cancer… He was a college scout for the New England Patriots during their Super Bowl run in 2001, and after the 2005 season moved on to do the same for the  Philadelphia Eagles from 2006-08… In 2009, he joined the Denver Broncos as their director of college scouting and in 2012 was named their director of player personnel (he won a Super Bowl ring with the club for the 2015 season)… Inducted into CU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012.

 

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