A Pleasant Stroll Down Memory Lane – 1986; 1991; 1996; 2001 and, for fun, 2016

The 2021 season is now within our sights, and, with any luck, it will feel like a normal season.

As we wait for the September 3rd opener against Northern Colorado, let’s spend some quality time this summer with some great Buff teams of the past. The 2021 season will be the 35th anniversary the 1986 season (with the greatest CU game in the past 50 years), the 30th anniversary of the 1991 season (Big Eight three-peat); the 25th anniversary of the 1996 season (the first season of the Big 12); and the 20th anniversary of the 2001 season (62-36, anyone?). Oh, and it’s already the fifth anniversary of the Buffs unexpected run to the Pac-12 South title in 2016.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a look back at the 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2016 seasons, posting the week-by-week results (if you want to read ahead, the CU at the Game Archives are always there for you). I look forward to your reading your comments, and hearing your stories …

Previously postedPreseasonGame OnesGame TwosGame ThreesGame FoursGame Fives

*** Posted *** … The latest CU at the Game Podcast has been posted. In addition to a discussion of the Sam Noyer announcement, with Brad and I looked back at the memorable CU/Nebraska games in 1986 (“20-10”!!) and the Ice Bowl of 1991 … This episode for the podcast, which is now well into its second season, can be found here

Game Sixes …

1986 Season – “A Game For the Ages” 


Game Six (CU came into the game 1-4, 1-0 in Big Eight play) … Colorado 31, Iowa State 3 … For the second week in a row, Colorado put together an excellent effort on both sides of the ball.  For the first time all season, though, the Buffs did not have to hope for a fourth quarter stop by the defense to win, routing Iowa State, 31-3.

Led by quarterback Mark Hatcher’s 95 yards and O.C. Oliver’s 79 yards, the Buffs rolled up 303 yards on the ground.  Behind Oliver’s two early scores, the Buffs were up 17-0 by the end of the first quarter, and led 24-3 at halftime.

The Cyclones, 4-1 entering the contest, played more like a team with Colorado’s record of 1-4.  (In fact, Iowa State’s 4-1 record was somewhat misleading, with the Cyclones’ wins coming over powerhouses Indiana State, Wichita State, Wyoming, and Kansas.  Colorado, despite its 1-4 record, was listed as a 10 1/2 point favorite coming into the contest).

The second half of the Iowa State game, for the first time since the Freedom Bowl-clinching win over Kansas State to end the 1985 season, was a relaxing time for the Folsom Field crowd.  The only score of the second half came when little used junior halfback Cam Jones picked up his first carries and first score of the year.

Punter Barry Helton, who had been having a terrific year, outdid himself against Iowa State.  Helton booted five kicks in the Cyclone game for an average of 56.6 yards per punt.  It would be one of the most impressive performances of the All-American’s stellar career at Colorado.

Colorado was now 2-0 in Big Eight conference play, tied for the conference lead with the big boys, Oklahoma and Nebraska.  Junior nose tackle, Kyle Rappold, for one, was not concerned about Colorado’s overall 2-4 record:  “The fact that we’re 2-0 in the Big Eight is all that matters,” said Rappold after the game, “We’re just where we want to be in the Big Eight.  We’re in the driver’s seat and Nebraska has to come here and be on our turf.”

No one outside of the Buffs’ locker room, though, gave Colorado much of a chance as coach McCartney’s “rival”, the undefeated and third-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers, came to town. Nebraska was not only undefeated, but the Cornhuskers were winning going away. A season-opening 34-17 win over No. 11 Florida State set the stage, with routs of Illinois (59-14), Oregon (48-14 – the same Oregon team which had defeated the Buffs), Oklahoma State (30-10), and Missouri (48-17). Only South Carolina, which pushed Nebraska before falling, 27-24, had managed to stay within 20 points of the Big Red.

It was doubtful that the Cornhusker locker room was overly impressed by Colorado’s 2-0 Big Eight record.

Continue reading game story here

1991 Season – “Kissing Your Sister”


Game Six (CU came into the game 3-2, 1-0 in Big Eight play) … No. 22 Colorado 34, No. 12 Oklahoma 17 … Colorado put together a pair of 99-yard touchdown drives on its way to a 34-17 upset of 12th-ranked Oklahoma.  In scoring the most points ever against the Sooners in Norman, the Buffs out-gained the Sooners 371 yards to 251.  Darian Hagan accounted for 211 yards of total offense on the day, including 10-of-15 passing for 150 yards and three touchdowns.

After witnessing Oklahoma put up a score on their first possession, Colorado scored 20 unanswered first quarter points.  The first score came on a six-yard pass from Hagan to tight end Sean Brown, culminating an eight-play, 99-yard drive. The extra point attempt failed, leaving the Buffs behind, 7-6.

But the Buffs would not be behind for much longer.

The next two came in rapid succession as the Buffs, taking advantage of Oklahoma turnovers, scored twice more in the next three minutes.  Hagan connected with red-shirt freshman tight end Christian Fauria from five yards out after the Buffs intercepted Oklahoma quarterback Cale Gundy.

The Sooners fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and the Buffs quickly took advantage, with Hagan teaming up with wide receiver Michael Westbrook from 15 yards out.

With five minutes remaining in the first quarter, the score had been 7-0, Oklahoma. Before the quarter was over, though, Colorado was up 20-7, and Hagan had a school record with three touchdown passes in one stanza.

The Sooners would not go quietly, though.

Oklahoma put up ten points in the second quarter to pull within three points, 20-17, with 3:31 to play before half.  The Buffs were undeterred, as Colorado marched 64 yards before half to pull ahead, 27-17.  The ten-play drive was spearheaded by junior tailback Scott Phillips, subbing for injured starter James Hill.  Phillips contributed a 21-yard reception from Hagan to keep the drive alive before scoring on an eight yard run just before half.  The score was Phillips’ first ever as a Buff, joining Christian Fauria in posting his first ever points for Colorado on the day.

[It was the sixth game of the season, and the Buffs had already seen seven players score their first offensive touchdowns.   If nothing else, the 1991 Colorado offense was at least diversified.]

Up ten points at half, the Buffs certainly could not rest easy.  But the Buff defense rose to the occasion, shutting out the Sooners over the last 30 minutes.  The only score of the second half came on a three-yard run by Lamont Warren, capping a 14-play, 99-yard drive to put Colorado ahead, 34-17. A 99-yard drive is unusual in any game, against any opponent, but the Buffs pulled it off against a highly ranked Oklahoma team, twice in the same game – in Norman!

Continue reading game story here

1996 Season – “Ooooh, So Close”


Game Six (CU came into the game 4-1; 2-0 in Big 12 play) … No. 9 Colorado 20, Kansas 7 … The Kansas Jayhawks in 1995 had come to Boulder with a 4-0 record in search of respect.

The Jayhawks left Boulder with much, much, more. In addition to respect, Kansas came away with a stunning 40-24 win over the Buffs.

In 1995, both Colorado and Kansas went on to post 10-2 records and top ten final rankings.

In 1996, however, the two teams were heading in different directions.

Memories of the 1995 loss to the Jayhawks had to be in the Buffs’ minds as they prepared for the 1996 game in Lawrence. Fortunately for Colorado and its fans, though, Kansas was not the team it was in 1995. Kansas in 1996 was 3-2, with even that record coming against a fairly light schedule. Still, if Colorado was to be a player in the national championship race, the No. 9 Buffaloes could not look past the Jayhawks.

And they didn’t.

Establishing a new team-record with a ninth consecutive win on the road (the 1922-24 Buffs had won eight straight on the road), Colorado methodically dispatched the Jayhawks, 20-7.

On the game’s opening possession, Colorado put together a 14-play, 76-yard drive. Colorado quarterback Koy Detmer went four-for-four on third down passes on the drive, which was capped by a three-yard touchdown pass from Detmer to junior tight end Desmond Dennis.

The remainder of the half was left to the Buff defense.

On three consecutive drives to close out the first half, Kansas started drives on the Colorado 31, 20, and 34, but came away with no points, as the CU defense forced a missed field goal, a fumble, and a punt. A 20-yard field goal by Jason Lesley with one second remaining gave the Buffs a 10-0 halftime advantage.

Colorado put the game out of reach with its first drive of the second half, culminating in a 21-yard scoring connection between Detmer and senior wide receiver Rae Carruth, putting the Buffs up 17-0. For the day, Carruth would post his second consecutive 100-yard receiving effort, collecting 106 yards on six catches (Carruth also contributed 29 yards on a reverse to convert a fourth down attempt).

On a windy homecoming afternoon in Lawrence, Kansas, the Buffs did not dominate the Jayhawks, but they did come away with victory. The offense did just enough to win, while the Colorado defense was suffocating. The defense limited the Kansas offense to 190 total yards, surrendering only one touchdown, which only came after the Buffs had forged a 17-0 lead.

For the Buffs’ 1996 squad, the season began with a motto of Mission: Possible. With the 1996 season now at its mid-way point, the motto had seemingly been modified to: Just Win, Baby.

Coach Neuheisel concurred: “The expectation is such that we’re supposed to roll over these teams, but the blowouts that you’re used to seeing … I think are a thing of the past. There are too many good teams, and it’s just too hard week-in and week-out to dominate opponents.”

The 13-point win, combined with No. 8 Notre Dame’s surprise overtime loss to Air Force, moved the Buffs to up to No. 8 in the polls. The dream of a National Championship for the 5-1 Buffs (3-0 in Big 12 play) remained remote, but was still a possibility.

Continue reading game story here

2001 Season – “Seems Like Old Times”

Game Six (CU came into the game 4-1; 2-0 in Big 12 play) No. 20 Colorado 31, No. 25 Texas A&M 21 … Ranked for the first time in season under Gary Barnett, the Buffs endured a late Texas A&M rally to defeat the Aggies on Homecoming weekend, 31-21.

With less than a minute to play, the Aggies trailed only 24-21 and had the ball deep in CU territory.  A game-tying field goal attempt seemed imminent.  Then linebacker Joey Johnson, making his second start in place of injured star Jashon Sykes, scooped up a fumble by Aggie quarterback Mark Farris and returned the ball 52 yards for the deciding points.

With six minutes remaining, the Buffs seemed to have the game well in hand.

Up 24-14, Colorado marched the ball into A&M territory.  Taking time off the clock with a balanced attack which would net 353 yards on the afternoon, victory seemed secure.  On a third down in A&M territory, however, quarterback Craig Ochs threw an interception, giving the Aggies the ball and new life.

It took only two plays and 21 seconds for A&M to score to cut the Colorado lead to 24-21 with five minutes still remaining to play.  The Buffs were not able to run the remaining time off of the clock on their next possession, and the Aggies took over on their own nine-yard line with two minutes left.

Farris marched the Aggies quickly down the field, and had A&M on the edge of field goal range when a blitz by linebacker Kory Mossoni forced the Farris fumble.

“It was getting ugly out there for a while at the end,” Johnson said.  “We were definitely on our heels.”

Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum agreed.  “We were confident the game was ours,” said Slocum.  “We had the momentum in the last drive and we felt good with how we were playing.  I have to give credit to Colorado for making the big plays.”

Colorado was held without a 100-rusher for the first time since the opening game loss to Fresno State, but the defense rose the occasion, holding A&M to 42 yards rushing.  Craig Ochs, despite the interception, was effective when he needed to be, connecting on 14-of-28 passing for 183 yards, including a touchdown and a two-point conversion completion to Derrick McCoy.  For his part, McCoy, replacing injured senior starter John Minardi, had a career-best 113 yards receiving on five catches.

The Buffs were now 5-1, 3-0 in Big 12 play.

The second consecutive win over a ranked team was enough to push the Buffs to a No. 14 ranking.  Discussion concerning the Buffs now centered on a run for the Big 12 Championship, a possibility which seemed ludicrous only a month earlier.  A win on the road against Texas, 5-1 and ranked No. 9, would possibly garner the Buffs a top ten ranking for the first time in four years.

The Buffs had won six of the last seven meetings with Texas, including three straight wins in Austin.  The Longhorns, despite the top ten ranking, were hurting.  A 14-3 loss to Oklahoma two weeks before the CU game had all but eliminated Texas from national title contention.  Texas handled Oklahoma State, 45-17, prior to meeting Colorado, but the 9th- ranked Longhorns still had something to prove.

The Buffs were about to face a reality check.

Continue reading story here

2016 Season – “Welcome to The Fight”


Game Six (CU came into the game 4-1; 2-0 in Pac-12 play) USC 21 No. 21 Colorado 17 … The Colorado defense forced four USC turnovers, but also allowed 540 yards of total offense as the Trojans defeated the Buffs for the 11th-straight time, 21-17.

In a battle of freshman quarterbacks, USC’s Sam Darnold won the day. Darnold went 25-for-37 for 358 yards and three touchdowns … with all three scoring passes going to tight ends. Steven Montez, meanwhile, was held to 192 yards passing, completing 24-of-39 passes, with one touchdown and one interception.

Bryce Bobo was in line for player of the game, with a career-high ten catches, going for 83 yards and a ten-yard touchdown. Bobo was also in on the Buffs’ other touchdown, with the junior receiver throwing a 67-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Lindsay to help keep Colorado in the game.

“We didn’t play Colorado football,” Mike MacIntyre said. “We didn’t play hard and fast like we’re capable of doing. They (the Trojans) are a good team and had something to do with that, but we didn’t play as well as we could have.”

The loss dropped Colorado to 4-2, 2-1 in Pac-12 play, falling to 2-20-1 all-time in games played in the state of California.

Continue reading game story here

My Essay for the game,  “Moving (Just A Little) Too Fast” …

It was a heady week for the Buff Nation.

Colorado was 4-1, 2-0 in Pac-12 conference play, and the plaudits were coming in from all quarters. The Buffs were featured on ESPN’s GameDay broadcast, Mike MacIntyre was interviewed on ESPN’s SportsCenter, and national sportswriters fawned over the “feel good” rags-to-riches story that was the 2016 Colorado football team.

The “first time since” stats were everywhere:

— First time with a 2-0 record in conference play since 2007;

— First time ranked in the national polls since 2005;

— Largest margin of victory in a conference game (47-6 over Oregon State) since 1992 (54-6 over Kansas State).

Mike MacIntyre talked about being the 2-0 record be just that – 2-0. There were seven games left to be played in the Pac-12 race, and the Buffs had clinched exactly nothing. It was hard, though, not to start thinking about CU’s first winning record since 2005, and the first bowl appearance since 2007.

Then Colorado went to Los Angeles, in search of the elusive first-ever win over USC. The Buffs were 0-10 all-time against the Trojans, but had come tantalizing close in a 27-24 loss in 2015.

The Buffs came up just short once again, falling 21-17 before 68,302 sun-baked fans in the Coliseum.

The 21-17 loss to USC made it 11 straight for the Trojans, and gave the Buff Nation a reality check.

Yes, the 2016 CU football team is very good. Yes, the Buff Nation has every reason to expect a winning record and a bowl game from this experienced and talented squad.

But it is also fair to say that the USC game proved – both on and off the field – that things have been going just a little bit too fast.

Continue reading Essay here

… Up Next … Game Sevens for the 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2016 seasons … coming soon … 


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