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Buffs Playing In Biggest Game In 10 Years

The Colorado Buffaloes offense

The University of Colorado Buffaloes are poised to play their most important game in more than a decade -- and a win could put them on the path to one of the most important games in the team’s history.  Now, after years of blowouts, coaching changes and rebuilding, the football team plays in the Pac-12 Championship game on December 2. 

The last time things were so good for CU was decades ago.The team won a national championship in 1990, followed by a decade of successful seasons and bowl appearances.

But in 2004, the image of the football program suffered setbacks --  including a scandal centering around allegations of sex and alcohol used as recruitment tools.That same year, the  university’s female placekicker accused another teammate of rape.   

“(Head Coach Gary) Barnet really misspoke about (the placekicker) and, really, her ability, and her even being on the team, and that really exacerbated things that had already taken place,” said B.G. Brooks, a longtime sports reporter who covered the scandal at the time and now writes forCUBuffs.com. 

In the years following, several staff members were fired.

“There turned out to be turmoil at the top, with Barnet eventually losing his job the next season in 2005,” he said. “The athletic director, Dick Thorpe, lost his job in 2004 and even (CU) President Betsy Hoffman at the time, eventually lost her job in 2005.” 

The bad news for CU continued in the decade following the scandal.

“CU policed itself, put in some tighter recruiting restrictions, and tried to get out from under the cloud of the scandal, but really never happened,” Brooks said.”  

The program lost key recruits and coaches, and started amassing multiple losing seasons. In 2011, CU left the Big-12 Conference and joined the Pac-12, seen as a more powerful conference. The move wasn’t just done with football in mind; CU moved for academic reasons, and for more sports programs for women to compete in.  

Credit CUBuffs.com
Head Coach Mike MacIntyre

But the switch didn’t turn the football program around right away.

“As far as the fans go, the 2012 season might have been the lowest point for them,” Brooks said. “CU won once in that season, lost 11 games, allowed an average of 46 points per game, and scored just under 18.If it wasn’t rock bottom at that point, for a fan, I think November of 2012 a fan felt like they could feel rock bottom. It was just a dismal season. For me, I think covering that season was a bit surreal. I had never covered a team that was losing by scores of 50 to 6, 48 to nothing, 51 to 17, it was just a very different experience.”

In 2015, the Buffaloes won four games and lost nine, but stuck with Head Coach Mike MacIntyre. The result? The Buffaloes ended the regular season ranked No. 9 in the nation and today face the 4th ranked University of Washington Huskies. 

“This was really an unprecedented turnaround,” said Brooks. “And I think the CU fan base, the students here, really, the people who follow this closely in Boulder have seen it develop since September, and have recognized just how good a team this is.”

Credit CUBuffs.com
Buffalo defense gets a sack

The game takes place in Santa Clara, Calif. If the Buffs win, they will be guaranteed a spot in one of the top college bowl games -- if not the top one -- the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day as well as a potential spot in the four-team college playoff for the National Championship. A loss could still lead to the Rose Bowl, depending on whether the Huskies are accepted into the playoffs. 

Brooks sees a light at the end of a long tunnel for CU, regardless of what happens in the December 2 game.

“This is a good football team, and I think they’re playing for something that they have not played for in more than a decade, and that’s a Conference Championship,” he said

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