Big Eight Farewell: Colorado

Colorado football has had an up-and-down history since joining the then-Big Six in 1947. The 1961 Buffaloes, led by team co-captain Charlie McBride, won their first Big Eight title in school history. The 1971 Buffs might have been CU's best football team to date, ranking third in the final AP Poll, trailing #1 Nebraska and #2 Oklahoma. In 1976, Bill Mallory's squad managed to tie Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to share the Big Eight title that season. But that wasn't enough to satisfy Buff fans, and Mallory was out two years later after a 6-5 season.

Colorado then offered their head coaching job to Tom Osborne, who was facing criticism at Nebraska for "only" winning nine games each season. Osborne considered the move, but eventually turned down the Buffs.  The Buffs instead turned to Chuck Fairbanks, who previously had found success at Oklahoma and with the New England Patriots, only to go 7-26 the next three years. Needing a new coach once again, Colorado turned to Michigan assistant Bill McCartney, who was barely better at first, going 7-25-1 in his first three years in Boulder. But Colorado decided to stick with McCartney and the Buffs surged.

McCartney lamented that Colorado didn't have a rival, and designated Nebraska as the Buffs rival, hoping that it would motivate players and fans the same way that Ohio State motivated Michigan plays and fans. And in 1986, the Buffs got their first pelt, as Colorado upset the third ranked Huskers 20-10, sending Buff fans into pandemonium.  Three years later, the Buffs emerged on the national stage, winning the Big Eight title. The death of quarterback Sal Aunese motivated Colorado to an undefeated regular season including a 27-21 victory over Nebraska, though the Buffs would fall to Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. In 1990, Colorado used a fourth quarter comeback to win 27-12 in Lincoln, and won the AP National Championship thanks in part to two crucial officiating mistakes in games against Missouri (Fifth Down) and Notre Dame (phantom clip on a Rocket Ismail touchdown return). In 1991, the Buffs and Huskers tied on the field in a bitterly cold game in Boulder after the Buffs blocked two Husker kicks (one thanks to a barrage of snowballs), one of which was returned for a two-point conversion (thanks to three missed clips on the return).

In 1992, Nebraska wasn't going to leave anything to chance on a Halloween night matchup with the Buffs. But for Colorado, it was the Nightmare on Tenth Street as the Blackshirts jumped all over freshman quarterback Koy Detmer, while another freshman named Tommie Frazier took control in a 52-7 thumping.  In 1994, both teams met again in Lincoln for a nationally televised matchup between two undefeated squads. Once again, the Huskers dominated on both sides of the ball, winning 24-7.

In 1996, the Big XII moved the game to Thanksgiving weekend to create a "rivalry" doubleheader, paired up with Texas and Texas A&M. And while the games were frequently close, the games never reached rivalry status with most Husker fans. Colorado was up and down after McCartney retired. In 1999, Colorado missed a chip-shot field goal at the end of regulation to spoil an upset attempt in Boulder. In 2000, Eric Crouch calmly led the Huskers in the closing seconds, setting up a Josh Brown game winning field goal.  In 2001, Colorado exploited a weakness they had found in Craig Bohl's defensive scheme en route to a 62-36 victory that most people thought would have ended the Huskers chances of winning a national championship. But a wild series of upsets over the next two weeks allowed Nebraska to earn a BCS national championship game berth over Colorado, who had suffered two losses earlier that season.

Nebraska's experiment with the Bill Callahan Clusterfool opened up brief opportunities for the Buffs to win the seriously weakened Big XII North in 2004 and 2005. But the corruption of the Gary Barnett era led to the hiring of Dan Hawkins, who proved to be overmatched as a head coach in a BCS conference.

And with Colorado moving to the Pac-12 this season, the series ends at this point. And it's not a series that'll be particularly missed. Husker fans never considered Colorado a rival, and the apathetic nature of Colorado fans means that, for the most part, the only impact of the end of the series is that Woody Paige won't be able to rerun his "N Stands for Nowledge" column the week of Thanksgiving.

Oh sure, there are a handful of diehard Colorado fans out there. Every school has a group of committed fans. The problem is that there aren't anywhere near enough of them for a BCS conference school. The Buffs regularly have to deeply discount football tickets to convince fans to attend their games. If it's not a marquee opponent (i.e. Nebraska), many Colorado fans would rather spend their time planning the next 4/20 festival.

Of course, nobody caring is still better than the classlessness that too many Buffalo fans seem to take pride in. Remember 2005 and the mass ejections of the student section during the Colorado/Nebraska game? How about the laser beam assault on Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson.

And then there are the clueless. Two years ago, Colorado fans were excited about the departure of offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.  They thought he was no good, and they were excited about what new offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau could do implementing a new pro-style attack at Colorado. I suggested this new scheme was a classic "square peg, round hole" scenario, and of course, the Buffies thought I was all wet.  No way would anybody in their right mind ask Cody Hawkins to throw the ball thirty times a game.

Of course not.  Kiesau and Dan Hawkins averaged 40 pass attempts a game in 2009. And that loser Helfrich? He left Colorado to become Oregon's offensive coordinator. While the Buffs were imploding the last two seasons, Oregon's offense soared all the way to the BCS Championship game.

When you boil it down to it's core, Colorado is a "BCS" conference school in name only. Their athletic department has serious financial issues. Their fan base is, at best, on par with a WAC or Mountain West program. They think they are a "West Coast" institution, even though Boulder is closer to the Gulf of Mexico than the Pacific Ocean. In fact, their invitation to join the Pac-12 is probably more attributable to a mistake than the merits of the University of Colorado. In the final days of conference realignment in 2010, Texas was planning to bring the entire Big XII South to create the new Pac-16 Conference. The Pac-10 office panicked at the thought of having Baylor join the conference, and quickly issued an invitation to Colorado to try and ensure there wasn't any room for Texas to drag Baylor along with them.

That, in a nutshell, probably sums up the current relevance of Colorado to college athletics: We're Not Baylor. (Truth be told, Baylor passed up Colorado in recent years on the football field...) Last week, when Daily Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel discussed the impact of conference realignment on the Big XII, the first team to defect was never even mentioned.

In other words:  Irrelevant.
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