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Worst to First: The 2016 Colorado Buffaloes

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#9 Colorado is PAC-12 Champs

NCAA Football: Washington State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Buffaloes are PAC-12 South Division Champions. Let that sink in for a minute. A team that won 5 PAC-12 games since joining the conference in 2011 won 8 this year, and is planning a trip to Santa Clara to take on the Washington Huskies in the PAC-12 Championship on Friday night. Saturday’s game was a culmination of everything the Buffaloes have stood for this year, a resilient team, one who wouldn’t quit in the face of adversity. They capped it all off with a 27-22 victory over Utah on senior night in front of a sellout crowd, the first since 2008.

Offensively it was a struggle for Colorado most of the night, where mistakes and miscues plagued the Buffaloes. Quarterback Sefo Liufau, coming off his best start of the season against Washington State struggled, fumbling twice and missing some big throws throughout the game. Liufau missed a wide-open Devin Ross on a slant in the end zone in the first half, and Colorado fullback George Frazier dropped a wide-open touchdown pass that would have broken open the game. Colorado had to settle for field goals on both drives, and only took a 13-7 lead at halftime because of the offensive mistakes. After Utah tied the game 13-13 late in the 3rd Quarter, the Buffaloes offense drove 75 yards in 8 plays capped off by Liufau’s most beautiful pass of the night, a 6 yard fade to Shay Fields to tie Cody Hawkins for the most TD passes in Colorado history. Phillip Lindsay only carried the ball 12 times on Saturday, which was a surprising development after he’d been the feature back most of the year.

Defensively, Colorado was masterful. Josh Tupou, Chidobe Awuzie, Kenneth Olugbode and Tedric Thompson made the most of their senior nights, making huge plays throughout the game to stymie the Utah offense. Tupou clogged the middle, stopped the run, and only allowed Utah’s explosive back Joe Williams to gain 97 yards on 26 carries. Awuzie led the Buffs in tackles, and added a sack, including maybe the biggest play of the night. Colorado had just taken the lead 20-13, and Utah kick returner Kyle Fulks broke through the Buffaloes kick coverage. As he headed for the end zone, Awuzie didn’t quit, chased the play down, and tackled Fulks at the 3-yard line. 3 Plays later Utah had to settle for a field goal, preserving the lead. Tedric Thompson intercepted two passes, and had 4 more pass breakups to lead the secondary. Kenneth Olugbode, who has a nose for the ball, picked up a Joe Williams fumble in the fourth quarter and returned it for a touchdown, essentially icing the game and giving CU a 27-16 lead.

Not enough can be said about this senior class, and it’s fitting that they have finally seen their hard work pay off. 17/20 of coach McIntyre’s first recruiting class stayed together through the bad times, and now they walk off Folsom Field for the last time with a 7-0 record at home and a PAC-12 South Championship. I’ve been critical of McIntyre at times during his tenure at Colorado, but this season he has proven me, and a lot of other fans wrong. This Friday, the Buffaloes head to California to take on a very good Washington Huskies team. Nobody is giving Colorado any chance, but let me tell you, after the year I just witnessed, and the belief this team has, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them play well. Instead of making a prediction this week, I’m simply going to enjoy the ride, and say congrats to the 2016 Colorado Buffaloes on the biggest single season turnaround in PAC conference history.