Watching commissioner Larry Scott hand the Pac-12 Championship game trophy over to Washington head coach Chris Petersen Saturday night in Santa Clara, I couldn't help but wonder what could have been. Down 14-7 at halftime, the Colorado Buffaloes were thirty minutes away from potentially hoisting that trophy themselves. Instead the Buffs were outscored 27-3 in the 2nd half by an impressive Huskies team that is every bit deserving of calling themselves ‘Pac-12 Champions.'
"Yeah, we hurt. We lost." Mike MacIntyre said following Colorado's 41-10 loss to Washington. "We lost to a good team and made some mistakes that kind of gave them a chance to pull away from us."
Almost as quickly as Washington pulled away in the 2nd half, my thoughts of ‘what COULD have been,' turned into a reflection of what WAS a turnaround season for the Colorado Buffaloes (10-3, 8-1 Pac-12).
First 10-win season since 2001. Undefeated (6-0) at Folsom Field. Pac-12 South Champions. 8-1 in conference play, the greatest year-over-year turnaround (the Buffs were 1-8 last season in league play) in Pac-12 history.
"What these young men have done for the University of Colorado is amazing and how they fought through everything is amazing. I couldn't be prouder of them" MacIntyre said. "These guys brought Folsom's magic back, these young men."
Always tough after a loss. We all hurt. No excuses. So Very Proud of this team and our Defense. Also appreciate All Buffs! Your Awesome!— Jim Leavitt (@CoachJimLeavitt) December 3, 2016
Proud of our team! Tough loss but Pac12 South Champions and winning 10 games is something to build on! CU at the Bowl game! #TheRiseIsReal— Darrin Chiaverini (@CoachChev6) December 3, 2016
Incredibly proud of @RunRalphieRun for what they have achieved and overcome this year...inspiring group of men...Heads up fellas!— Joel Klatt (@joelklatt) December 3, 2016
The Buffs accomplishments this season are more astounding when you think of how far this program has come since MacIntyre was hired in December 2012. And it's no surprise that fans in Boulder are acknowledging the turnaround.
"I always run down Boulder Creek to kind of get away," MacIntyre recalled earlier this season. "I used to run down there and people wanted to run me over on a bicycle," the Colorado coach said. "Now they say ‘Hi' and ‘Go Buffs'.
Without a doubt #TheRise is Real in Boulder, but as my colleague Jon Woods explained, "#TheRise was never meant to be a one year thing. The Rise is about the return of this program to national prominence, and in that regard we're just beginning the journey."
The journey will continue into the postseason with Colorado's first appearance in a bowl game since 2007. Who? When? and Where? they will play will be determined on Sunday. Should the Buffs be ranked ahead of USC (9-3, 7-2 Pac-12) in the final College Football Playoff rankings, Ralphie and company are headed to Pasadena to play in Rose Bowl against an undetermined Big Ten opponent. If Colorado slides below the Trojans in the rankings, the Buffs will travel to San Antonio to face a former Big 12 foe (most likely the loser of today's Oklahoma/Oklahoma State game or West Virginia). The latter seems to be the most likely scenario.
"It's very important for us to take a couple days off and come back and fire on all cylinders in the Bowl game because we really want to end the season off right and do our best' said Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau.
Forget the 31-point loss to Washington in the Pac-12 Championship game and what could have been. We're going bowling Buffs fans. Just stop and think about that for a minute. Think about Sefo Liufau and the 18 members of Mike MacIntyre's first recruiting class getting a chance to play in their first bowl game. And then think about the foundation those seniors have built for this Colorado Football program. The future is bright in Boulder.