For us coming off the Big 12 Championship Game (vs. Oklahoma), a chance to go out and play again rather than have to live with that game — I think we're really looking forward to that.
We needed a week last week with finals and everything, just to sort of get over them. But yesterday's practice, we were a little rusty but had good energy and enthusiasm. A lot of players are really ready to go play this game. That's really encouraging.
Our coaches have done a great job this entire year, as have our seniors. We are trying to take the approach that this is the first game for us next year. I've told the freshmen they are now sophomores, the sophomores they are now juniors and the juniors that they are now seniors. This is the first opportunity for our seniors-to-be to lead and take an active role of leadership in this game. That's the challenge I've thrown out to them.
Everybody has gone through a lot, and here is it on Dec. 17 – most of the smoke has cleared – and we're standing. This university, athletic department and administration have had a very successful year. We are all looking to get going and finish it off with one more game.
Q: You've talked about not wanting to live with the OU game; will that message tick with the players?
GB: I've met with most of them since that (Big 12 title) game, more or less to talk about next year and this last year just to talk about what they've learned. Almost every one of them brought up that they can't wait to play this next game to show and prove that wasn't them .
They really learned a lot from that game. I think they are anxious to take what they learned and start building on it.
Q: Where specifically are you looking for improvement from young guys going into this game and spring ball?
GB: I think you have to look at every phase of our game and say that we can get better. We took the young guys and taught them punt protection, for example, last week. We scrimmaged everybody last week, and we'll probably scrimmage a little bit today with just the young guys.
We look, for one, to obviously improve our stats on defense. We look to improve in our receiving game, and passing game, considerably. On special teams we're pretty good, but there are certain areas we can improve in. We won't spend as much time on that in the spring as we will on our defense and getting our passing game going a little better.
Q: How important is this bowl game in Houston for out of state recruiting.
GB: It's probably not that important for out of state recruiting. It doesn't hurt because of visibility, because the game is being played up down there every day. From the visibility standpoint it's very important.
This game will be more important for next year's recruiting class rather than this year's recruiting class. For this year's class it's probably not a big deal. Next year's class – the visibility, the positiveness that come out of us from being down there and the way we conduct ourselves and the way we'll play this game – will go a long way towards next year's recruiting class.
Recruiting classes right now are almost filled at every school. (This game) may impact a guy or two, but overall it won't have a great impact (on the 2005 class) at this particular point in time.
Q: Are you looking in the junior college areas?
GB: We look anywhere and everywhere to make our team better. We have a difficult issue with junior colleges for the most part. The classes they have to take to get in the university are much different than any other university. They cannot usually come in here midterm, they can usually go other places midterm.
The junior college players that we will take this year will be guys that we placed at junior colleges over the last couple years and have more or less told them the courses they have to take. Some guys take ‘em, some guys don't. If they don't take those courses, they end up going somewhere else. Lee Foliaki, the starting linebacker at Texas A&M, is a perfect example. We could not get him back in school even though we placed him. That happens every once in a while.
Q: How much more film have you watched of UTEP?
GB: Our coordinators have stayed off the road the last two weeks. They've got them inside and out now. We're putting in our game plan right now.
Q: What challenges do you see them presenting?
GB: Mike (Price) and Dennis Erickson sort of developed this offense back in the ‘70s. They have all the answers. Everything that you could do to them, they have an answer for. That's what experience brings to you – being in the offense for a while, especially developing it the way Mike and Dennis did.
So, the first thing that comes to mind is that nothing you do to them on defense will be a surprise to them. They've got a solution and at least on paper know how to handle what you do to them.
Their receivers and speed of their running back is what really concerns me. They've put points on everybody. So it's a challenge for us to get a pass rush on the quarterback, and then be able to play all routes that they throw. They're primarily a one-back team.
Q: Do you see a great deal of difference with them being a WAC team rather than a Big 12 team?
GB: No. You look at individuals, and you look at scheme. They've got two really, really good receivers. I know Mike thinks they're great players. And their tailback is a 4.3 guy. He's not very big, but he's a really good running back. Those sort of things really jump off the screen at you.
And then their defense is very similar to the defense we played at Kansas. Very strong. Skilled in the secondary.
Q: Do you look forward to playing against Price, since you're friends?
GB: You know, it's not me against Mike. It's our teams against each other. We've spent time together and it will be a friendly occasion. It will be fun getting together.
But preparing for them – I don't care who it is during a game, and he doesn't care that I'm on the other side. It's a game and you go do what you gotta do.
Q: Is there extra incentive to put a positive stamp on this season with a bowl win?
GB: That's more of a coaching emphasis than a player emphasis. Coaches see much more value in that. Players do after it's over. But today they're wondering what in the heck what's such a reward about playing in a bowl game. Everybody else has left school and they're staying here and practicing, working hard.
We know what a positive atmosphere can be created if you can win the bowl game going into the offseason. Our alums, our fans, people around the state are fired up. Everybody around the university is excited when you win a bowl game. They're all disappointed when you lose. That transcends and spreads to so many things beyond just football. All of us can come out ahead when we win.
Q: When you've gone to bowl games in the past, do you notice that seniors play a little harder because it's their last game?
GB: Sometimes. It depends on the individual. We've got a couple guys, who it's their last game, and they know it's their last game. We've got a couple guys where if they don't have a great game, they know it's their last game (and they lose a shot at the NFL). So you inform them and leave it up to them. It really comes down to the individual and what they want to do with this opportunity.
Q: How vital is Joel Klatt's performance going to be in constructing next year?
GB: It's not just Joel's performance, I think a lot of people's performances are going to go a long way to setting the tone where the depth chart starts when we star practice in April. The further up you are, the lesser the climb. And if you're at the top, you've got to stay at the top and keep everybody else from getting to you.
When I met with every one of these players, I said, ‘You need to spend the next eight practices, and this game creating your spot in the spring.' We'll have to wait and see if they take that to heart.
Q: You've gone to bigger bowls, but because of what you went through this year, is this a good bowl?
GB: I've gone to smaller bowls too. Every bowl is usually a positive experience for the two teams and the community that hosts it.
That's one of the reasons I have not been in favor of a playoff. The smaller bowls — and this one you've got to probably put right in the middle – while nationally they don't mean a lot, but to those teams that go and that community, it's a big deal. Don't take that away. I'm worried that a playoff system will do that.
The bowl system is the way in which teams turn themselves around. If we didn't have the Freedom Bowl (in 1985), which is no longer in existence, the University of Colorado might have spent another couple of years in the bottom of the Big Eight. That bowl gave us a chance to recruit, gave us visibility, gave us more practices and an opportunity to get this program turned around in 1985.
To answer your question specifically. This bowl is about our season. It's not about anything else. I don't think that going behind August 5 is really going to serve any purpose in this game. We play this game because this team was formed in August, and it's had a season to grow and do the things that we've done.
Q: What has been your experience with the new recruiting restrictions?
GB: That's one of those things that I've chosen not to talk about all year. I'm going to stay along those same lines. But we're progressing pretty well at this point with recruiting. We've only had one weekend where the new recruiting policies have actually been a factor. We had 13 or 14 guys in last weekend, and we've got seven or eight in this weekend.
We're being creative; we're doing everything that we can to not make that an issue. To make it a positive. Our coaches and our players have really done a great job, at least in the one weekend, of not feeling and looking at this as a hardship, but looking at it as "it is what it is, and we're going to make the best of it."
Q: How would you characterize your experience coaching Matt McChesney?
GB: I would pick the word roller coaster. That gives you a visual. But on Dec. 17th, 2004, Matt has matured. Apples don't ripen at the same time. Matt didn't come in as a ripened apple. He's gone through what most people who are 18 go through. We don't get finished products in college. If we did, then we wouldn't need colleges.
Matt was one of those student-athletes who had a lot of experiences here. But to his credit, he stands here this day after winning three (team) awards that none of us would have predicted he would win. But he's got something to him that's made him survive, made him endure over all these things that have happened to him. Things like a vent falling out of the ceiling and knocking his shoulder out in a meeting. When we take pictures, we never let him get on the back row, because we're afraid he'll fall off.
Matt had this little cloud that followed him – part of which he created, and part of which was just the way it was. But he's had perseverance, and he's been the heart and soul, and the most spirited player on our team since August 5th.
Q: Does that give you satisfaction as a coach?
GB: It sure does. That's why I coach college football, is to see guys overcome all the things; to see them stay through it and graduate. I told him yesterday at practice that if he doesn't get that degree in May, I'm taking the trophies back and taking his name of the trophies. He got the point, and he'll graduate because he wants to.
That's really why you coach college football, in my opinion. I think, initially, that's why you do it. I don't know if that's still true for most people, but it is for me.