Back To Work

Colorado head coach Gary Barnett was ready with some humor when he met with members of the media following Kansas' victory over Iowa State Saturday, a win that left the Buffs alone atop the Big 12 North, and sends them to the Big 12 title game. "It feels like Groundhog Year," Barnett quipped. Kidding aside, Barnett said he had already put the embarrassing loss to Nebraska behind him, and was looking forward to getting his team past it too.

In 2004, a late botched Iowa State field goal gift wrapped CU's trip to the Big 12 Championship game. On Saturday, ISU placekicker Bret Culbertson's kick in overtime went wide right. Kansas' answered with a field goal that split the uprights.

The win made the Jayhawks bowl eligible. It also left the Buffs alone in first place in the North Division with a 5-3 conference record. ISU, who would have won the division by virtue of head-to-head competition with the Buffs had they beaten Kansas, finished second.

Despite a sense of déjà vu, and despite saying he felt some compassion for colleague Dan McCarney, ISU's coach, Barnett made note of the difference between 2004 and 2005 on Saturday.

"This one wasn't a tie, it was an outright win. There'll only be one (North Division) trophy and only one ring," he said, referring to last year, when Iowa State tied CU's record, made trophies and rings, but didn't go the conference title game because CU won the tiebreaker.

Barnett didn't watch the KU-ISU game until he got home and turned on the television just as the overtime period was starting. Instead, Barnett spent from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday with the 11 recruits on official visits to Boulder for the Nebraska game.

The duty of entertaining the 11 guests, and some of their families, wasn't something Barnett looked forward to after Friday's 30-3 loss to Nebraska. But he said the task helped him get past the disheartening defeat.

"It was the best thing for me because I could start focusing on the next step; focus on today and tomorrow instead of yesterday, focus on next year, things ahead of you — which is what I tell our team all the time that you have to do," the 59-year-old coach said.

"The last thing I told our team last night was you have to respond to the things that happen to you. For me, this simple little example … is the way life is. It's what this game teaches you. We don't have time to mope over yesterday. We've got to get to work."

One of the main priorities facing Barnett, his staff and players is figuring out why these Buffaloes have not shown well in big games. CU has made a habit of talking about the opportunities playing ranked teams on national television afforded them, only to squander those opportunities.

CU managed just three points against Miami Sept. 24, then was blown out at Texas, 42-17, Oct. 15.

The Buffs failed to take advantage of their opportunities to win the Big 12 North at Iowa State earlier in November, and again on Friday vs. Nebraska.

"Key guys haven't played well in big games," Barnett said. "We have to get beyond that. Obviously, this game in Houston is the biggest game of the year. We have to have the mentality that we play well, and we're going to play well in big games."

While some may want to draw comparisons to the 2001 season — when CU lost at Texas during conference play, but beat them for the championship trophy in Dallas — and this year, Barnett pinpointed the glaring difference in scenarios.

"We had so much confidence going into that game in 2001," Barnett said. "This is a different deal. We have to find a way to regain our confidence."

That's because Colorado played its worst game of the season against Nebraska on Friday. Given the fact the North crown was theirs for the taking, and the game was on national television, and the fact CU points to the Nebraska game as its big rivalry contest, the loss will likely go down as one of CU's worst in the modern era.

Sophomore wide receiver Reggie Joseph said watching his older teammates go out on a losing note was the toughest part.

"What hurt me the most about the game last night was to watch the seniors go out that way," Joseph said Saturday. "To be at home against Nebraska, your biggest rival, in front of your family and (on national television), to lose your last game at Folsom. That's what hurt me the most."

After the game, Barnett came from a somber locker room and said his main concern was the emotional well-being of his players. Saturday, he said he would address that Monday, the first time players and coaches meet. But college-aged kids are resilient, and Saturday afternoon there were already signs that players were starting to look forward rather than dwell backwards.

Joseph spent his afternoon watching the Kansas-Iowa State game. He said having to put your hopes in someone else's hands is less than ideal, but said he felt relieved to be heading to Houston to play Texas Dec. 3.

"Every man is awarded a second chance," Joseph said. "Once again this year we got a second chance. What don't kill you, helps you. And obviously we're not dead because we're given another opportunity. I fully believe if we learn from this situation, it'll turn out for the best. I'm grateful."

Joseph and teammate Terry Washington both said on Saturday that poor execution led to getting blown out at Texas back in October. "If we …cut down on penalties and a lot of mental mistakes, I think we'll hang (with No. 2-ranked Texas)," Washington said.

Coaches will spend Sunday scouring over film of Texas and trying to figure out how to compete with what seems like the Goliath to the Buffs' David. That's the X's and O's part. There's also the mental and emotional aspect. Joseph said the Buffs can pull together and get up for the game.

"(We're) a family, not just a team," Joseph said. "If you sit on a theme of ‘shoulder to shoulder' and ‘one heartbeat … If you don't honestly believe those things, then it's impossible to bounce back. No one individual can bounce back mentally and win a game for a team, it's the whole team.

"So as a family, I think we have the chemistry to bounce back. Given this second opportunity, I think we will."


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