When Buffs fans take a stroll down memory lane, one of the first stops is 1990.
To commemorate CU's national championship, secured that season in the Orange Bowl against Notre Dame, CUBuffs.com will take a look back at each game of the '90 season. Game stories that appeared in the Rocky Mountain News and were written by B.G. Brooks, now Contributing Editor for CUBuffs.com, will be reprinted each Wednesday on the website.
In their next-to-last regular-season game, the Buffs took their time in disposing of Oklahoma State for their eighth consecutive win.
When it was finally accomplished, CU had quarterback Darian Hagan to thank; he threw a school-record four touchdown passes as the Buffs pulled away for a 41-22 victory.
OSU coach Pat Jones had wanted to force Hagan to pass, believing that was preferable to having Hagan and tailback Eric Bieniemy torment the Cowboys' defense with the option.
But Jones didn't want to force Hagan to pass that accurately. He completed 12 of his 23 throws for 237 yards - then a high in the Bill McCartney era - and the four scores.
The win clinched at least a tie for the Big Eight championship and put the Buffs on a fast track for their second trip to Miami. The only question: Who would they play?
'90 Buffs Awaken, Punch Another Ticket For Miami
Game 11: Oklahoma State
Buffs squeeze Orange
CU starts slowly, then blasts OSU
By B.G. Brooks
Rocky Mountain News
BOULDER - After a lemon of a first half - and we're not talking lemon fresh - stuporous Colorado finally shook itself awake yesterday at Folsom Field and found time to smell the oranges.
And for a second consecutive season, "CU In Miami" is Boulder's hottest phrase between now and New Year's Day.
Behind a school-record four touchdown passes by Darian Hagan, the No. 4 Buffaloes mashed Oklahoma State 41-22, securing their second straight Orange Bowl trip after clinching at least a tie for the Big Eight championship.
Who awaits surging CU in Miami?
"It doesn't matter," Buffs wide receiver Rico Smith said. "Notre Dame . . . Miami, it just doesn't matter. Whoever shows up, we'll be there."
The Buffs, winners of their last eight games and now 9-1-1 (6-0 in the league), might go to Florida with another opportunity to win the national championship. With No. 2 Washington losing 25-22 yesterday to UCLA and No. 3 Houston losing 45-24 to Texas last night, CU should advance to No. 2 in this week's national rankings.
The Buffs' climb could pressure the Irish into an Orange Bowl agreement - lest Notre Dame be accused of "ducking" an opponent with the highest possible ranking. A 34-29 winner yesterday over No. 9 Tennessee, Notre Dame will remain No. 1 and is the Orange Bowl's top choice ahead of Miami, the hometown monster famous for feeding on Big Eight champions in the '80s.
Orange Bowl president Arthur Hertz was in Knoxville, Tenn., yesterday, eager to extend Notre Dame an invitation. But the Irish are fiddling while the Buffs do a slow burn to play them again, craving revenge for last season's 21-6 Orange Bowl loss.
"Personally, I'd love to play Notre Dame again," CU offensive tackle Mark Vander Poel said. "I didn't play that well last year. I'd like a shot at redemption."
Exercising diplomacy, Vander Poel's coach didn't specify the Irish as a Jan. 1 foe. "If we got another opportunity to play Notre Dame, that would be great," CU coach Bill McCartney said. "If we got the chance to play Miami, that would be great, too."
McCartney's team opened yesterday apparently believing it was already at the beach. If back-to-back victories over Oklahoma and Nebraska didn't leave the Buffs emotionally drained, they were at least lethargic against a team they hadn't beaten in Boulder since 1981.
"It seemed like everything, everybody, was just dragging at first," Vander Poel said.
Some of the Buffs' lethargy was attributable to the Cowboys, who had lost five of their last six games and obviously had little else to lose yesterday. Gambling defensively and daring Hagan to pass, OSU played CU to a 7-7 first-quarter tie and was behind only 17-7 at the half.
But very early, Hagan saw the Cowboys (3-7, 1-5) for what they were - a desperate team employing a desperate strategy.
"When I saw them trying to cover 'Pritch' (wide receiver Mike Pritchard) one-on-one, I knew we could pass on them," a grinning Hagan said. "Nobody in the United States tries to cover him like that."
But Stillwater, Okla., seceded for an afternoon. With the Cowboys sometimes rushing eight men at Hagan, Pritchard often was left to prance through his routes against single coverage.
OSU paid. Dearly.
"We played a gambling scheme, which forced us to go with man-to-man," OSU cornerback Mike Clark said. "We can only cover so long, but I think we got a lot of mileage out of the stunts."
Then again, Hagan and Pritchard made an interstate out of Clark and the OSU secondary. Adjusting to the Cowboys' pass rush and paring their offense down to what guard Joe Garten said was seven basic plays, the Buffs gained 237 yards passing - the best in the nine-season McCartney era.
Hagan completed 12 of 23 passes for all 237 yards, but was intercepted twice. Pritchard caught six passes for 151 yards, both career highs, with two of the receptions for touchdowns (28, 34 yards).
Hagan's other TD passes went to fullback George Hemingway (9 yards) and tight end Sean Brown (8 yards), who stretched out in the end zone for one of the season's finest receptions for the Buffs.
Brown's catch started a third-quarter landslide for CU, sending the Buffs ahead 24-7 with 10:24 left in the period. On OSU's next series, coach Pat Jones called for a run out of punt formation - a la Tom Osborne - and saw cornerback David Gibbs sniff it out and stuff it at the OSU 34-yard line.
A play later, Hagan found Pritchard cavorting in front of the alone and endangered Clark. Hagan passed 34 yards to Pritchard, and CU bolted ahead 31-7.
Gibbs made his second huge play on the next OSU possession, intercepting Kenny Ford and returning it 22 yards to the Cowboys' 21. CU tailback Eric Bieniemy, the nation's leading rusher, scored on the next play. With 6:48 left in the third quarter, it was CU 38, OSU 7 - and good day, Cowboys.
The Buffs recorded their other points on 40- and 50-yard field goals by Jim Harper.
With Bieniemy carrying 22 times for 148 yards - 3 below his nation-leading average - the Buffs gained 207 yards rushing. Bieniemy set a single-season CU rushing record with 1,513 yards, breaking Charlie Davis' record of 1,386 in 1971.
OSU's Jones believed a key was stopping the Hagan-Bieniemy outside option, which the Cowboys did with only moderate success.
Jones actually wanted Hagan to pass as much as he did - but obviously not with those results.
"We knew he had a good arm," Jones said. "This man-to-man is hit-and-miss. You hope, obviously, you can get to him enough."
OSU got to Hagan twice - but those two sacks were hardly enough to keep Hagan from getting to the Cowboys' secondary.
"When you play against a team like that," McCartney said, "it's usually not very pretty."
But the Buffs were interested in points - not style points.
A triumph over Kansas State next weekend in the final regular-season game would give CU back-to-back conference titles for the first time. Also, the Buffs will accept their Orange Bowl bid next weekend - when the NCAA permits invitations to be officially extended.
But the Buffs left Folsom Field yesterday knowing where they would spend New Year's Day. The biggest question: Who will spend it with them?
Next: Game 12 - Kansas State