Colorado seeks turnaround against No. 23 Clemson
December 26, 2005
ORLANDO, Fla. ” Colorado has an interim coach, a three-game losing streak and a pretty significant reputation problem.
The Buffaloes also have a chance to start altering their image against No. 23 Clemson in the Champs Sports Bowl on Tuesday.
“We need a win, we really do, just to get us back to where we’re supposed to be and getting guys feeling good again,” linebacker Thaddaeus Washington said. “It would be great for everyone in the program ” the players, the coaches, the fans.”
The Buffs (7-5) desperately want to turn around a once-promising season that became sour after three straight losses, the last two by a combined score of 100-6.
“We want to end the season how we started it ” by winning,” quarterback James Cox said.
Colorado was 7-2 at one point, losing only to Miami and Texas, and there was talk about a contract extension for embattled coach Gary Barnett.
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Consecutive losses to Texas, Iowa State and Nebraska ended that thought as well as Barnett’s tenure in Boulder.
Barnett had survived a sordid recruiting scandal and a suspension following derogatory remarks about a female kicker who alleged she was raped by a teammate in 2000. But the losses ” most notably the 70-3 drubbing against Texas in the Big 12 title game ” ultimately led to his forced resignation nearly three weeks ago.
The school has hired Boise State coach Dan Hawkins to replace Barnett, but defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz will coach the team against Clemson (7-4).
Hankwitz said he has noticed a change in his players’ attitude since arriving in Orlando early last week.
“There aren’t as many questions (about the coaching situation). Everything has cleared,” he said. “The focus has moved toward the game, so I sense a difference.”
But can the Buffs regroup after so much turmoil?
They have had other problems outside the losing streak and Barnett’s dismissal, most notably when offensive lineman Clint O’Neal was recently suspended for sending a racist e-mail to another student.
“The cookie all crumbled at one time for us,” said Cox, who will make his second career start in place of Joel Klatt (concussion) against the Tigers. “We had all the questions about our coach, we lost three games in a row and we were trying to figure out what was going on with our season.”
Clemson had similar worries after a three-game losing streak early in the season, although two of the losses were in overtime and all three were by a combined 13 points.
Nonetheless, the Tigers rebounded to win five of their last six games, including three straight against Duke, Atlantic Coast Conference champion Florida State and rival South Carolina to close out the regular season.
Now, the remaining goal is simple.
“We want to finish the season ranked in the top 20,” Clemson cornerback Tye Hill said. “If we do that, the air is thin. There aren’t too many people up there. To be a part of that elite group, that would mean a whole lot for us and the seniors and the fans.”
Hill and the Tigers also hope for a better showing than their last bowl trip to Orlando in 2002, when they were humiliated 55-15 by Texas Tech in the Tangerine Bowl.
“We won’t let that happen again,” Hill said.
Colorado, maybe for obvious reasons, wasn’t as confident about changing its fortune.
“The three games and everything else that happened are in the past. This is all we have left right now,” Washington said. “We want to finish on a high note. We don’t want to go out there and choke.
“It’s been a real difficult time for us. Just like in life, you have to live with it and deal with it and move on. That’s what we’re doing. We’re taking it in stride and focusing on what we can control and trying to get things turned around.”
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