Barnett savoring Big 12 title berth

Updated: November 27, 2004, 8:57 PM ET
Associated Press

Colorado will have more to remember about this season than just scandal and turmoil -- most notably, a trip to the Big 12 title game that seemed nearly impossible just a few weeks ago.

Embattled off the field, improving steadily on it, CU's improbable run to the Big 12 North title was completed Saturday when Missouri upset Iowa State 17-14 in overtime.

The result left the Buffs -- who defeated Nebraska on Friday -- tied with the Cyclones at 4-4 in the conference. Colorado won the tiebreaker based on its win over Iowa State earlier this season.

"I don't have the proper words," Buffs coach Gary Barnett said. "I'm happy for our coaches. The kinds of things they went through and held up through and held this team together. Then, the players and parents. The way they constantly believed and didn't let anything bother them, stayed close, separated out what was important from what wasn't important."

The Buffaloes (7-4) will be heavy underdogs next week against a No. 2 Oklahoma team that will have a national championship on its mind. That's for next week, though. On Saturday, Colorado was celebrating an incredible turnaround.

"I'm a lifelong Red Sox fan," quarterback Joel Klatt said. "When they got down 3-0 to the Yankees, I knew they would come back and win. That's how I approached this season. I never doubted."

This was a program rocked by a rape and recruiting scandal in the offseason; a program whose coach was suspended for making inappropriate comments in reference to the trouble; a program that just last week reported possible violations to the NCAA, a program whose athletic director resigned under pressure last week.

That was off the field.

On the field wasn't much prettier.

After a 3-0 start in nonconference play -- none of the wins was particularly impressive -- Colorado lost four of five to start the Big 12 season. The Buffs' 31-7 loss to Texas dropped them to 1-4 in the Big 12.

Barnett took the blame for having his team ill prepared, which only fueled the calls for his firing. Not only was the football program embarrassing the university, the gap between the elite in the conference and CU seemed to be growing.

But Colorado rallied and won its next three -- first, a come-from-behind 30-21 win over Kansas, then a 38-31 victory over Kansas State decided on the last play, then a 26-20 win at archrival Nebraska.

The Big 12 North, meanwhile, was mediocre and the long list of things CU needed to happen did, ending Saturday with Iowa State's loss to Missouri.

The Buffs made the Big 12 title game for the third time in four years, but the past two times it didn't come as a huge surprise. Barnett said he never gave up hope for this season. He and his players were among the very few.

"I don't know if there was doubt," Barnett said. "But you wondered how it was going to happen."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press