ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- 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
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
"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
"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."