UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – Stanford loss hangs over CU bowl hopes

Did you go to bed at halftime of that late-night Colorado-Stanford football game a few weeks ago?

Did you think the game was all but over, victory assured, when Coach Prime’s Buffs went to the locker room leading 29-0?

Apparently, too many CU players thought so, too.

In case you missed it, here’s a recap of the painful collapse: 

On the opening drive of the second half, CU turned the ball over on downs at its own 43 after a 12-yard sack on fourth-and-two. Gifted a short field, Stanford needed only 3:08 to score in seven plays.

CU punted after five plays on the ensuing series, and went three-and-out on the possession after that. Stanford scored both times, on a 97-yard pass-and-run as CU defenders vainly chased Elic Ayomanor the length of the field, then on a 60-yarder as Ayomanor again outran his shellshocked pursuers.

The Buffs presented Stanford with another short field early in the fourth quarter—turning the ball over on their own 35 after another sack of Shedeur Sanders—and Stanford cut the margin to 29-26 with 12:50 left in the game.

CU came to life, scoring in four plays to go up 36-26, but Stanford answered—81 yards in 13 plays.

On the last play of regulation Josh Karty lined up for a 46-yard field goal attempt. CU’s Alejandro Mata had attempted a field goal of the exact same distance to end the first half. His kick was dead center but short; Karty’s try was perfect.

Stanford eventually prevailed in the second overtime, 46-43, explaining why an invitation to a bowl game, which seemed so likely halfway through the game on that Friday the 13th, now seems like such a longshot.

Had the Buffs defeated Stanford—as it seemed they would at the midpoint—they’d be sitting 5-3 despite last Saturday’s hammering by physically superior UCLA. 

Instead, they’re 4-4 and in need of two victories in their last four games to qualify to play beyond the end of their regular-season schedule November 25. 

As everyone who has followed CU under Coach Prime knows, the key is keeping Sanders—Shedeur, not Deion—upright and able to throw downfield.

Count several bowl committees among those who are rooting for Neon Deion to find a way. 

Even at 6-6, he and his Colorado football team would draw a crowd, not to mention plenty of media attention.

What are the chances?

Not very good—thanks in large part to the collapse against Stanford. But not yet out of the question.

The Buffs are likely to fall below .500 for the first time this season on Saturday when they host 19th-ranked Oregon State.

But their flickering bowl hopes could actually rise slightly in defeat, IF they just come close to upsetting the Beavers, whose two losses are to the very teams CU must defeat to get to a bowl.

The last home game of the season follows, and it’s a must.

Arizona looked like the magical sixth win at halftime of the Stanford game. But that debacle, coupled with the Wildcats’ 27-24 upset of Oregon State last week in Tucson, changes the equation.

U of A likely will come to Boulder itself needing only one more victory to reach bowl eligibility (assuming a loss this weekend to UCLA).

If CU can succeed against Arizona, a bowl berth will ride on its trip to southeastern Washington the next weekend. Awaiting in Pullman will be Washington State, also likely to need one more victory to qualify for a bowl bid.

The winner most likely punches its ticket to Shreveport, home of the Independence Bowl, on December 16.

If you put stock in head-to-head comparisons, there is reason for hope in this case.

Washington State lost 38-27 last Saturday to Arizona State. On October 7, CU beat those same Aztecs 27-24. Both games were played in Tempe.

(Oregon State lost to Washington State by three back in September, so the Cougars will not be a layup for CU.)

The Buffs finish the schedule against Utah in Salt Lake City, and the Utes will be significant favorites.

Coach Prime professes to be unconcerned, even annoyed, with bowl talk, telling ESPN’s Paolo Uggetti:

“I don’t give a damn about no bowl. We’re trying win, period.”

Of course, winning would translate to a bowl berth.

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 15 books, nine of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.