Buffaloes arrive for Fiesta Bowl date with Oregon

Wednesday, December 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PHOENIX (AP) _ Colorado players and fans are feeling better about their chances of winning a share of the national title.

The third-ranked Buffaloes arrived on a chartered flight late Tuesday for their New Year's Day date with No. 2 Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.

The winner of that game has to wait to see who wins the Rose Bowl game between No. 1 Miami and No. 4 Nebraska, Colorado's Big 12 rival. An upset by the Cornhuskers would put the Fiesta Bowl winner in position to be voted national champions in the Associated Press poll.

``We would lay claim to it,'' Buffs coach Gary Barnett said after skirting a mariachi band and well-wishers to reach the media tent. ``To me, it would be pretty hard to put Nebraska in front of us, but however the BCS worked, it happened last time. But from everything I've heard as far as the AP and the press, whichever team wins this game _ and should Nebraska win _ I think is going to at least get half of it.

``I would think if it was us, having beat Nebraska the way we did, we might get a little more than half, but that's somebody else's bailiwick.''

Barnett called for more integrity in the system after the Bowl Championship Series picked Nebraska to meet the Hurricanes in the designated championship game.

He said that feeling lasted less than an hour before he began to see the possibilities for the Fiesta winner. But he still wasn't able to say he would pull for the Cornhuskers.

``I don't think I can do that,'' Barnett said. ``It's just going to have to play out. I just can't root for them, even though I know they need to win. I don't think my rooting is going to make a darn bit of difference in that game anyway, so I'd just as soon hold back and not do that.''

The Buffaloes (10-2) had to climb from obscurity after both losses _ a 24-22 upset by Fresno State on Aug. 26 and a 41-7 rout by Texas on Oct. 20. The next week, they started their second five-game winning streak of the season at Oklahoma State, and finished by routing Nebraska 62-36 on Nov. 23 and beating Texas 39-37 in the Big 12 title game on Dec 1.

Justin Bates, a two-year starter at offensive tackle, wasn't worried about the Buffaloes having a letdown after back-to-back ``perfect games for us.''

``We've always prided ourselves on playing our best football later on in the season, because that's when the games count and matter,'' Bates said. ``We came out playing two great games, Nebraska and Texas, and I think we can easily keep the momentum going. Our team has jelled together, we know how each other are playing, and we'd love to go out and show the nation one more time how good a team we are.''

The Buffs had their last practice in Colorado on Saturday, and Roman Hollowell, who led the nation in punt returns, said he couldn't wait to begin practice in the Arizona sunshine.

``It's real cold back there, so I just think the players and coaches are happy to get to some warm weather. I know I am,'' Hollowell said.

At the previous practice, Barnett said Bobby Pesavento, a senior who started the last four games, would take the majority of the snaps in practice and line up at quarterback for the game at Sun Devil Stadium in suburban Tempe.

Sophomore Craig Ochs started seven of the first eight games this year, but lost out to Pesavento after sustaining a concussion and spraining an ankle. Pesavento sprained a knee against Texas, but Barnett felt that problem was cleared up by the more than three weeks since the game.

About 50 players arrived on the flight, and another 60 were expected to trickle in from holiday visits on Wednesday.