Busted Broncs

As college teams bowl for dolors, Shanahan keeps burning.

By contrast, the 5-7 Colorado Buffs had to be one of the most inept University of Colorado teams in recent memory. Friday's season-ending loss to Nebraska confirmed the worst. With only three starters returning on offense, they began happily enough, with wins over Colorado State and UCLA, but their brutal schedule, a porous defense and a dreadful running game doomed them thereafter. Getting hammered in successive weeks by Washington State (47-26) and Florida State (47-7) may have been understandable -- those teams are now ranked number 16 and number 9, respectively, in the Associated Press poll. But when Colorado went down to Waco on October 4 and got torched 42-30 by hapless Baylor, Gary Barnett and Company hit bottom. Long the worst team in the Big 12, Baylor had won only one conference game in the past four years, and the team it put on the field had lost 29 lettermen to graduation -- the most in the league. The week after its startling upset of the Buffs, Baylor quickly returned to form against Texas A&M, which beat it 73-10. A&M, you may recall, is the team that later lost to Oklahoma 77-0.

Meanwhile, CU gave up forty or more points five times and, going into Friday's Nebraska game, its running backs averaged less than 100 yards per Saturday -- last in the conference and, let's see here, 112th nationally. Before this season, CU had the tenth-best record in the country in games played since 1989, and their 14-2 record in Big 12 games in 2001 and 2002 was best in the league. But there was no bowl bid this year, and 2004 could be another long haul.

Mark Poutenis

Down in Colorado Springs, Air Force got off to its usual fast start, winning its first five games, but in week six the Falcons got unexpectedly knocked off by Navy in Annapolis, and the unraveling continued apace. Fisher DeBerry's disciplined, never-say-die kids took out UNLV and Army before season's end but finished the year with five losses in their last seven games -- a trend that began last year. The 2002 Falcons went 6-0 and jumped up into the top 20 before a 21-14 loss to Notre Dame started a three-game losing streak. This year, they petered out with season-ending losses to New Mexico and San Diego State, despite having one of their most talented and experienced rosters in years. If you're shopping for reasons, try this: Always undersized, even very good service-academy teams wear down as the season wears on, and this year's Air Force club, while smart and fast, featured the usual array of 250-pound defensive ends and 195-pound running backs. The starting quarterback, 5'11", 185-pound Chance Harridge, will fit nicely into the cockpit of an F-16, but he has no future in the NFL -- not even as a backup to, say, Danny Kanell.

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