Woelk: Dorrell Recognized Buffs' Hunger, Desire From The Beginning
BOULDER — When Karl Dorrell first met with his Colorado Buffaloes after his Feb. 23 hiring, he quickly discovered a few things about his new team.
One, they were searching for a little stability — understandable, as Dorrell became their third head coach in three years.
Two, they wanted a coach they could trust, someone they knew would have their backs at all times in all circumstances. Again, understandable.
But most importantly, Dorrell found a team that was hungry to win. Not next year, but now. The Buffs didn't want to hear about rebuilding, they didn't want to hear about long-term plans at the expense of the immediate future.
CU's players wanted to win. They wanted to compete for a conference title and they wanted to taste the postseason, something they hadn't had the opportunity to do since 2016.
Help the Buffs realize their aspirations — right away.
"I didn't want to let those guys down as to what they wanted to achieve in my first year of being here," Dorrell said at Sunday's introductory Valero Alamo Bowl press conference. "When I met them for the first time, they felt they were better than what people thought they were. We just rode that type of mindset … We just went to work."
That hard work paid off. With a 4-1 finish to the regular season, CU finished second in the Pac-12 South, earned a top 25 ranking along the way, and Sunday accepted an invitation to face 6-3 and 20th-ranked Texas in the Dec. 29 Alamo Bowl in San Antonio (7 p.m., ESPN).
The game is a worthwhile reward for a program that faced as many obstacles — or more — than any FBS program in America, yet never offered an excuse.
"We're excited," Dorrell said. "We're looking forward to extending the fruits of our labor from what we've done so far this year … To be able to play this game and celebrate the game of football and particularly postseason — it's fun to be a part of that. We're very, very thankful for the opportunity to play."
The matchup will put Colorado on a national stage against an old and familiar foe in a state that has proven to be fertile recruiting ground for the Buffaloes — 22 players on the current roster hail from Texas.
And, along with providing a reward for the CU upperclassmen who helped provide critical leadership this season, the game will send a message that Dorrell and his staff are establishing a foundation that will keep the program on firm footing for years to come.
"We're a growing program," he said. "We feel like this is a good, fundamental step in our first year, to be bowl eligible and get a chance to compete. We think we have many good years to go in the future."
Indeed, with a roster that sports only a handful of seniors and a long list of youngsters who earned valuable playing time this season, the bowl bid serves as another validation of what Dorrell is building in Boulder.
"We feel like the program's on the rise," he said. "We're trying to get better week after week and keep improving the depth of our team with our freshmen and sophomores that are playing. This has really been an extra bonus year for us to build a foundation in our program. It was just another step."
From the vantage point of Colorado fans, it is more than "just another step." It is a big step toward returning to relevancy when it comes to competing for conference titles and national recognition.
But most importantly, it is a sign that Dorrell's investment and belief in Colorado Football is deep. All the evidence you need is this:
"I didn't want to let those guys down."
FANS IN STANDS: The Alamo Bowl will allow a percentage of fans to attend the game, something Dorrell said won't go unnoticed by his players.
"We played every game this year with no fans," Dorrell noted. "I don't want to understate the importance of playing in a bowl game and having your family members able to watch. This is going to be a reward not only for our players, but also for the families that haven't had a chance to watch their sons play and to be involved. It's a great reward for everyone in a number of circumstances."
ALAMO EXPERIENCE: Three players on CU's current roster — quarterback Sam Noyer, safety Derrion Rakestraw and linebacker Akil Jones — were on the 2016 team that played in the Alamo Bowl against Oklahoma State.
Noyer, a redshirt freshman at the time, was the only one of the three to dress for the game, as he was one of the quarterbacks on the sideline sending in signals to the offense.