Fragile Buffs vow to recover for bowl game

HOUSTON -- In the wake of the third-worst loss in Colorado history, Gary Barnett tried to cope with some gallows humor.

"It's a pretty numbing game," he said. "I was pretty numb last week, too. Actually, numb would be a good feeling right now."

Numb and number would certainly beat the three successive kicks in the gut that Barnett and the Buffaloes have endured to close this season. A team that once was 7-2 and seemed on its way to at least 9-2 has been bludgeoned by a combined score of 130-22 its last three games -- including Saturday's 70-3 debacle to Texas.

A contract extension that was an inevitability a month ago might never happen now. And a coach who has tenaciously hung onto his job through two years of turbulence sounded unsure about his future Saturday evening.

"You can't make emotional decisions right now," Barnett said, after hesitating a long moment. "That's not fair to anybody. Tomorrow things will be more clear. Monday they'll be more clear."

This much is crystal clear: Colorado has collapsed. Since losing to Iowa State on Nov. 12 in a game in which the Cyclones scored their last two touchdowns on a 66-yard fumble return and a 66-yard interception return, the Buffaloes have been a train wreck.

"The loss at Iowa State, we've never gotten over it," Barnett said. "I can't for the life of me figure out why. We all know this is a pretty fragile existence. ... We're a more fragile team than I thought.

"We made a commitment in the locker room to each other to get it fixed for the bowl game. So we'll get it fixed," he said.

It will take a mammoth repair job. Colorado has not scored a touchdown in its last 10 quarters and has been ahead for just 4 minutes, 19 seconds in the last three games.

Even if the Buffaloes do rebound in time for their anticipated bowl bid, the inviting game will not be thrilled to extend the invitation. Colorado returned 5,000 of its 8,500-ticket allotment for this game and historically has not traveled well -- even in the best of times. These are the worst of times -- and this was the worst loss for the Buffs since a 76-0 drilling from Texas in 1946.

Now we'll see how first-year Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn reacts. Barnett's contract expires in June 2007, at which time a $2 million retention bonus would kick in.

An extension was thought to be a virtual done deal and was even expected to be finalized last month. It didn't happen, and this would be a difficult climate for an extension now.

Barnett at least has a backer in the coach who crushed him Saturday.

"I've said repeatedly, I think Gary Barnett may be the best coach in the country," Mack Brown said.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.