It's been a long road for the Buffs

BOULDER, Colo. -- For a team that sets its sights on Big 12
and national championships, finishing just above .500 and earning a
trip to midlevel bowl shouldn't be something to get excited about.

But consider what the Buffaloes have been through this year --
sex and recruiting scandals, coach Gary Barnett's suspension, a
wild ride through the schedule -- and it's easy to understand their
satisfaction from a 7-5 season and a spot in the Houston Bowl
against Texas-El Paso on Wednesday.

"It has been a rough year for this team and for this program,"
offensive lineman Sam Wilder said. "Things did not always go the
way we wanted them to this year, but this team has kept fighting."

The long offseason threatened to overshadow anything the team
might accomplish on the field.

A grand jury investigated claims by nine women who said they
were sexually assaulted by players or recruits since 1997. No
charges were filed, but three of those women sued the university
and two of the suits are still pending.

A separate investigation concluded sex, alcohol and drugs were
used as football recruiting tools by player-hosts, though there was
no evidence university officials knowingly sanctioned the activity.

Barnett was suspended for three months after making insensitive
remarks about two of the women, including former player Katie Hnida
shortly after she said she was raped by a teammate in 2000.

The school overhauled its recruiting procedures, but the
headlines didn't stop once the season started.

Embattled athletic director Dick Tharp resigned in November and
chancellor Richard Byyny followed suit earlier this month, though
both said it had nothing to do with the scandal. A fraud
investigator hired by state prosecutors is also looking into the
school's fund-raising practices, including two football camps run
by Barnett.

Somehow, the players were able to fight off the distractions and
win football games.

"Everybody has gone through a lot, and the smoke has cleared
and we're still standing," Barnett said. "The university,
athletic department and administration have had a very successful
year -- and the football team."

It's hard to argue.

Colorado started off the season superbly, winning three straight
games for the first time since 1998. That was followed by four
losses in five games, seemingly ending Colorado's chances of
earning a bowl bid.

But Buffaloes weren't ready to give up that easy, not after what
they've been through.

Colorado reeled off three straight wins to end the regular
season, beating rival Nebraska 26-20 on the road to earn a spot in
the Big 12 championship.

Winning the Big 12 North may have said more about the weakness
of the division than Colorado's skill -- the Buffaloes were crushed
42-3 by Oklahoma in the title game -- but it was quite an
accomplishment for a team not given much of a chance to succeed.

"I've never had a young team that has achieved as much as this
team has," Barnett said. "If these kids can take this kind of
approach when they're older, then they've really got a lot ahead of

As for Barnett, his year had nearly as many ups and downs as his

Barnett survived his suspension with his job intact after a
university investigation, but the pressure didn't let up.

After being praised for holding his team together early in the
season, Barnett heard the calls for his job during the midseason
slide. It didn't help when Tharp, one of Barnett's biggest
supporters, stepped down.

But just when things seemed the worst, Barnett turned his team
around and got them into the Big 12 title game and a bowl, earning
conference coach of the year honors in the process.

"I really haven't thought about me very much," Barnett said.
"In the throes of the battle, you don't start feeling sorry for
yourself. You worry about the people you're responsible for and
getting them out of the mess they're in."