DENVER -- Backing into the Big 12 title game? Crawling in is more like it for Colorado.
But the Buffaloes are going for the fourth time in five years.
When he got the surprising news Saturday, coach Gary Barnett reprised the old joke: What do you call the person who graduates last in his class from medical school?
"I guess if you can call that last guy ... 'Doctor,' you can call us champions," he said.
The Buffs (7-4, 5-3) will play No. 2 Texas in Houston next week, a daunting trip, especially given their spirit-crushing 30-3 loss to Nebraska on Friday.
CU's loss left the door open for Iowa State. But the Cyclones blew a 14-3 lead to Kansas on Saturday, then lost in overtime, and again, the Buffs found themselves alone at the top of the Big 12 North -- a weak division they have managed to dominate for most of the last half-decade.
Barnett conceded he was so sick about his own loss, he didn't bother watching Iowa State on TV. For the second straight year, though, the Buffs earned their trip to the title game thanks to the Cyclones losing by a field goal in overtime on a day CU wasn't even
"It feels like Groundhog Year," Barnett said.
Of course, Colorado's next trip will be anything but a vacation.
The Buffs have already lost to Texas this season, 42-17 on Oct. 15. The Longhorns need a win to play for the national championship, so it would figure they won't overlook this game.
Meanwhile, it's hard to imagine the CU players are feeling very good about themselves. Not after Friday's result. Many conceded they didn't deserve a spot in the Big 12 title game after the Nebraska debacle.
"I've got to figure that one out," Barnett said. "I'll see if they feel differently today and on Monday."
It was, indeed, an old-fashioned whoopin', the kind Nebraska used to put on CU back in the days when Tom Osborne was coach and the Buffs were bottom feeders in the old Big Eight.
But now, the Buffs will try to put the Nebraska game aside to focus on the next daunting task.
They will be heavy underdogs against the 'Horns. They face the very real prospect of riding a three-game losing streak into an even lesser bowl game than they were already slated for after the thumping from Nebraska.
If they spring an upset, the national picture would devolve into chaos and the Buffs would find themselves in a BCS game. It hardly seems possible. But if anyone could believe, it would be Colorado, especially after these last two days.
"Now we've got to do something with it, now that we've been given this opportunity," Barnett said. "And I'm looking forward to going to work tomorrow. That's pretty much what it boils down to."