Last July, Big 12 media days could have included only 11 teams. Colorado's session was such a media feeding frenzy that the Buffs could have used a day all to themselves. But a year removed from the scandal that rocked Boulder, CU's representatives were happy to simply be talking about football this time around.
"Definitely," said tight end Joe Klopfenstein. "Now that it's completely past, it's great to be back to football."
At the same time, last year's scandal almost seemed to aid the Buffs. They went out and won the North division, something nearly no one had picked them to do. Barnett said that maybe his team had "weathered the perfect storm."
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"The first thing that we did was just stuck together," said senior quarterback Joel Klatt. "We were such a close knit football team, we just stuck together and decided to fight our way through it."
"As a team I believe that we worked hard, dedicated ourselves to proving everyone wrong," said linebacker Brian Iwuh. "As far as individually, I just tried to ignore everything that was going on in the media, the TV shows when everyone was talking negativity about our program."
Klopfenstein referenced the team's "us-against-the-world" attitude in their run to the 2004 Big 12 championship game. Now, lacking such motivation, Colorado has to find a different motto.
"It was so easy last year, there was always something to work for, us against the world, that sort of thing," Klopfenstein said. "This year, we sort of have to push ourselves a little more to get motivated."
"It is tough," Iwuh said. "You try to find something that motivates you every season. This year, we just have to find it in ourselves. That's probably even better."
The thing is, the Buffs may not need such motivation to win the division for the fourth time in five years. Including special teamers, they bring back 19 starters from last year's squad. Whereas last season they were relatively young, Colorado should be the North's most seasoned group in 2005.
Not only do the players have a year under their belts. They are led by Barnett, one of the most battle-tested coaches in the Big 12 who just endured a year in which he was a favorite target of media outlets from coast to coast and a leading candidate to be searching for a new job.
"He went through more than any of us and I think he tried not to involve that with the team or bring that atmosphere of what he was going through to the team," said Iwuh. "People probably think we were going through a lot of pain. But we kind of stayed out of the mix and we weren't really involved in everything that he was going through. It wasn't really that hard for us as a team, but it was motivation to play hard for our coach."
"He's a very unique and special person," Klatt said. "You look at his career. He was offensive coordinator for a national championship team at Colorado. He went to Northwestern. I mean, Northwestern winning two Big Ten titles, that's absurd. Winning three out of four North titles here at Colorado, won the Big 12 title, beat Nebraska twice in Lincoln twice and I think three out of four. You look at those things and without a name, you would think, well, that coach must be in the Hall of Fame or must be so secure in his job. Then you look at Gary Barnett and those things don't come to mind. I think it's a perception issue. People don't realize what a great coach he is and besides that they don't understand the type of character and integrity that he maintains running this program."
Barnett didn't really discuss the effect the last year or two have had on him. He did respond to one reporter who asked him if the process had made him a survivor.
"I hope I'm more than a survivor," Barnett replied. "I hope I'm a difference maker and I hope I can contribute to their lives. I don't know if any of us want to be known as a survivor. I think I have a career and a history of graduating players and making things better for young people and that's the way I want to be remembered and that's what I do and that's what I hope I do. I hope that's more than a survivor."
The Buffaloes did more than survive. They thrived. Now, it's time to do it again.
Rivals.com will provide complete coverage of Big 12 media days from Houston throughout the week. Look for daily notebooks, photo galleries and stories focusing on each team throughout the event.