There still is a game to play. One that Colorado football fans have been long-starved for, and which will give the Buffaloes an opportunity to end their remarkable 2016 season on a far more fitting note than the disappointment that played out in Friday night's Pac-12 Conference championship game.

Be it Alamo, Cotton, or even an unlikely but not impossible berth in the Rose, the Buffs are going bowling. Regardless, though, the destination and marquee opponent will serve the same function as any game outside the College Football Playoff.

In the end, they're all just glorified exhibitions.

Beyond the financial impact, these glorified exhibitions still serve a critical purpose in the big picture. For the first time since 2007, the Buffs will enjoy an opportunity to practice in December. This bonus is not to be overlooked. Programs accustomed to making bowl appearances on an annual basis always use the extra practice time wisely. In order to make sure 2016 becomes the foundation for sustained success instead of an exciting one-year aberration, the 2017 Buffs must do the same in the coming weeks.

"It's going to do a lot," head coach Mike MacIntyre said shortly after his team's 41-10 loss to Washington. "All of our young guys will basically be able to have another spring practice, which is great. They might not enjoy it as much, but we will as coaches. And the players will too. The guys that are doing the playing won't practice as much as those (reserve) guys of course. I think it's a big benefit for us, no doubt."


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With a defense soon to be tasked with replacing a number of proven standouts, MacIntyre and defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt will get extended looks at the fledgling replacements. However, perhaps no player can reap the potential benefits of the extra practice than Steven Montez.

The heir apparent to Sefo Liufau at quarterback put together an encouraging, if far from flawless, 2016 campaign. Montez excelled in a three-game midseason run as the starter, throwing for 823 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions against Oregon, Oregon State, and USC. He also rushed for 135 yards and a touchdown in CU's springboard victory at Oregon.

Obviously it is a far more demanding challenge for backups to enter a game cold off the bench, and in those situations Montez faltered. Most notably was an 0-for-7 mark late in the game at Michigan while the Buffs still harbored a major upset bid, but he also went 1-for-3 with an interception while Liufau was briefly sidelined against UCLA.

Those relief-pitcher struggles were on display again Friday night at Levi's Stadium. Montez did lead CU to its only touchdown on a short drive aided by a Washington penalty, but he also got away with a dangerous throw back across the middle while rolling to his right. And thanks to a video replay reversal he escaped a backbreaking interception deep in CU's own territory when Washington defensive back Budda Baker was correctly ruled out of bounds.

Montez has impressed when given a chance to prepare. Here's hoping he approaches the next few weeks with that challenge in mind.

"It's going to be a huge opportunity for me to get better and better my craft," Montez said. "That's what I'm going to use it for. Of course I'm going to be ready if somehow they need me to go in and play for this upcoming game. But as of right now I'm using this next month to get better."

On Sunday, the 2016 Buffs will learn the final destination of their storybook season. Regardless of the result, it will be time for the 2017 Buffs to get to work.

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07