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Colorado quarterback Bobby Pesavento escapes Texas' D.D. Lewis during the Big 12 Championship game in 2001.
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado quarterback Bobby Pesavento escapes Texas’ D.D. Lewis during the Big 12 Championship game in 2001.

Throughout this season, the Colorado football team has done a lot of things it hasn’t done in years.

First bowl appearance since 2007. First winning season since 2005.

Many of the comparisons seem to fall on one particular year, however, as the phrase “first time since 2001” has been written countless times throughout the season, and with good reason. There are several similarities between these Buffs and the crew that played 15 years ago.

“I think there’s definitely a lot of similarities,” said Bobby Pesavento, who quarterbacked the Buffs in 2001 and has been around this year’s team while helping out on KOA radio broadcasts during a few of CU’s games. “It is very, eerily similar in regards to just how the season has gone.”

On Friday, CU (10-2) will play Washington (11-1), looking for its first conference title since the 2001 team won the Big 12. Like that team 15 years ago, these Buffs posted a remarkable turnaround from the previous season.

In fact, since 1972, only nine teams from the Power 5 conferences have posted a 10-win season after winning four or fewer games the previous year. CU is the only school to do it twice — in 2001 and 2016.

In 2001, the Buffs were trying to rebound from a poor season in 2000, when they went 3-8 and lost six games by eight points or loss.

This year, the Buffs were trying to rebound a poor 2015, when they went 4-9 and lost five games by eight points or less.

Just as the team did in 2001, this year’s Buffs turned to veteran leaders to spark the turnaround. Both squads were loaded with upperclassmen leading the way.

“You get into the season and you have a bunch of senior leaders on the team that have been there for a while and invested in the program and when it comes to their time to lead and be the heart and soul of the team, there’s a lot of success,” Pesavento said.

Pesavento’s team in 2001 went 10-3 and, in the sixth season of the Big 12, finally won the North division for the first time. After starting the year unranked, they went into the conference title game ranked No. 9 by the Associated Press.

This year, the Buffs are 10-2 and, in the sixth season of the Pac-12, finally won the South division for the first time. They, too, started the year unranked and will take a No. 9 AP ranking into the conference title game.

As he has watched this year’s team continue to win, Pesavento has been impressed with how they’ve stuck together as a group and rallied from a disappointing season a year ago. That, perhaps more than anything, strikes him as being similar to the 2001 team.

“They’ve just kept grinding and they believe in coach (Mike) MacIntyre like we believed in coach (Gary) Barnett,” Pesavento said. “We believed in his message and everything he said about if we did it all the success would come.

“Once you start winning, you start figuring out how it’s done, you just keep riding that.”

Fifteen years ago, the Buffs figured it out and turned it on late in the season. They were ranked No. 25 and not considered a title contender at the start of November, but vaulted to No. 3 and just missed out on a shot at the national title game.

This year’s team entered November at No. 21 and out of the title discussion. But, win this week and the Buffs could find themselves in a similar spot as 15 years ago.

“We had a lot of things go our way, in regards to the right teams losing at the right times in other conferences to get us up to No. 3 before the bowl game,” Pesavento said. “It’s kind of weird how similar it is (to this year).”

Pesavento hopes the similarities continue, and if they do, that would mean a CU victory in the Pac-12 championship game. The 2001 squad capped its turnaround with the program’s only Big 12 championship.

“My advice is just embrace the opportunity,” Pesavento said. “Have a good time, but stay focused and just keep doing what you’re doing and it’ll take care of itself.”

If this season is to truly mirror the 2001 campaign, however, the Buffs will use this as a springboard to more success. The 2001 season was the first of four Big 12 North titles in five years. Pesavento sees no reason why the Buffs can’t continue winning in the years to come.

“I just hope it’s sustainable and they take what they’ve got and grow with it and capitalize on it and keep it rolling,” he said.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at or