No. 11 Colorado vs. No. 13 Okla. St.
What: Valero Alamo Bowl
When: 7 p.m., Thursday
Where: Alamodome, San Antonio
TV / Radio: ESPN, 850 AM, 94.1 FM
SAN ANTONIO — Christmas Day didn’t feel normal to a lot of the Colorado football players, but they weren’t complaining.
On Sunday, the Buffaloes held their first practice at the University of the Incarnate Word in preparation for Thursday’s Valero Alamo Bowl against Oklahoma State.
“No, it didn’t (feel normal),” senior safety Tedric Thompson said. “It was my first time being away from my mom and my sister, so it was different. It was cool, though.”
Several of the players have family in town, while others don’t. But, in general, the Buffs (10-3, No. 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings, No. 11 in the Associated Press poll) are excited for the opportunity to be here and finally play in a bowl game. It’s CU’s first bowl appearance since 2007.
“Everyone wants to spend Christmas with family, but this is my extended family,” senior linebacker Jimmie Gilbert said. “To be able to be here and spend time with them and do something that we’ve never done before at a time we’ve never done it, it’s great.”
Of course, being here presents some challenges, as the Buffs have to balance game preparation with the events surrounding the game.
It started Saturday night, when a mariachi band greeted the team upon their arrival to the hotel. The Buffs also got their bowl gifts before Sunday’s practice.
They attended the San Antonio Spurs vs. Chicago Bulls game on Sunday afternoon. The week includes a visit to SeaWorld, a pep rally and team fiesta, a kickoff luncheon and more media events than usual. Plus, there’s added time in a new city.
“I don’t see a challenge,” junior receiver Shay Fields said. “We’ve been doing it for the whole season. We travel, see different places, explore a little bit and then go back to work. Since we have a little bit more time, it just comes with a bit more maturity. I feel we can all handle it.”
Sunday was a good start, as the Buffs held a short practice in shells at Incarnate Word.
“Our kids had an excellent practice today,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “The facilities at Incarnate Word are super; we have everything we need. It was a good day.”
MacIntyre said he has no problem with his players enjoying their time in San Antonio, as long as they keep priorities straight.
“I tell them to compartmentalize,” MacIntyre said. “Enjoy their time, but when we get ready for meetings and football practice, they have to be focused and locked in and be physical or we won’t have a good game.”
After posting 10 consecutive losing seasons before this one, the Buffs are hoping to enjoy everything about the week, on and off the field.
“It’s a blessing to finally be playing in a bowl game because usually we’re home around this time and being around this atmosphere is a blessing,” Thompson said. “We’re just trying to enjoy this moment.”
Adjusting on D
For the past 10 days, the Buffs have gone through practices without defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, who left CU to take the same job at Oregon. In his place, safeties coach Joe Tumpkin has been coordinating the defense.
“At first it was different, because of (Leavitt’s) personality,” Thompson said. “He’s really a player coach. The energy level was different. After one practice, people started to deal with it and just focus on what we have to do. I feel like nobody is rooting for us more than coach Leavitt.”
Tumpkin has been Thompson’s position coach, so that adjustment wasn’t a big deal. Thompson believes the overall maturity and experience on defense has helped, as well.
The change was more dramatic for Gilbert and the other linebackers, but Gilbert said the players have plenty of respect for Tumpkin.
“He has coached linebackers before and he knows what he’s doing,” Gilbert said. “There’s different tweaks here and there, but overall the defense remains the same. We still have the same mentality, same attitude, same game preparation.”
CU has three players on the trip that have taken part in bowl preparation at other schools: tackle Shane Callahan (Auburn; Rose Bowl/BCS national championship game, Jan. 6, 2014); linebacker Deaysean Rippy (Pittsburgh; redshirt for 2012 BBVA Compass Bowl); and receiver Juwann Winfree (Maryland; played in 2014 Foster Farms Bowl). Three players did not make the trip to San Antonio: receivers Jaleel Awini (suspended) and Justin Jan (ineligible) and linebacker Christian Shaver (suspension). When practicing in Boulder, the coaches would spend an extra 45 minutes each day working with the younger players who aren’t likely to see the field against Oklahoma State. MacIntyre said they won’t do that this week because of a tighter schedule leading up to the game.
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.