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COVID-19 grind nearly over for CU Buffs, Texas

Season of delays, cancellations and COVID-19 testing to conclude at Alamo Bowl

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
BOULDER, CO – December 12, 2020: CU head coach Karl Dorrell and Utah HC, Kyle Whittingham. The Colorado Buffaloes and the Utah Utes play at Folsom Field in Boulder on December 12, 2020. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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By the time the Colorado football team kicked off its season on the night of Nov. 7, Texas had seven games in the books.

Since then, Texas has played just twice, while CU has played five times.

Despite the different start dates, the staggered schedules and Texas (6-3) getting four more games than the Buffaloes (4-1) because of the coronavirus pandemic, the two teams will reach the finish line at the same time. They meet Tuesday in the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio to wrap up a long, difficult season (7:05 p.m., TV: ESPN).

“We’re all up and down; it’s been a struggle for all of us,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said Thursday.

While both teams want to win the game, the first task is actually kicking off. Texas has had some COVID-19 issues on its team, and Dorrell said the Buffs had a “few positive” tests last weekend.

“We kind of got ourselves in a pretty good space, though,” he said. “I think it’s not going to stop us from playing. But we’re in pretty good health.”

Texas coach Tom Herman said Wednesday that the Longhorns are slowly getting players back from COVID-19 protocols, but, “Unfortunately there’s still going to be a couple that won’t be out in time to safely put out on the field for the Alamo Bowl, which is disheartening, but we have to follow the rules.”

Both teams have been following the rules for months, and it’s been a grind.

In March, the COVID-19 pandemic caused sports around the country to shut down. While some teams around the country got a few spring practices in before the shut down, CU and Texas did not.

Eventually the teams returned to workouts, although often in small groups, and they’ve all been through numerous COVID-19 tests. The Big 12 and Pac-12 both utilize Quidel rapid antigen tests, with Big 12 players tested at least three times per week and Pac-12 players at least six times per week.

Texas, from the Big 12, began its season on Sept. 12. At that time, the Pac-12 still had plans of postponing until spring. It was on Sept. 24 that the Pac-12 decided to play this fall, albeit with a shortened schedule that began in November. The Pac-12 was the last of the Power 5 conferences to get going.

CU was slated to play seven games without a bye, but COVID-19 issues at other schools caused three of those games to be canceled; the Buffs replaced one with a non-conference contest. The Alamo Bowl will be CU’s first game in 17 days.

The Longhorns played each of their first seven games as scheduled, with a couple of planned bye weeks mixed in. Then, their Nov. 21 matchup with Kansas was postponed to Dec. 12. The Dec. 12 game wound up being canceled.

After beating Baylor on Nov. 7, the Longhorns went 20 days before playing again. By the time the Alamo Bowl kicks off, it will have been a 24-day layoff.

“Fired up to be back on the field with the guys these last couple of days,” Herman said Wednesday. “We haven’t played a whole lot of football in a while.”

Herman said that because of Texas’ issues with COVID-19, which led the Dec. 12 cancellation, the Longhorns haven’t practiced much lately either. Still, he said the idea of not playing in a bowl game was never discussed.

Although Texas has four more games of experience this fall, Dorrell doesn’t believe that will matter on Tuesday.

“I don’t think it’s as big a factor as it normally would be just because of all the things dealing with COVID,” Dorrell said. “They’ve been hit, just like we’ve been hit. They had guys opt out, they had injuries. They’re still a very good team.”

Herman said the Longhorns are excited to play in the Alamo Bowl, but the end of the season will be welcomed.

“(After the game), just to not have to get tested as frequently as they get tested and not have to be just so isolated will definitely be a relief for them,” Herman said. “It’s been a long 10 months for these guys. They’re plowing through here this last week. I’m sure the day after the Alamo Bowl is over, on Dec. 30th, you might be able to hear a giant, collective sigh of relief from the entire team.”

Texas won’t be the only team relieved to have the daily COVID-19 grind in the rearview mirror – at least until next month.

“It’s like the end of the tunnel of all this stuff we’ve been managing and monitoring for day to day purposes,” Dorrell said. “As soon as this game’s over – hopefully with a victory – and we can put this year behind us, I’d like to exhale. I’d like to be able to finally exhale and digest.

“I’m still nervous as all get out with trying to stay healthy. We’ve got five days to go.”