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Rooney: Karl Dorrell’s big-picture vision spot-on; post-Alamo Bowl execution was not

Muted Buffs players have much to be proud of from 2020 season

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How many Pac-12 Conference football teams will go into the offseason genuinely believing all the sacrifice was worth the truncated, postponement-filled pandemic season of 2020?

Outside of Oregon, which still has a chance to impress in the Fiesta Bowl after topping USC for the Pac-12 crown, Colorado is one of the precious few likely to feel good about how the 2020 season played out. Yet first-year coach Karl Dorrell was in no mood for a wistful reverie in San Antonio, or even a glance ahead at whatever might come next for a Buffaloes program that turned heads this fall.

Granted, the 55-23 thumping the Buffs received Tuesday night against Texas in the Alamo Bowl wouldn’t put any coach in a chatty mood. Yet the Buffs will go into 2021 with far more optimism and outside respect than they had in June, on the heels of a late coaching change and a pandemic that wiped all of spring practice off the ledger.

Instead, Dorrell was focused on the glaring gap Texas exposed between the Buffs and a traditional college football power, even in a down year for said traditional power.

“It’s hard for me to imagine any excitement right now,” Dorrell said during his postgame media session. “Even the games that we won this year, it’s really the final impression. That’s kind of the things that are kind of on my mind right now. The way I look at it, we have a tremendous amount of work to go. We’ve got development. We have got a number of issues that we’ve got to get cleaned up, both coaches and players. I’m going to have a lot of work to do this offseason.”

If CU’s decision to forbid its players from speaking with the media following the blowout loss originated from the players themselves, so be it. It has been a difficult year for everybody, even football players largely isolated from their loved ones while undergoing almost daily coronavirus testing. If they just wanted to pack up and go home, that’s their prerogative. They’re not obliged to speak.

But if it originated from Dorrell strictly because it was on the heels of a 32-point drubbing, that’s a problem. A common coaching cliché states you’re supposed to act as dignified in defeat as one does in victory. Dorrell may have been stung by defeat and deflated by the reality of just how far the Buffs have to go, but there remained much to be proud of and even gush about, from the Buffs’ unexpected 4-0 start to the promising bowl showings by true freshmen like Brendon Lewis and Christian Gonzalez.

On a night the Buffs failed to impress the prospects across the vast recruiting landscape of Texas on the field, Dorrell did the program a disservice by keeping his players away from the media late Tuesday night. Again, if that was the players’ choice, good on them. But it would have been interesting to hear from an insightful veteran like Mustafa Johnson, a player with deep Colorado roots who likely played his final game with the Buffs. Or Lewis, who has to get accustomed to the spotlight after showing he’s ready for the 2021 starting quarterback competition. Or Gonzalez, who played well in his first collegiate game in his home state.

Yet to be clear, the points Dorrell did focus on — that the Buffs still have a long way to go, with much work required on the field and on the recruiting trail to get there — were spot-on. In half the sample size of a normal season, the Buffs beat who they could or should beat, but were handled by superior competition. The Buffs have made tremendous strides. It will take far more to close that gap.

Already it is shaping up to be as eventful an offseason as last year. Spring practice is likely to be a huge question mark again. Eligibility decisions need to be made after the “free” eligibility season of 2020. And if Mel Tucker was a hot commodity for other major programs willing to shower him with truckloads of cash, what does that make Karl Dorrell this year? Regardless, the Buffs will go into it this time brimming with confidence and, presumably, with a retained coaching staff for the first time in three years.

It’s just too bad we didn’t hear from some of the players expecting to lead that journey.