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6 Colorado The surprising Big 12 champs will rely on a high-powered offense guided by Boulder-bred quarterback Craig Ochs

The afternoon of Oct. 25, 1986, has an exalted place in Colorado
football lore. On that breezy day in Boulder the Buffaloes
snapped a streak of 18 straight losses to Nebraska with a 20-10
win that launched Colorado back onto the national stage. The
game is also significant because in the Folsom Field stands that
day was five-year-old Craig Ochs. A native of Boulder, Ochs was
instantly hooked on the team. By nine he was traveling with his
family to watch the Buffaloes play in bowl games. By 11 he was
sneaking into Colorado practices. By 18 he was a blue-chip high
school quarterback. Now 20, Ochs, a 6'2", 210-pound junior, is
the Buffaloes' starting signal-caller and the key to Colorado's

"For us to have a shot at the Big 12 North title, Craig has to
have a great year," says coach Gary Barnett of Ochs, who passed
for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns in seven games before
severely spraining his right ankle against Oklahoma State on Oct.

Ochs will have plenty of help. Junior tailbacks Chris Brown and
Bobby Purify and sophomore Marcus Houston form arguably the top
backfield in the nation. Barnett will play the hottest of the
three in the second half of games, a strategy that worked
beautifully last year, when Colorado got more rushing yards out
of its tailbacks (2,620) than any other team.

While the Buffaloes should be prolific on offense, their defense
could keep them from making a run at the national title. Lost in
the euphoria of last season's resurgence was that over Colorado's
last three games (against Nebraska, Texas and Oregon) it gave up
an average of 33.0 points and 504.6 total yards. Eight defensive
starters return, but the unit's downfall could be its inability
to stop the run.

Still, the Buffaloes have mile-high expectations. "We're trying
to build off last season," says Ochs, dripping in sweat after
taking a break from a mid-July workout. "We want to keep the
momentum going." --Lars Anderson

COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN BAHR/GETTY IMAGES RUN FOR IT Brown, who rushed for 946 yards in '01, will team with Purify and Houston to form the nation's top backfield.


2001 RECORD: 10-3 (7-1, 1st in Big 12 North)
FINAL RANKING: No. 9 AP, No. 9 coaches' poll


Times that Gary Barnett has coached a team to a seven-win
improvement. Last year the Buffaloes went from 3-8 to 10-3.

An opposing coach's view

The Buffs have the Big 12's top QB and an innovative attack

"Gary Barnett runs the most creative offense in the conference. He
does a nice job with his formations, and his run game is always
cutting-edge and extremely hard to defend.... That stable of
running backs is something else, but the offensive standout this
year might be quarterback Craig Ochs. His arm and athleticism
might make him the top QB in the conference.... The defense is
still developing, but it is extremely fast.... Cornerback Donald
Strickland will be the man on defense. He's quick and tough."

Strength: 21st

Aug. 31 at Colorado State*
14 USC
21 at UCLA
12 at Kansas
Nov. 2 at Oklahoma
9 at Missouri
29 at Nebraska

*in Denver