Colorado Buffaloes

What You Need to Know About the Colorado Buffaloes Before They Join the Big 12

NCAA Football: Colorado Spring Game

The Colorado Buffaloes may be one of the four corners schools joining the Big 12 from the Pac-12, but they’re a school the league is quite familiar with.

Before Colorado bolted for the Pac-12, the Buffs were members of the Big 12, and before that the Big 8. This is as much a homecoming for Colorado as it is a new beginning.

Here are five things to know about the Buffs as their new tenure in the Big 12 begins.

 

THE HISTORY

Like Arizona and Arizona State, the University of Colorado was founded before Colorado became a state, albeit five months before. Founded in 1876, the state’s flagship school is categorized as a public research university and a member of the Association of American Universities.

Colorado’s founding was part of a trio of colleges that were planned for at that time, the others being Colorado State and Colorado School of Mines.

Between undergraduate and graduate enrollment, CU had more than 37,00 students as of fall of 2023.

When it comes to football, Colorado has had a few conference affiliations, including the Colorado Football Association (1893-1904, 1906-08), the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (1909-37) and the Mountain States Athletic Conference (1938-47). The RMAC still exists at the Division II level and is the home of Colorado Mines.

In 1948 the Buffs made the move to the Big 8 Conference and then the Big 12 Conference in 1996. In 2010, the Buffs left the Big 12 for the Pac-12.

THE SPORTS

Colorado sponsors men’s basketball, cross country, football, golf and track and field, along with women’s basketball, cross country, golf, lacrosse, soccer, tennis, track and field and volleyball. The Buffs are one of the few Big 12 schools to sponsor skiing.

 

Colorado has won 28 national championships, with the majority coming in skiing, which seems a natural given the campus’ proximity to the Rocky Mountains. The Buffs have 11 men’s titles (with the last in 1982) and nine co-ed titles (dating back to 1981). The women have a 1982 title awarded by the AIAW.

The Buffs also have eight national titles in cross country — five for the men and three for the women.

Colorado’s only national championship in football was in 1990 under coach Bill McCartney. The Buffs went 11-1-1 and won the Big 8 and claimed a portion of the national title by finishing No. 1 in the AP Top 25. Colorado had to split the title with Georgia Tech, which was No. 1 in the UPI Coaches Top 25 poll.

As of 2024 the Buffs have eight inductees in the College Football Hall of Fame, including McCartney, and one in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, wide receiver Cliff Branch. Running back Rashaan Salaam won the school’s only Heisman Trophy in 1994. Colorado’s first Heisman finalist was Byron “Whizzer” White, who went on to become a Supreme Court justice.

Other notable athletes from Colorado include golfer Hale Irwin, Olympian Mary Decker Slaney, basketball player Chauncey Billups and quarterback Kordell Stewart.

THE RIVALRIES

In-state, the Buffs’ annual game with Colorado State gets plenty of attention. The schools are within 45 miles of each other. The two teams play in the “Rocky Mountain Showdown” for the Centennial Cup, which takes its name from Colorado’s state nickname, the Centennial State. Colorado leads the series, 67-22-2.

 

Big 12 fans may not be aware that the Buffs have a solid rivalry with Utah that dates back to 1903. The pair stopped playing each other in 1962 but returned to annual games when the two schools joined the Pac-12. Utah has a narrow lead in the series.

Colorado’s most notable rival from its Big 8 days was Nebraska. The game tended to play at the end of the season and it took on added significance when Colorado’s program rose up in the 1980s. Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten, alongside Colorado’s move to the Pac-12, ended annual games. Nebraska lost to Colorado in Boulder last year. Nebraska leads the series, 49–21–2.

THE COACHES

You may have heard that Deion Sanders is the football coach. Coach Prime is entering his second year at Colorado after a 4-8 debut last season. He returned Jackson State to the top of the SWAC before he arrived, 27-6 in three seasons and winning two SWAC titles. He is a Pro Football and College Football Hall of Fame member and considered one of the best defensive corners to ever play the game.

Tad Boyle has led the men’s basketball program for 14 seasons, long enough to have been the program’s head coach in its final season in the Big 12. He is 298-183 with the Buffs, along with six NCAA Tournament appearances. He’s never advanced past the second round. His program produced three selection in the 2024 NBA Draft.

JR Payne leads the women’s basketball program. The former Saint Mary’s guard took over at Colorado in 2016 and has rebuilt the program to the point where it can recall the days under the legendary Ceal Berry. The Buffs have been to the NCAA Tournament three straight seasons, including a second straight Sweet 16 appearance in 2024 that came at Kansas State’s expense.

Colorado does not play baseball or softball, the remaining two of the core five sports in the Big 12.

 

THE FUTURE

Unlike Arizona, which is experiencing massive financial difficulties, and Arizona State, which is experiencing turnover in leadership, the Buffs are stable under athletic director Rick George, entering his 11th year. The hiring of Sanders as football coach has juiced the entire athletic department, with season ticket sales and revenues soaring.

The Big 12 television deal will allow Colorado to retain the stability its built. While football may need more time to get competitive, the men’s and women’s basketball teams have the ability to return to the NCAA Tournament in their first season in the Big 12.

Colorado doesn’t have quite the commonality of sports with other Big 12 schools, but that will only help the Buffs save a little money in this new era of college sports.

You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.

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