When Cody Hawkins left Folsom Field for the final time, slapping high-fives with adoring fans along the railing, the brief turnaround was truly evident.
Hawkins, a lightning rod throughout his time at Colorado because he is the son of former coach Dan Hawkins, had engineered the Buffaloes to a second straight victory since the dismissal of his father.
This time it came on Senior Day as Colorado outlasted Kansas State, 44-36. At 5-6 overall, the Buffs can still become bowl eligible, but they must win at Nebraska on Friday in what has been dubbed the "Exit Bowl," pitting the two teams leaving the Big 12 after this season. The Buffs stand 2-5 in the conference.
Hawkins will go into that game within 130 yards of the all-time passing mark at Colorado. He completed 14 of 25 attempts for 202 yards against Kansas State. In the two games under interim coach Brian Cabral, he has gone 30 of 49 for 468 yards, with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
Hawkins was given the Buffalo Heart Award, voted on each season by fans and given to the player they think exhibits the most heart, grit, determination and desire on and off the field.
Against Kansas State, which completed a pair of fourth-down passes for touchdowns and was driving at the end before a sack by Josh Hartigan sealed the win, Hawkins reminded his teammates of what was at stake. He called them together in a sideline huddle before beginning the final period.
"This is the last quarter these seniors are ever going to have on this football field," he said he told the team. "Give it everything you've got and keep fighting."
The message will extend into the final week, something few saw coming after an epic collapse in the fourth quarter at Kansas resulted in a devastating loss that prompted the in-season move to fire Hawkins. Now, with the Buffs catching a late spark, Cabral was quick to emphasize the importance of the Nebraska game, which Colorado long observed as its top conference rivalry going back to the Big Eight.
"I couldn't be more proud of our players and coaches by the way they have responded the last two weeks," Cabral said. "You couldn't have asked for more."
--With eight Big 12 teams already bowl eligible, postseason spots in games with ties to the conference could be taken, even if Colorado can advance by beating Nebraska and finishing 6-6. The possibility exists for Colorado to slide into a bowl connected with another conference. Bowls tied to the Buffs' new league, the Pac-10, are a possibility since that league has just three eligible teams after last weekend.
--Colorado played with names stitched to the backs of its jerseys for the first time all season when it topped Kansas State 44-36 on Saturday. Before the season, players voted not to put their names on the uniforms, but interim coach Brian Cabral opted to do so to help fans identify players. The game against Kansas State drew 41,107, the smallest crowd to ever watch a Big 12 league game at Folsom Field.
--Former Colorado coach Dan Hawkins, who spent almost five years with the Buffaloes before he was fired following a Nov. 6 loss at Kansas, will work on a weekly network studio show through the end of the season. Hawkins attended both of Colorado's final home games in the past two weeks and was on the field for Senior Day activities as his son, Cody, the Buffs' quarterback, was recognized among 16 seniors.
GAME BALL GOES TO: RB Rodney Stewart -- Immediately after taking over as interim coach, coach Brian Cabral was adamant that Colorado has few options at running back other than to heap work on Stewart. He has carried 105 times in the past three games and generated 493 yards rushing, including a career-best 195 yards against Kansas State. That output pushed Stewart's season total to 1,230 yards, which ranks seventh all-time at CU.
KEEP AN EYE ON: DE Josh Hartigan -- After a strong start, Hartigan was slowed in the middle of the season by a sprained ankle. The undersized (6-1, 240) junior is healthy again and quick off the edge, recording three sacks to lead the Buffs' defensive effort against Kansas State. A sack late in the game stopped the Wildcats' last drive and preserved the win.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are determined, and we decided to run the ball and run the ball more, to run the ball when we need to run the ball." -- Colorado coach Brian Cabral.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The meltdown Colorado experienced at Kansas earlier this month, when the Buffaloes allowed 35 fourth-quarter points and blew a four-touchdown lead over the final 11-plus minutes, apparently inspired the defense. In back-to-back victories against Iowa State and Kansas State, the Buffs recorded 15 sacks, raising their season total to 33. That is the most sacks recorded by Colorado since the 1995 team had 37. DE Josh Hartigan led the effort with three sacks against Kansas State, including one to stop a potential game-tying drive at the end.
STILL NEEDS WORK: The Buffs gave up two touchdowns on relatively lengthy fourth-down passes as Kansas State QB Carson Coffman, playing as a backup, threw for 270 yards. Colorado allowed 411 yards overall and could never quite knock out Kansas State until DE Josh Hartigan recorded his late sack. The defense must improve, although on the plus side, it did help CU rally from an early 14-3 deficit.
--S Deji Olatoye will need surgery for a fractured forearm he suffered in Saturday's win against Kansas State, but he might be able to find a way to play in Friday's game at Nebraska.
--CB Paul Vigo remained out with a fractured lower left leg, though he had been listed as day-to-day. He could possibly restore depth in Colorado's thin secondary.