MIAMI -- Once, maybe just once, the state of Colorado can have a team win the big one.
Colorado has come close, but it also has suffered some great embarrassments. Let's start with the Denver Broncos: four Super Bowl games, four Super Bowl losses, including humiliations by the Washington Redskins and the San Francisco 49ers.
The Denver Nuggets, who lost the 1975-76 American Basketball Association championship to the New York Nets in six games, have never made it to the National Basketball Association championships, and the new run-and-shoot offense implemented by new coach Paul Westhead is the laughing stock of the league this season.
And then there is the University of Colorado football team, which, ranked No. 1 last season, was manhandled in the 1990 Orange Bowl by Notre Dame, 21-6, losing its claim to the national championship.
"It's a state that's starving for a championship," said Colorado football coach Bill McCartney.
And McCartney's top-ranked Buffaloes (10-1-1) will get a chance to bring one home against No. 5 Notre Dame (9-2) tonight in the Federal Express Orange Bowl (8 o'clock).
"What with the Broncos have done in the Super Bowl and the way we played here last year, I'd like to be a small part of the group that brings back a championship," said McCartney. "I prefer to think what it'll mean to our state. It's the state I really have a special feeling for.
"A chance to win a national championship -- how many of those are you going to get? How many times are you in a position to do that? So last year when we lost, it was very disappointing. And that just intensifies it this time."
The intensity and avenging last year's Orange Bowl loss to the Irish is what most of the Buffaloes players have talked about this week.
They say they are an entirely different team from a year ago, one that was inexperienced in big games and motivated by the death of former quarterback Sal Aunese.
"Earlier in the year, when we struggled, people said the 'Sal high' had worn off and we would return to being regular old Colorado," said Buffaloes guard Joe Garten.
"But every team took aim at us and came out gunning for Colorado. A year ago, we just rolled over people, and once we got here, we panicked when we fell behind early. But look at our scores this year. We've come from behind a number of times."
The Buffaloes rallied in the fourth period to beat Stanford, Texas, Nebraska and Missouri this season. But maybe with the exception of Texas, none of these is the caliber of Notre Dame.
"The point is that we're finally experienced and built the character to rally from a deficit," said Colorado running back Eric Bieniemy. "Last year, we may have been a little intimidated playing in such a big game and against Notre Dame. This time, we're here to take care of business."
It's this kind of bold talk from Colorado players that Fighting Irish coach Lou Holtz is feeding to his players.
Earlier this week, Holtz said: "I expect this to be the most highly emotional and motivated Colorado team ever. Notre Dame has a great amount of respect for Colorado, but judging from comments I've seen or read, I'm not sure Colordao has much respect for Notre Dame, their players."
Colorado is a better football team this time around because it has a passing attack. The Buffaloes are still an option running team, and they can also run with power, but the passing game makes them more complete.
Bieniemy, the 5-foot-7, 195-pound senior who was third in the Heisman voting, led the Buffaloes in rushing during the season with 1,628 yards on 288 carries. Bieniemy, along with quarterback Darian Hagan (1,538 passing yards, 442 rushing) and wide receiver Mike Pritchard (18 receptions, 733 yards), are the Buffaloes' top offensive players.
Meanwhile Notre Dame's secondary has been weak against the pass, giving up 267.1 yards per game.
Colorado has allowed 270.1 rushing and 160 passing yards. But what concerns McCartney most is stopping Notre Dame
tTC all-purpose back Raghib "The Rocket" Ismail, the 1990 Orange Bowl MVP, who rushed for 108 yards on 16 carries and had a 35-yard touchdown on a reverse.
Ismail, runner-up in the Heisman voting, led the Irish in receptions with 32 for 699 yards. He also rushed 67 times for 571 yards. His forte, though, is kickoff and punt returns. Ismail returned 13 punts for 151 yards and 14 kickoffs for 336 yards.
No. 1 Colorado (10-1-1)
vs. No. 5 Notre Dame (9-2)
What: The 57th annual Federal Express Orange Bowl is a rematch of the 1990 Orange Bowl, independent Notre Dame vs. Big Eight champion Colorado.
Where: Orange Bowl, Miami
When: 8 p.m.
TV: Chs. 2, 4