BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Interim trainer Mike Sanford found a way in practice this week to keep the struggling Colorado Buffaloes on target: a Soccer style penalty shootout.

That made the team cheer and roar with every goal and every save. All to keep the mood light and upbeat during this tough season.

For about 21 Buffaloes players, this Saturday against the No. 14 Utah will be the final opportunity to sprint onto Folsom Field behind their live Buffalo mascot, Ralphie.

This could also be Sanford’s last go-around in Colorado.

No matter what happens, Sanford is hoping he’s made a little mark in the short time since moving from offensive coordinator to replacing sacked head coach Karl Dorrell in October. He won 1-5 amid a coach search that could soon bring a new coach to town.

“We’ve done everything we can to steer this program in the right direction,” said Sanford, who has participated in numerous programs across the country, including as a head coach at Western Kentucky. “But more importantly, we took care of those players.

“This is the legacy I hope to leave behind.”

With rumors about which coach could arrive in Boulder next — the names of Deion Sanders and Bronco Mendenhall have cropped up quite a bit — Sanford has been trying to focus the Buffaloes (1-10, 1-7 Pac-12) on a fifth to end. Play losing streak against the Utes (8-3, 6-2, No. 14 CFP).

And have fun doing it.

All to avoid “pure drudgery,” a term Sanford stuck with years ago after hearing another coach use it at a convention.

“That really hit me because I’ve been on programs where we’re winning a lot of games and it was just a drudgery in the building,” Sanford explained. “It was terrible – for everyone, coaches, players. Everyone’s sitting here saying, ‘Well, that would be nice if the sheer drudgery was 11-1.’ That’s good because people keep their jobs. Players get the NIL deals (name, picture, likeness).

“But these programs eventually break. These cultures are breaking. For me it was, ‘What can we do to make this week an enjoyable week for each other and for each other?’”

Hence the penalty shootout competition – a nod to the World Cup in Qatar. The shooting also made for a fun atmosphere.

“Of course you could sit here and say, ‘Hey, this team is 1-10. Why the hell is this supposed to be fun? They should run wind sprints,’” Sanford said. “Listen, doing us wind sprints isn’t going to help us win games. I lived that. I have seen everything. What we want to do is make these last few days together the most damn comfortable days we can, to give each other as much joy as possible on Saturday.

A flurry from Utah could send them into the offseason on a positive note. According to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Buffaloes are underdogs with 29 1/2 points.

Through everything – including six losses of 30 points or more – they have stuck together.

“It’s a testament to how close we are as a team, the adversity we’ve fought through. That’s one thing I’ve always said, nothing brings you closer together than being unhappy together,” said senior tight end and captain Brady Russell. We’ve become such a close, tight-knit group… I’ll miss all my boys.”

Sanford was brought in last December to try to overhaul a stuttering offense. It didn’t go to plan as the Buffaloes’ offense went 25 straight games without rushing for 400 yards or more, according to Pac-12 research. They have been outplayed by a 158-34 lead in the last three games.

With Utah, Colorado will play its fourth straight competition against a ranked team.

“It’s been a tough time,” Sanford said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure we have the best we can out there.”


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