John Parker Wilson completed 13 of his first 15 passes for 185 yards and three touchdowns and Alabama raced to a four-touchdown lead, then held off Colorado 30-24 in the PetroSun Independence Bowl on Sunday night.
Colorado's attempt at a multi-lateral play as time expired collapsed shy of midfield, ending the game.
Alabama (7-6) stopped a four-game losing streak and avoided consecutive losing seasons for the first time in 50 years. Colorado (6-7) finished below .500 for the second straight year, but was vastly improved from a 2-10 mark in 2006.
With the Tide up 27-0, Wilson was in firm control until being chased into an intentional grounding penalty with 5 minutes left in the first half. He threw an interception on his next attempt, leading to a Buffaloes score, and didn't complete another throw in the half.
Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins, meanwhile, recovered from an interception on the Buffaloes' first play and finished the half 9-of-10 for 87 yards and two scores.
Hawkins' 25-yard pass to Dusty Sprague with 4 seconds left in the half cut Alabama's lead to 27-14. It came less than 2 minutes after Hawkins hit Tyson DeVree with a 4-yard scoring pass. Kevin Eberhart's 39-yard field goal in the third period cut it to 27-17.
Alabama amassed 170 yards in the first quarter and had 285 by halftime, but added only 103 yards in the second half. Wilson had scoring passes of 15 yards to Keith Brown, 34 yards to Matt Caddell and 31 yards to Nikita Stover and was selected the game's most valuable player on offense.
With Leigh Tiffin's two field goals, Alabama led 27-0 3 minutes into the second quarter and appeared to have Colorado on the ropes. The Buffaloes, who scored 65 points against Nebraska in their previous game, had a first down on their second play from scrimmage but didn't pick up another until 10 1/2 minutes before halftime.
Once Colorado rattled Wilson, though, the Buffaloes' fortunes turned. Hawkins, the son of coach Dan Hawkins, was 8-of-8 on the last two drives of the half. Wilson was 6-of-17 after his hot start and finished the game 19-of-32 for 256 yards.
In the second half, having learned they couldn't beat Alabama's linebackers to the corner, Colorado running backs spread out the Tide defense and cut back against the grain to pick up 5 or 6 yards at a time.
Alabama's new attention to the run opened up routes for Buffaloes receivers. Scotty McKnight, Josh Smith and Tyson DeVree caught passes of 11, 22 and 13 yards for key first downs as Colorado drove for a failed 48-yard field goal try on its first drive after halftime.
The big plays helped limit the Tide to six plays in the third quarter. Hawkins rallied the Buffaloes to 30-24 with a 14-yard pass to DeVree with 3:51 left, following Tiffin's 26-yard field goal. In the second half, Hawkins had 224 yards passing and finished the game 24-of-40 for 322 yards and three touchdowns.
Colorado, which had only six turnovers in its six victories this year, gave up the ball twice on interceptions and once on a failed fake punt near midfield. Wallace Gilberry, the game's most valuable defensive player, sniffed out the fake and tackled Byron Ellis for no gain to end the Buffaloes' second drive.
Tiffin's first-quarter field goals gave him 105 points for the season, the most for an Alabama kicker. Phillip Doyle had 100 in 1989. Tiffin added three extra points and the fourth-quarter field goal, giving him 111 points for the season.
Alabama had averaged 35 points in its first nine games of the season but only 12 points per game in the last three. The Tide had lost four in a row, including an embarrassing outing at home against Louisiana-Monroe.