The 1984 season presented an excellent opportunity for third-year coach Bill McCartney to demonstrate that the building process was continuing.
Bill McCartney’s inaugural squad, consisting of nary a single player recruited by McCartney, had finished 2-8-1. In 1983, the mark had improved to 4-7. Now, with two full seasons under his belt, and two recruiting classes to call his own, whispers of a winning season were heard around campus. Not Orange Bowl, mind you. No one was oblivious to the fact that there were top ten teams residing in Lincoln and Norman. Still, McCartney had doubled the win total from his first season to his second. An additional two wins in ’84 would mean a 6-5 season.
Fans of Colorado were not asking for miracles, just continued improvement.
The enthusiasm could be seen in an editorial in January, 1984, by Boulder Daily Camera Sports Editor Ralph Routon. The piece was entitled: “How to Recruit, McCartney-style”, and relayed the story of how McCartney had “mesmerized” a Colorado Springs gathering a few evenings before. McCartney: “I can guarantee you we will have one of the greatest classes of recruits in the nation”, and “What I want everyone to know is that the Colorado program is back in business”. Routon’s written response to the latter quote: “Saturday night, everyone knew for certain.”
For Colorado to post its first winning season since 1978, the defense needed to improve. No problem, it was assumed. Defense had been McCartney’s specialty at Michigan, and he now had players to put his game plan into effect. Linebacker Barry Remington was mentioned as a pre-season all Big-Eight candidate. In 1983, the defense had had moments of inspired play, but lack of depth took its toll late in many games. The offense, led by returning quarterback Steve Vogel and three year letter winner tailback Lee Rouson, seemed to be lacking only consistent line play.
The schedule in 1984 would be more difficult, what with Notre Dame and UCLA on the non-conference slate, but there seemed to be consensus that Bill McCartney had the program going in the right direction. In the program for the opening game against Michigan State, Steve Fink wrote: “Colorado Coach MacCartney (sic) enters this season with cautious optimism”.
So did we all.
Recruiting is an art, not a science. I am guilty as the next guy (perhaps more so) of reading up each January on the prognostications of recruiting publications (now websites) as to what teams gathered in the best recruiting classes. “Experts” rate players on how fast they run, how tall and how big they are, and how many gaudy statistics they compile. The problem is, and always will be, that the ratings are for kids, not grades of beef. Eighteen year old males are fickle beasts. Some will not make the grades, some will not possess the work ethic, and some will get injured. In the long run, it is virtually impossible to predict how well a recruiting class will fare. Fortunately for the experts, though, we fans have short memories, and we come back year after year, longing for their insight and predictions.
In 1984, Coach McCartney “guaranteed” that the Buffs would have one of the best recruiting classes in the country. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we have the ability to look back today and see how well this prediction came true.
The Colorado recruiting class of 1984 does possess some names familiar to many Buff fans. For the offense, the names announced on National letter-of-intent day included Mark Hatcher, Anthony Weatherspoon, Jo Jo Collins, James Webb, and Drew Ferrando. For the defense, McCartney brought in Don Deluzio, Lyle Pickens, Rodney Rodgers and punter Keith English. Still, for every known name, there is a host of anonymous ones. You can name yourself President for Life of the CU Fan Club if you can name the positions played by the following: Phil Cross, Kevin Pauline, John Sudo, William Harvey, Bret Mersola, John Bennett, and Bryan Osterhaus. All were a part of the Colorado recruiting of 1984.
This is not to cast aspersions upon the talents or efforts of these individuals (For the record, the positions of the above, as stated on national letter of intent day, February 8, 1984, were, in order: tight end; linebacker; center; wide receiver; running back, defensive back, and quarterback). The point is that thirty names appeared on the list of student-athletes “guaranteed” to be one of the best in the country, and no one, not even Bill McCartney, could say that with any degree of certainty.
Sometimes, though, even hindsight isn’t 20/20. In a Denver Post article the day after the 1984 classes were announced, a graphic was added next to the story. The heading: Recruiting/ Finds and follies. Under “Finds” was listed 1983 recruit Jon Embree; under “Follies” was 1983 recruit Barry Helton. The comment next to Helton’s listing was “With three new QB’s, will he play?”.
Helton, of course, did play, going on to become Colorado’s first consensus All-American since 1972.
He just did it as a punter, not as a quarterback.
You just never know.