Closing the Gap
CU has a problem.
Not with the coaching staff … I believe there is general consensus that Mike MacIntyre and his staff are doing a good job, and have the team headed in the right direction.
Not with the players … Yes, it has to be admitted that CU might have only a handful of players on its roster who would start for Oregon, USC, or Stanford. That being said, the team does seem to be unified in purpose, and you would be hard pressed to find fans who question the effort of those players who are currently on the roster.
Not even with the administration … Granted, it is easy to be frustrated with the lack of progress on facilities improvements (we’re now only a little over a month out from the self-imposed ‘$50 million by December 1st’ goal – anyone see that happening?). But again, you have to give the administration props on several levels of progress (including coaching hires), and must give new athletic director Rick George the opportunity to understand the lay of the land before anyone can start assigning doubt or condemnation.
No, CU’s problem is with the rest of the Pac-12.
The Pac-12 right now is just too damn good.
After the realignment dust settled a few years ago, there were arguments that the newly rearranged conferences gave several leagues the claim to being the No.2 conference behind the SEC. Fans of the Pac-12 had to argue with fans of the Big Ten and Big 12 as to which conference was the second-best in the country. Now, the status of second-best is all but ceded to the Pac-12, with the Buffs’ new conference making inroads on the kingpin itself, the Southeastern Conference.
Which is making life difficult for the University of Colorado.
Last season was the worst in the 123 years of football at Colorado. The math was easy – No team before last year’s squad had lost 11 games in one season.
But it was actually much worse than just the won-loss record.
Colorado was not only bad last year, it was off-the-charts, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me terrible. A national ranking of 100th or worse in almost every relevant statistical category – rushing offense (109th), total offense (116th), scoring offense (117th), rushing defense (115th), total defense (117th), and scoring defense (120th).
It’s tough to give up an average of 48 points to your conference opponents and call yourself competitive.
Unfortunately, CU’s nadir has come at a time when the Pac-12 is not fielding any other horrible teams.
Last season, eight of the teams in the Pac-12 finished with winning records, with a ninth team, Utah at 5-7, close to bowl eligibility. Only Colorado, California (3-9), and Washington State (3-9) had lousy seasons. Now, this fall, Washington State has gone out and beaten USC on the road, and is looking for a bowl game this December.
Which just leaves Cal and Colorado as bottom feeders, with the added complication that the Bears play in the other Division.
In 2012, Colorado finished sixth in the Pac-12 South, with a 1-11 record.
Utah finished fifth in the Pac-12 South, with a 5-7 record.
That’s a pretty huge gap between 5th and 6th … and the team which finished 5th last season knocked off Stanford a few weeks ago.
And that’s CU’s biggest problem right now.
The Buffs can be improved on and off the field. They can be more competitive, have better players and better schemes on both sides of the ball …
… and still finish dead last.
This was not the issue back in the 1980’s, when Colorado was fielding teams comparable to the current Buffs.
For much of the 1970’s and 80’s, the Big Eight was the “Big Two and the Little Six”, so the path from poor to mediocre was not all that steep.
– In 1980, Colorado was 1-10. The Buffs lost to Drake for the second year in a row, and gave up 82 points to Oklahoma (not a huge number these days, but it was an amazing number at the time). And yet, those 1-10 Buffs did not finish alone in the basement of the Big Eight. Kansas State also finished with a league record of 1-6, with the Wildcats posting an overall record of 3-8. Other teams were also within reach of Colorado, with Oklahoma State finishing 1980 at 3-7-1, while Kansas was 4-5-2.
Yes, the Buffs were god-awful in 1980, but mediocrity was just a few wins over fellow bottom-feeders away.
– In 1984, when Colorado was again 1-10. The Buffs lost to Notre Dame 55-14, Missouri 52-7, and lowly Kansas State 38-6. And yet, the Buffs weren’t even the last place team in the Big Eight conference that season. The Buffs, with a 1-6 conference record, finished ahead of Iowa State (0-5-2). The Cyclones were 2-7-2 overall, while Kansas State and Missouri both finished with records of 3-7-1.
Again, the Buffs were lousy, but, once again, it did not take rocket science to identify potential victims for the upcoming season.
Fast forward to 2013.
Colorado has won the games it was supposed to win, taking down a mediocre Mountain West team in Colorado State, and two FCS teams.
But then where else can the Buffs and their fans look to for victories?
Where are the conference opponents which have the same issues as Colorado? Where are the games in which Colorado can be, if not favored, at least given a reasonable chance at victory?
Where the Hell is Iowa State when you need them?
This fall, nine of the 12 teams in the Pac-12 have either been ranked, or have at least received votes in the polls. Only Colorado, Cal, and Washington State have gone through the first two months of the season without any national recognition … and the Buffs don’t play the Cougars this year.
Which leaves the game against Cal as the only one on the schedule, out of nine conference games, in which the Buffs will be on a level playing field.
It’s tough to build a program when you have to – have to – win your non-conference games, knowing that you will be the underdog in at least eight of your nine conference games.
Almost any victory for Colorado right now will be considered an upset.
And the way things are looking, that might be the case for some time to come. Utah, as noted, has staked its claim as a new member which belongs in the league, defeating a top five Stanford team. UCLA is enjoying a resurgence under Jim Mora. Arizona State is 5-2, and certainly looked impressive against Colorado. Arizona, another team which was supposed to be on CU’s level, is also 5-2. USC, with all of its injuries and issues, is 5-3.
Five of the six teams in the Pac-12 South will go bowling this year. There are simply no easy outs for the Buffs.
For now, Colorado – and its fans – will have to be content with improvement.
Just not improvement in the standings.
If Colorado had Kansas or Iowa State left on the schedule, there could still be talk of a bowl in Boulder. Currently half of the teams in the Big 12 have losing records. In the Pac-12, only two teams, Cal and Colorado, are not within at least two victories of bowl eligibility.
No misunderstanding … I am not upset about the move to the Pac-12. Quite the contrary. I’m very excited that CU made the move to its new conference.
It’s just that … for now … as hard as it is … Buff fans must not look at the 44-20 final score of the Arizona game.
Look to the 27-20 score in the third quarter.
The gap between Colorado and almost every other team in the Pac-12 is huge …
… but the gap is closing.