Closing the Gap

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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.

Witness:

- 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.

Baby steps.

The gap between Colorado and almost every other team in the Pac-12 is huge …

… but the gap is closing.

10 Responses to “Closing the Gap”

  1. John B

    Fantastic, big picture perspective, as always. Thanks Stuart.

    I’d feel so much better if Kiffin was still present and they were in Full Mutiny Mode, but I think we’ll get USC. There’s already blood in the water and we get them right after Stanford, and right before UCLA. Close out the year with a win over Utah and we at least have some critical momentum going into recruiting and next year.

  2. cholo

    The stench from two years of unorganized, divisive, go-to-Ladies-Night-see-if-I-care, non-coaching from WB&CO is still wreaking its havoc on this squad.

    CU will need another full year of quality S&C work and another full spring just to get these guys all on the same page! Would love to see a 6-10 of the FR become early enrollees. PLUS: Also another year for physical maturation, 75% of this roster is FR, RS/FR or Sophs; its still PAC men against CU boys! And our most experienced players have only 21 starts each (Handler and Crabb). Solis, Tupou, Hennington and the other DLs and DEs, are still just kids against monster Jrs and Srs from other Pac schools.

  3. Stuart, before the season began, many, many posts were stating that no one was expecting more than 3-4 W’s this season with some predicting 1-2 W’s at most. Yet, I see many posts (especially in the DC) where there are already fingers pointing and negativity thrown randomly at the coaching staff and Mac, as if we should be playing at a level to expect wins against Pac-12 teams who have already won 5 games and anything less is inadequate.

    Then there are the Arm-Chair QB’s who criticize the 2 coaching decisions that Brian pointed to and headlined in the DC. (Shame on him). These decisions were made under duress, knowing we needed something exceptional to create momentum and touchdowns, not field goals, to swing the pendulum enough to hopefully get a win. I applaud, instead of criticize, Mac and the coaches for these decisions.

    I am also seeing a lot of improvement in many areas. Granted, our defensive backfield still is not deep enough in talent to compete with so many of these pass-happy spread offenses…. but, we are seeing glimpses of the foundation rising and ready to surface in the next year or two.

    For example, when the coaching staff identifies an area where improvement is needed, it gets addressed….. ie: special teams, protection of the QB, tackling (improving but still needs work). This is all being addressed with virtually the same players as last year with the exception of a few excellent, true freshmen thrown into the mix.

    Before we start getting too critical, I think we need to see where we are after a couple of future recruiting classes. Only then should we EXPECT a “W” against teams that are 5-2, with hopes of upsetting some of the top tier teams. Until then, the naysayers should cut this coaching staff, Mac2 and the team some slack.

  4. BuffLady

    Really good article (old fans like you and I remember those early days of Mac 1 and his struggles). I did see some positives (hope we can build on that). On to the next game, GO BUFFS!!!!

  5. Harry

    Stuart, you do a great job of writing. Unlike the “reporting” that buffzone puts out. You think about what you are going to write before putting it on paper. Thanks.

  6. Stuart – Another informative & entertaining read. Like most true CU fans, I was disappointed in the final score but not in the coaching or effort put forth by the boys. It’s all about little victories (like not giving up any sacks, for instance). Several things come to mind, I believe this team is good enough to not only beat Cal but also one other team in an upset. I don’t have a feel which team it will be, but for 1 game this season, they will put it all together and have a big game. That would put us at 5-7, a very successful season by anybody’s standard. The other comment to be made is if you could take the 1990 CU team and put it on the field tomorrow, we could go toe to toe, blow by blow with both Oregon and Stanford and beat the snot out of the rest of the conference, so let’s get this team to the same level as the 1990 team, not a big deal to ask, eh?

  7. SanJoseBuff

    Stuart, as always, great article!

  8. Eric

    That’s a good bit of perspective Stuart. And yes, I saw a lot of positives in yesterday’s game. Sefo made some great checks at the line and got into the right calls. Unfortunately, on one key 3rd down Adkins just dropped the ball; not sure if he had sustained his concussion already or whether he just saw how much space he had, and took his eyes off the ball. Either way, dude’s a freshman, playing very well, but…will still make mistakes. On another, Sefo got the ball to an open P-rich for another 1st down, but? It was just a hair too high. He’ll learn, and get those in line as his game experience grows.

    The D that couldn’t stop Denker also had some good moments. Another pick. Another fumble. Chidera had a bunch of tipped/batted balls that prevented completions, etc.

    I see plenty of progress, each week, and I’m confident that Mac and Co will take those moments, use the film, and continue teaching and coaching the kids up. I felt, after watching that game, that they still have a chance to steal three wins. UT was terrible yesterday. USC is hot and cold. Cal can be a win – or a loss, cannot take them lightly. The UW game will be interesting too. Heck so will UCLA. Upsets happen.

    Go Buffs!

  9. WarBuff

    For those of us that went through the 1980 and 1984 seasons, I was hoping that those days would never been experienced again. Here’s to hoping that this year will be what 1984 was for CU football. The team certainly seems to not be what was fielded last year, but there is (obviously) much more to be done.

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