Closing the Books on 2012

For most fans in the Buff Nation, 2012 is a year we would like to put behind us – and as soon as possible. The 2012 CU football team was the worst in school history, and not just in losses. New school records were set in points allowed, yards allowed … well, you know the rest.

Still, the words inscribed upon the wall above the main entrance to CU’s Norlin library ring true: “Who knows only his own generation remains always a child”. While that phrase served me well in my years in Boulder defending myself as a history major, it also is important for Buff fans. Even though we just lived through a tough 2012, it bears looking back at what happened, and how it unfolded.

Recruiting Class of 2012 … Though Jon Embree got off to a rough start in his first season as the 24th head coach in CU history, optimism was still the word of the day. The Buffs went 3-10 in 2011, but endured a murderous schedule in getting there. The 2012 season offered a much easier slate of games, and hey, didn’t Dan Hawkins go from 2-10 in his first season to a bowl game in year two? Signing Day in February brought about renewed hope. Colorado’s recruiting Class was ranked 36th in the nation by Rivals – not great, but a good start in Jon Embree’s first full season of recruiting. The Class had 28 members, with two cornerbacks, Yuri Wright and Kenneth Crawley, the highest-rated. The Buffs also landed a top flight quarterback in Shane Dillon.

And then there were the defensive linemen. The defensive line was a priority in recruiting in 2012, and the CU recruiting staff went all out. Nine defensive linemen – nine! – were signed, with the prize being Kisima Jagne, ranked as the 28th-best defensive lineman in the nation. (Jagne, as it turned out, though, epitomized CU’s year. Unable to get clearance in time to register in the fall, Jagne agreed to grey-shirt, and enroll at Colorado in January, 2013. Jagne said again and again throughout the fall that he was a Buff … right up until he enrolled at Arizona State in December).

Spring Practices … Looking back, the first week of spring ball should have been the last call for optimism for the 2012 season. In the first week, two events took place which should have tipped off the Buff Nation of ill winds to come. First, wide receiver Paul Richardson, the only returning skill position player on the team, went down for the season with a knee injury. Second, Kansas quarterback Jordan Webb visited campus. Sure, the Buffs would be replacing three-year starter Tyler Hansen at quarterback, but there was a myriad of options. Nick Hirschman had at least started a game, and everyone spoke very highly of Texas transfer Connor Wood, who dominated play as a scout team quarterback in 2011. The Buffs also had Brent Burnette and John Schrock as insurance, and Shane Dillon coming in to challenge for the job in August. So why was Jordan Webb, who had an inauspicious career at Kansas, transfering to CU? Webb, we told ourselves, would merely be another insurance policy in case Wood did not prove to be all that was hoped for in the next great CU quarterback …

That the spring practices were closed helped foster the delusion that CU would be competitive in 2012. All Buff fans were allowed to witness for themselves was the Spring game … er, Spring Scrimmage. With a decided lack of defensive linemen in camp, there were not enough bodies to conduct even a full scrimmage for the fans. And yet, we still believed …

Basketball distractions … Colorado’s first season in the Pac-12 had been a disaster in football, but was a pleasant surprise in basketball. Picked 11th in the conference at the beginning of the season, the CU men’s basketball team nonetheless found themselves as the No. 6 seed heading into the Pac-12 tournament. The Buffs were 19-11 at the conclusion of the regular season, and appeared poised to make another decent run in the NIT. Instead, the Buffs pulled off the improbable, winning four straight games, taking down Utah, Oregon, Cal and Arizona to claim the first-ever Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament. That the Buffs won their first NCAA tournament game over UNLV was just icing on the cake, as Tad Boyle posted a second straight 24-win season … Meanwhile the women’s team also posted a 20-win season, finishing with a 21-12 mark and an NIT quarterfinal appearance in Linda Lappe’s second campaign.

Fall Practices … Again, football practices were closed to the public, so the Buff Nation had little to go on in terms of progress by the team. It came as a surprise to learn that Jordan Webb, who hadn’t been on campus long enough to find his way to the Hill, was nonetheless named the starter at quarterback in week one. Paul Richardson flirted with the idea of returning from his knee injury early, but then decided to sit out the 2012 campaign. There were issues on both sides of the ball, but a bowl game remained the goal. The offense was devoid of returning skill position players, but Webb was seen as a caretaker (a la Bobby Pesavento) who could orchestrate a power rushing game behind a strong offensive line. On defense, the line was young and inexperienced, but the linebackers were a veteran group, and the influx of new talented cornerbacks would shore up the porous pass defense from the previous season. Five of the first six games were against teams which had new coaches, and all six in the first half of the schedule were teams which had posted losing records in 2011. The 2012 season was set up perfectly for the Buffs to return to respectability …

Colorado State … Is it possible for a 1-11 season to turn on a single play? Probably not, but if there was a turning point in the 2012 season at Colorado, it came with less than a minute to play in the first half of the season opener against CSU. The Buffs held a 14-3 lead over the Rams, and had just forced a punt after the CU offense had turned the ball over near midfield. All was good in the Buff Nation. The CU coaching staff opted to go for the block of the CSU punt (acceptable, under the circumstances), but, inexplicably, D.D. Goodson attempted to catch the punt, fumbling the ball back to Colorado State. Jon Embree said after the game that he instructed the returner to stay away from the ball (there was less than 30 seconds to play, so even a punt down inside the CU five yard line would have caused no damage), but either that order was not communicated, it was not received, or it was not understood. The Rams scored on the next play after the turnover, taking the momentum, and ultimately, the game.

Sacramento State / Fresno State … What was a bad situation after the CSU game got worse … and then even worse. Losing to a lousy CSU team was unforgivable, but then the Buffs lost to a Big Sky team (and a mediocre one at that) at home the following weekend. Then the Buffs went on the road, and suffered a complete meltdown in the heat of Fresno. The Bulldogs were up 35-0 after one quarter, and had a 55-7 lead at halftime on their way to a 69-14 rout. The Buff Nation, looking at a bowl bid three weeks earlier, now found their team on SportsCenter highlights for all the wrong reasons, and a (deserved) Bottom Ten placement.

Washington State … I didn’t want to go to the game. After watching CU give up against Fresno State, who wanted to drive seven hours to watch them lose again? When my brother-in-law, who I was supposed to pick up along the way in Missoula, backed out, I had my chance to cancel. But, friends from Bozeman, who had a son at WSU and had traveled to Boulder for the CU/WSU game in 2011, were hosting, and so I had to make the trip. Who knew that, by making it to Pullman, I would become one of only about 500 or so CU fans to actually witness CU win a game in person?

The remainder of the Pac-12 schedule … The remainder of the Pac-12 campaign was a series of maulings, each more ridiculous than the one before. Until the Buffs managed to stay within a touchdown of Utah in the finale, Colorado lost its next seven games by an average of 38 points, along the way absorbing a 70-point run-up by Oregon (which could have been 100), and the first home shutout loss (48-0 to Stanford) in over 25 years. If you want to sift through all of the records broken, they are recorded for posterity here. Sometimes, you just have to laugh … in order to keep from crying …

Embree Out / MacIntyre In … Despite having posted the worst record in 123 years of Colorado football, it still came as a surprise, two days after the end of the 2012 regular season, when Jon Embree was fired. Changes in the coaching staff were a given, but, after there was disagreement between the administration and Jon Embree as to who should go and who should stay, Embree himself was let go. There was a firestorm amongst the Embree loyalists about Embree being let go after only two seasons, but a realistic review of the 2012 season (see record-keeping link, above) showed that there was little reason to believe that a turnaround was imminent in 2013. Another ten loss season would likely have brought about the end to the Embree era, anyway, so the decision was made to cut the Buffs’ losses, and starting rebuilding anew.

Mike MacIntyre will begin his career as the 25th CU head coach knowing that he was not Colorado’s first choice. That’s not altogether bad. Bill McCartney was not CU’s first choice in 1982 (LaVell Edwards) and Gary Barnett was not CU’s first choice after the 1998 season (Gary Kubiak). While we’ll never know how Edwards and Kubiak might have worked out, most Buff fans were satisfied with the efforts of McCartney and Barnett, so MacIntyre, who turned San Jose State around in three seasons, will be given his shot at repeating history in Boulder starting next fall.

Basketball leads CU into 2013 on a high note … As 2012 comes to a close, there is again optimism at the University of Colorado. The football team has a fresh start and a clean slate, while the basketball teams are showing great promise. The men’s and women’s teams completed non-conference play with a combined record of 21-2. Both have been ranked (CU women currently No. 23), and both already have wins over nationally ranked teams on their resume. How 2013 might work out for the basketball teams may be revealed shortly, as in the first two weeks of 2013, both the men and the women have a pair of dates with nationally ranked Pac-12 foes (men: Arizona and UCLA; women: Stanford and Cal).

Even though 2103 looks daunting right now, it still will be nice to turn the calendar.

It’s well past time to bid 2012 a not-so-fond farewell …

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