Beaten Like a Red-headed Stepchild

“Beaten like a red-headed stepchild” is an old phrase with a seemingly clear derivation.

Stepchildren are often seen as being the disfavored children in the family, and one with a clearly different genetic makeup from the stepparent – as in a different hair color and complexion – was easy to single out for scorn and ridicule.

And it’s a phrase I have been familiar with most of my life … but fortunately not literally.

My parents were divorced when I was about ten, and both were remarried within a few years. So, for going on about 40 years now, I have been, in fact, a red-headed stepchild.

In the world of college football, the phrase can be likened to the outcasts of a given conference. These are the teams which really don’t belong, but are either kept around simply due to tradition, or other benefits derived outside of the gridiron.

In the SEC, the red-headed stepchild is Vanderbilt. The Commodores were a power in the old (very old) Southern Conference. Vanderbilt enjoyed 19 consecutive winning seasons – between 1915 and 1933. But Vanderbilt joined the Southeastern Conference in 1933, and the fun soon stopped. Vanderbilt, the only private university in the SEC, has never won a conference championship in football, and has been to all of six bowl games in its history (one of those coming in 1984 under George MacIntyre, father of CU head coach Mike MacIntyre).

In the ACC, the red-headed stepchild is Duke. The Blue Devils, a charter member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, last won an outright ACC title in football in 1962. Duke has been to nine bowl games in its history … with only three of those coming in the past 50 years.

In the Big Ten, the red-headed stepchild used to be the Northwestern Wildcats. Northwestern, like Vanderbilt, is a private university in a league with powerful state schools as competition. Before Gary Barnett came along in the mid-1990’s, Northwestern hadn’t won a Big Ten title since 1936, and hadn’t been to the Rose Bowl since 1948. Even with the resurgence started by Barnett, and continued by one of his former players, Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern still holds an all-time record against current members of the Big Ten of 259-458-22 (.366).

In the Pac 8/10, the red-headed stepchild was Washington State. The Cougars play in Pullman, a town so remote that visiting teams don’t fly into or stay there on road trips. In a league with teams in or around Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and Phoenix, Washington State always seemed out of place. Dating back to the 1918 Rose Bowl, the Cougars have made all of ten bowl appearances in their history, and play in a stadium which seats 33,522 … roughly 1/3 the size of the Rose Bowl.

When Colorado joined the Pac-12 in 2011, the Buffs were not seen as the candidate to replace Washington State as the league’s red-headed stepchild. The Buffs had a proud history, a national championship, a Heisman trophy winner, and a long history of conference titles (at least one in every decade CU has played football, except for the 1950’s, when Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma teams dominated the Big Seven).

If anything, it was to be Utah, not Colorado, who would don the mantle of the scorned step-child in the new conference. The Utes were not the first choice of the league for an expansion partner, and Utah was making a step up from the Mountain West Conference, while Colorado was making a lateral move from the Big 12.

Sure, Colorado was coming off of a 5-7 season in 2010, and the Dan Hawkins experiment was a bomb, but the Buffs were sure to bounce back in the new league. Meanwhile Utah, though an impressive 10-3 in 2010, was all but certain to crash against a conference slate of Pac-12 powers.

Instead of folding, Utah has held its own as a new member of the Pac-12, and now has a win over No. 5 Stanford as proof positive that it is a viable member of the new league.

As for Colorado … the wait for credibility continues.

Colorado has now endured 11 straight conference losses. Never in school history – not in the days of leather helmets, not in the days of the actual Depression – have the Buffs been this bad. Even in the darkest days of Chuck Fairbanks and Dan Hawkins, the number of consecutive conference losses never surpassed eight.

And the Buffs are losing by enormous numbers. Other than the 42-35 loss to Utah to end the 2012 season, during the 11-game conference losing streak, the Buffs have not been within 25 points of any Pac-12 opponent.

That’s not losing, that’s being crushed.

That’s not being competitive, that’s being toyed with … by teams which Colorado is supposed to consider as peers.

So I guess it was no surprise that this week there was a rumor posted on another fan site about CU being kicked out of the Pac-12. The site reportedly quoted an unnamed CU official stating that, if Colorado did not improve on the field in the next few seasons, that the league would revisit taking in some Big 12 teams into the league, and dumping Colorado.

The statement was quickly – and tersely – repudiated by Dave Plati, CU’s assistant athletic director for media relations.

However, the fact that anyone felt that such a story was even worth putting out there is disturbing. Colorado is in such a deep hole right now that it will take years, if not decades, to climb out.

In two-plus seasons as a member of the Pac-12, the Colorado football team has posted a 3-18 conference record, and it’s not likely that the Buffs are going to break even on their remaining six conference games this year. As a result, even if the Buffs were to start posting winning records in conference play next year (5-4, or even 6-3), and go bowling on a consistent basis with 2-1 or 3-0 non-conference records, it would  still take until the 2030’s for Colorado to have an overall record in conference play of over .500.

Now we’re talking Vanderbilt bad. Duke bad. Washington State bad.

Red-headed stepchild bad.

“I told the young men in the locker room, we’ve got to keep battling, keep fighting, keep working,” said Mike MacIntyre after the Buffs’ 54-13 drubbing by Arizona State. “The one thing I told them, and I truly believe this, you’ve got to give me your effort and you’ve also got to give me your heart. Sometimes you can give effort but you don’t give your heart. It’s kind of like you put your heart out there and get it stomped on, it hurts and you don’t want to do it again. Well, you’ve got to put your heart out there . . . I see them doing that.

“I did see progress this week in practice, I promise you I did. I was hoping we’d play a little better and we didn’t. But I have seen progress.”

For now, the Buff Nation must believe Mike MacIntyre, and believe that the Buffs are making progress.

Just like we believed in Dan Hawkins.

Just like we believed in Jon Embree.

The wait continues …

7 Replies to “Beaten Like A Red-headed Stepchild”

  1. West Coast sell crazy someplace else, we’re all stocked up here.

    Saturday’s game was extremely tough to watch, but I was excited to see Sefo come into the game. I’m hopeful this Saturday will give Buff fans a glimpse of the future. It looked like once Sefo came into the game the formations and plays changed, and the offense looked more like what Buff fans were expecting when Mac was hired.

    It’s going to be a long season, but after the past seven years we should be used to it. I’m going to continue to support the Buffs and watch them on TV at every opportunity (I live in KC) because I’m excited about the future….and well, there isn’t any other place for the team to go except up.

    On another topic, I saw Eric Bienemy this Sunday on the sidelines of the Chiefs game (He’s the RB coach). I’m glad to see he landed on his feet after last year…and the Chiefs are 6-0!

    Go Buffs!

  2. I call BS on the “expulsion theory” its baseless rantings of the lunatic fringe.
    As for the red-headed step-child, CU has so far fit the bill. Its going to take 4-5 years to turn this program around. Do we, as fans, have the stomach for it? Does CU, AD and administration, have the commitment to excellence necessary to return the football program to its former heights? Time will tell.

    1. Michael, when you say it will take 4-5 years to turn this program around, you are just being objective and I agree.

      In too many posts, especially in the DC, I’m beginning to see negativity and finger pointing directed at the coaching staff and the players…. way too much!!! It seems many are expecting to see us competitive in too many games. It’s not going to happen when we go up against top tier teams in the PAC-12. It can be likened to trying to kill buzzards with a worn-out fly swatter.

      Basically, we have the same team as last year, with few exceptions of course, (especially on the DL, DB and OL). Our talent level hasn’t improved that much due to this coaching staff not having sufficient time to recruit effectively before signing day.

      Stay patient Buffs fans. It will, as Michael says, take 4-5 years to get to a competitive level in the PAC-12, however I am getting a glimpse of the potential for the future NOW, especially with MM at the helm, the improvement in team attitude and a future starter now at QB.

      The best way we can protect the future is by showing up at Folsom Field until that day arrives. It happened at the CEC and it can also happen at Folsom Field.

  3. It’s not a rumor! The Pac-12 will revisit CU’s membership in the event of CU failing to meet certain metrics established in negotiations on the entrance contract. This was spilled by Stan Demoff during a Q and A at Pac-12 meetings. A reporter set him up with a sneaky question. So, just to be clear, it is true that CU can be expelled from the conference for failing to meet certain metrics across all sports. FACT.

    1. Please specify those metrics, and cite sources.
      Please provide the documentation from the reporter, along with the publication of his quote by a reputable news organization.

      Otherwise, we’ll wait for Oregon State, which last appeared in the Rose Bowl in 1965 and has an all-time winning percentage of .483 (CU’s is .591, better than all but four teams in the Pac-12) to receive its walking papers.

    2. Top 25 men’s basketball program, close to top 25 women’s basketball program, women’s volleyball team which just beat number 11 and number 1 in the country, national powers in men’s and women’s cross country, the dominant national power in skiing.

      Football is NOT everything. And the last schools from the current Pac-12 to win a national championship in football is USC and Colorado (Not Oregon, which until about 20 years ago was a joke, and until 5 years ago was a half and half team.) No run lasts forever. Just ask USC, Texas and Nebraska.

      Even if you claim was FACT, Colorado’s performance in the other sports would obviously preclude such an option.

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