Colorado lost to No. 23, USC, 47-29, in a game which was not as close as the score might indicate. The Buffs managed all of five first downs in the first half, to go with 73 yards of total offense, falling behind 23-0 at the break. A total of 22 consolation points, and 172 of CU’s 312 yards of total offense, came in the fourth quarter with the game well decided.

The loss condemned the 4-7 Buffs to an eighth straight losing season (the previous longest stretch of futility, in 124 years of football, was six years – 1979-84).

With only the Utah game left on the calendar, perhaps it’s a good time to take stock of Year One of the Mike MacIntyre era.

Let’s take a look back at what was expected from the former San Jose State coach when he was hired on December 10, 2012, and how he has fared to date in meeting those goals.

Checklist Item No. 1 – Change the Culture

“Change the culture of the program” … is the mandate for every new coaching staff who is coming in to take over a losing program (as compared to say, a Mark Helfrich at Oregon, whose mandate was: “Don’t screw this up” … which he might be doing).

But let’s recall for a moment what Mike MacIntyre walked into a year ago. Two coaches ago, Dan Hawkins claimed that the CU program was “burned to the ground” when he came to Boulder in 2006, despite the fact that the Buffs were the reigning Pac-12 North champions (not to mention winners of four of the previous five Big 12 North titles).

In 2011, Jon Embree took over a program in far worse shape. Five straight losing seasons had created a culture of losing … and, let’s be honest, Embree made it even worse. Colorado went from being embarrassing to being an embarrassment. The 2012 season rewrote the CU record book in almost every negative category possible.

And yet when Mike MacIntyre was hired, there was still a backlash to the Embree dismissal. MacIntyre came to Boulder not only with questions about whether he was the best choice, but he also had to deal with outspoken Embree supporters who accused the school of everything from failed promises to racism.

Last December, CU was on the national radar, but for all the wrong reasons.

Welcome to Boulder, Mike … now go out and field a winning team.

What MacIntyre has done may not have shown up in every final score in 2013, but there are more subtle signs of progress:

– First, coach Mac did not suffer from mass defections. As you will recall, last winter there were rumors that everyone from Paul Richardson to most of the defensive backfield were leaving the school. Yes, there was some attrition, but not nearly as bad as had been feared.

– Second, look at the injury report. Every school loses players to injury, on and off the field, (e.g., offensive lineman Jeromy Irwin was lost for the season when he broke a bone in his foot doing yard work last summer). But the numbers this year are amazing – and a tribute to the conditioning and off-season workout program installed by MacIntyre and Director of Sports Performance Dave Forman. Two seasons ago, Colorado lost a total of 115 games in the two-deep due to injuries. Last season, it was 141. This season: 23.

– Third, penalties. Remember how, the last two seasons, the Colorado offense had a 1st-and-15 (false start) or a 1st-and-20 (holding) on almost every drive? Two years ago, the Buffs had 103 penalties called them. Last season, it was 73. This season? 50 (yes, the Buffs’ first drive of the USC game was marred by consecutive penalties. But did you notice that CU had exactly one penalty, for five yards, the remainder of the game?).

Small changes. Incremental changes.

But changes nonetheless.

Item No. 1 – Change the Culture – Yes   X     No ___  Incomplete ___

Checklist Item No. 2 – Beat Colorado State

Also a no-brainer for any new CU coach, but for Mike MacIntyre, the need to defeat Colorado State was intensified. Mac had spent over eight months preaching his philosophy to the Buff Nation, but CU fans were skeptical. Hopeful, to be sure, but skeptical nonetheless. We’d had our hopes raised too many times in recent years, only to suffer more disappointment.

If Mike MacIntyre wanted to win converts, he would have to win games.

Colorado State had been mired in a slump similar to that of Colorado, failing to post a winning season since 2008. Yet those same Rams were just as poor a team in September, 2012, yet managed to defeat the Buffs to mark the beginning of the end of the Jon Embree era. Colorado had the lead against CSU in the 2012 opener, ran into adversity and lost the lead, and never came back – in the game or in the season.

In the 2013 season opener, in the first game under the new coach Mac, the Buffs took the lead, ran into adversity and lost the lead … and came back to win by two touchdowns.

Item No. 2 – Beat Colorado State – Yes   X     No ___

Checklist Item No. 3 – Beat your FCS opponent(s)

Should have been the easiest item on the checklist, but, again, when you are at the bottom, every small step up counts.

Colorado played Sacramento State last season, a fair-to-middling Big Sky Conference team (the Hornets would go on to post a 6-5 record in 2012). The Buffs under Jon Embree, though, found a way to lose the game, 30-28.

This season, Mike MacIntyre faced not one, but two FCS opponents, teams with much better resumes than that of Sacramento State. Both Central Arkansas (No. 5) and Charleston-Southern (No. 23) were ranked when the Buffs played them. The Buffs, while not perhaps in spectacular fashion, did manage to win both games.

Yes, much will be written this off-season about how CU’s win total was inflated by one, with an almost certain defeat to Fresno State replaced by an almost guaranteed victory over Charleston-Southern.

But playing a second FCS school was beyond coach MacIntyre’s control, and he did what he had to do, which was win against the opponent placed in front of him.

The Buffs are 2-0 against FCS schools under coach Mac.

Cause for celebration? Not really.

Until you remember the records against FCS teams posted by Dan Hawkins (1-1) and Jon Embree (0-1).

Item No. 3 – Beat your FCS opponent(s) – Yes   X     No __

Checklist Item No. 4 – Be competitive in the Pac-12

Most Buff fans entered the 2013 season with a clear understanding that Colorado was far behind the curve in the Pac-12 when it came to talent. The Buff Nation was not looking for a ten win season in Mike MacIntyre’s first year, and even the most optimistic were hard pressed to see six wins and a bowl bid this fall.

But what the Colorado fans were hoping for from the 2013 Buffs was, at the very least, to see the CU football program be competitive once again.

In 2012, Colorado not only established new records for futility … they crushed the old ones.

In 123 years of collegiate football, the Buffs had never surrendered more than 475 points in a season. The 2012 team gave up 552.

In 123 years of collegiate football, the Buffs had never surrendered more than 6.5 yards per play to the opposition. The 2012 team gave up an average of 7.11 yards on every one of the 824 plays the opposition ran at them.

And this season?

The 2013 team has made inroads towards lowering those numbers, but not nearly enough for CU to be considered competitive.

The Buffs are giving up an average of 6.17 yards per play this year. An improvement over 7.11 yards per play, to be sure, but 6.17 is still a ridiculously high number.

The Buffs are giving up an average of 39.5 points per game. An improvement over 46 points per game to be sure, but there is obviously still much work to be done. (It’s also worth noting that CU is averaging 26.1 points per game on offense, after scoring only 17.8 last season).

Colorado was within 10-3 late in the second quarter against Oregon State. The Buffs actually led Oregon for much of the first quarter in their game. Colorado was within a score of both Arizona and UCLA in the third quarter.

But all four turned into blowouts.

Compare Utah.

The Utes also have only one Pac-12 victory on the season. The Utes upset Stanford, were within a touchdown of UCLA and Arizona State, and competitive against Arizona (35-24) and USC (19-3) and Washington State (49-37). The Utes may not have a better record than that of Colorado, but the Utah coaches, players, and fans know that they are much closer to the upper echelons of the Pac-12 than is Colorado.

 Item No. 4 – Be competitive in the Pac-12 – Yes  ___  No ___  Incomplete  

The remaining items on the checklist, while viable, were not expected to be met in Year One of the Mike MacIntyre era.

Yet they are on MacIntyre’s checklist for future success, and bear keeping in mind …

Checklist Item No. 5 – Improve recruiting

The recruiting Class of 2013 was largely recruited by Jon Embree and his staff, but there were several late commitments to that Class which were brought in by Mike MacIntyre and his staff:

– Running back Michael Adkins was one of the last recruits of the Class of 2013 to commit, and, despite missing three games this fall, has posted 497 yards rushing, second on the team, and seventh on the all-time yardage list for freshman running backs.

– Linebacker / kick returner Ryan Severson, who committed to the new staff last January, has been the Buffs’ kickoff returner this fall. Severson has already surpassed the return yards posted by the 2012 return leader, Marques Mosley.

– Defensive back Chidobe Awuzie has already been on the field for more plays as a true freshman than all but four Buffs in history. Awuzie, who committed to Colorado on Signing Day last February, is sixth on the team in tackles.

– Linebacker Addison Gillam, as you may recall, was a lightly recruited player who committed to San Jose State as a gray-shirt, then decided to follow Mike MacIntyre to Boulder. All Gillam has done is to post the most tackles by any freshman in CU history, and will become the first freshman ever to lead the team in tackles.

All of the above were Mike MacIntyre recruits, committing to Colorado after the coaching change.

Awuzie was a three star recruit, according to the recruiting services, while Adkins, Severson and Gillam were all only two-star prospects.

Can Mike MacIntyre build a program which will compete for Pac-12 titles out of two- and three-star recruits overlooked by other schools?


Absolutely not.

But it is nice to see that MacIntyre has an eye for talent, and can make the most out of what he has to work with on the roster.

We’ll see what the moderate success of the 2013 team will do for the recruiting Class of 2014 (currently holding at nine three-star recruits and six two-star prospects).

Item No. 5 – Improve Recruiting – Yes  ___  No ___  Incomplete  

Checklist Item No. 6 – Post a winning record and earn a bowl berth

Check back a year from now, in November, 2014, when Buff fans hope that this item on the checklist is close to becoming a reality.

Next season, the Buffs face Colorado State (currently 6-6) in non-conference play, together with games at Massachusetts (1-10) and at home against Hawai’i (0-11). The game against the Rams is always tough for the Buffs, but the other two games should be winnable. In conference? The Buffs will have five Pac-12 home games: Oregon State; Arizona State; UCLA; Washington; and Utah – with four road games: Oregon; Arizona; Cal; and USC. Given the 2013 standings, with nine Pac-12 teams eligible for bowls, the two games against other teams sitting home for the holidays – Cal and Utah – appear to be the Buffs’ best bets for victories.

After that? Where to find victory No. 6? It will likely have to be an upset.

Checklist Item No. 7 – Compete for the Pac-12 championship and New Year’s Day bowls

Check back in 2016 or so, when the team will be almost all Mike MacIntyre recruits … and 100% his responsibility.

Are all of the above rationalizations? Perhaps, but that is what you have to deal with when your team is setting records for losing.

To finish on a positive note, I’ll leave you with a passage from The Big Chill. Thirty years old this year, The Big Chill is a classic, and is one of my favorite all-time movies.

On the topic of rationalizations …

Michael (Jeff Goldblum): I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.

Sam Weber (Tom Berenger) : Ah, come on. Nothing’s more important than sex.

Michael: Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?

6 Replies to “Checklist”

  1. The improvement that seems overlooked by almost everyone to me is also the most telling: the players are now in the right places on almost every play. We have defensive backs hand fighting with top flight receivers as long balls come in. I can see the leverage Coach Mac preaches in the defense. There are times when we absolutely shut down good offensive teams by simply following the game plan. You can SEE a game plan in the movement of the players. The coverage adjusts and improves from play to play: i.e., after the first tight end drag pattern USC tan for 12 yards, every other time they ran a similar play we had at least one player keyed to it. Now, we don’t always close fast enough or make the right move on the ball – or knock down the incoming pass. But we are far better positioned and understanding the game than we have been footer years. That is all I need to see to know Coach Mac gets it.

  2. Stuart,

    As always – great stuff. I am a DirecTV subscriber so I have only seen two games this season and have been reduced to following along via computer, highlights, etc. The one constant in all that I have read this autumn is the werewithal these kids possess. Candidly, I believe that it was there last year as well but this year it seems as if the kids have more faith in what the adults in charge are doing, saying, teaching, etc. and therefore it has translated into a more thorough effort on the field.

    It also seems to me that a tip of the cap has to be given to (a) whomever secured Sefo’s commitment; and (b) whomever ensured that he remained a part of this class after the coaching staff that recruited him was fired. As a fan I have hope for the future because I think that in this young man they have a QB around whom they can build. I did not feel that way with Wood under center.

    While he can certainly play for pay on Sundays, I am hoping (likely against hope) that Paul Richardson decides to play one more year for the Buffs. He is an extraordinary talent and a weapon whose absence next fall would be felt.

    Coach Mac gives me hope for the future. As an alum who arrived on campus in the wake of SI having voted Boulder, Colorado “the prettiest place to watch awful college football”, I saw the improvement that Coach Mac I’s squads made from 1985 through 1988, which set the table for the back-to-back Orange Bowl seasons at the end of the ’89 and ’90 seasons. When one factors in the Coach Cabral Era in the final half of Hawkins’s final season in boulder, we have kids on the roster who have played for 4 head coaches. At some point instability has to give rise to stability or the view simply never changes.

    Here is to hoping that at CU we have now officially arrived at that point.

    Go Buffs. Beat the Utes!

    Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.


  3. Stuart,
    Great breakdown on the Coach Mac’s first year. I was hoping for four wins this year and am exciting that we have a chance for five. Recruiting over the next two months will be very interesting and hopefully will start a trend from “Incomplete” to “Complete”.

    As always, thank you for your awesome site! GO BUFFS!

  4. It’s been a little tricky to watch the Buffs this year with no Pac-12 network, but when I can tune in I’ve seen a team that keeps fighting to the end of the game. I never saw that under Embree, I saw a team that just gave up. Case in point, the 2 point conversion against USC – there is probably no way to win that game whether you get the two points or not, but I saw a team still giving max effort.

  5. a couple of my observations on your excellent observations Stuart.

    The culture change won’t be complete for at least one more year. Mac 2 with have to deal with at least some of the previous “culture” until all or most of the starters are “his” kids.

    Winning games with 2 and 3 star prospects is a rare thing but it has been done……by a certain offensive coordinator at an isolated NW school….and our own Mike McIntyre last year at San Jose State. It almost has to be done to attract the higher rated ones, especially the home grown ones who I feel have a little extra motivation being originally from Colorado.

    We will have to win an “upset” or 2 in order to get to a bowl. Most of the wins will be “upsets” next year….and there will be some. Your own observations on the progress indicate that. Dredging up CSU again, it galls me that they have qualified for a bowl by, until last night, by being 2nd in their conference with 5 losses….one to us of course.

  6. Stuart,
    Your first blush checklist for 2013 and Coach Mac is right on. One of the positives that I see this year is that the team has believed in Coach Mac and his staff. It doesn’t appear that they quit on him or each other. The Buffs have built a good foundation this first year under Mac and I expect that it will continue. The future is bright for the Buffaloes. Go Buffs, next year they’ll be surprising a few people!

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