Colorado “Trending Up” in 2013 is running a series on its website, “The Top Ten Moments of 2013“. The countdown is up to No. 4, with the entries so far being as follows:

No. 10 – March Madness

No. 9 – Paul Richardson

No. 8 – CU women’s volleyball

No. 7 – CU women’s soccer

No. 6 – CU’s win over CSU in Rocky Mountain Showdown

No. 5 – CU men’s basketball win over No. 9 Arizona

No. 4 – Emma Coburn

The series, along with commentary from Mark Johnson and B.G. Brooks, can be found here.

Rather than go with a top ten list of my own, I thought I would write about my “Top Five ‘Trending Up’ Thoughts for 2013”, or, perhaps better stated, “Five Positives to take into 2014”.

No. 5 – Colorado “Olympic sports” proving the Buffs belong in the Pac-12

ESPN did a piece this past week on grading realignment winners and losers. Colorado was given an “F” for its 4-23 record in its first three years of Pac-12 play.

It is hard to argue that CU’s performance on the football field makes it hard to justify any other grade to date, but there are those who have taken CU’s lack of success in football as a reason to question Colorado’s move to the Pac-12 altogether, with some (don’t let the door hit you on the butt on the way out, John Henderson) who have written that CU would be better served by dropping down to the Mountain West Conference.

True enough, the Buffs have stunk it up on the gridiron the past few seasons, but the move to the Pac-12 will ultimately bear fruit, both for the football team and the University. And, if there is any need to justify CU’s move to the “Conference of Champions”, the non-revenue, “Olympic” sports have shown that Colorado can be quite competitive in their new league, thank you very much.

The University of Colorado is currently the reigning national champion in two sports, something few schools this side of UCLA and Stanford (which field teams in everything from fencing to water polo) can match. The CU ski team last March won its 19th national title, while in November the CU men’s cross-country team picked up title No. 6 for the school in that sport.

Meanwhile, the CU women’s soccer team and CU’s women’s volleyball team both qualified for their respective NCAA tournaments. The volleyball team advanced to the second round of the NCAA’s, while the soccer team made it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen.

Colorado is proving to be more and more competitive in the non-revenue sports amongst its Pac-12 rivals with each successive year in the conference, which isn’t easy to do (e.g., nine teams from the league earned berths in the NCAA volleyball tournament).

The University of Utah, which joined the Pac-12 along with Colorado three years ago, has had more success to date on the football field (earning a C+ grade from that ESPN article), but has yet to earn a single Pac-12 or national title in any sport since joining the conference. (I know I’ve told you this one before, but I still like it … BYU fans, while lamenting its school going independent, can still boast that “the Cougars have as many Pac-12 championships as the Utes”).

The football needs to improve its standing in the league, but there is no question – thanks to the efforts of CU’s “Olympic sports” athletes, that CU belongs in the Pac-12 conference.

No. 4 – The Buffs post four wins in football

The jump from one victory in 2012 to four victories in 2013 did show improvement, but not enough to warrant a higher ranking on the 2013 “Trending Up” list.

No need to rehash the obvious … We all know that the Buffs are still a long way from being a title contender in the Pac-12. The Colorado defense gave up an average of 38.3 points per game this past season, the third-worst number in over 120 years of football.

That bears repeating – only two other teams in the past 120+ years of CU football gave up more points per game than did this year’s team.

On the season, the Buffs were out-scored, on average, 38.3 – 25.4.

Losing by an average of two touchdowns per game … can we call that a positive trend?

Comparatively, the answer is “yes”.

In 2012, the average score of a CU game was 46.0 – 17.8, a discrepancy of a mind-blowing four touchdowns per game. So, yes, scoring an additional touchdown more per game on offense, and giving up a touchdown less per game on defense, is, in fact, a positive trend.

This fall, Colorado won the games it was supposed to win. Not a high bar of accomplishment, but a bar which was met nonetheless. Colorado State, while it wound up with an 8-6 record in 2012, was not the juggernaut its record suggests (none of the eight teams the Rams defeated ended the season with a winning record). The Buffs were supposed to defeat its 1-AA opponents, and it did. The Buffs were supposed to defeat a one-win California team, and it did.

Defeating the teams you are supposed to beat is a positive trend for a team which was unable to accomplish that feat in recent years (witness Dan Hawkins’ and Jon Embree’s collective 1-2 record against 1-AA schools).

The test in 2014 will be whether the upward trend can continue. Can Colorado score one more touchdown per game than in 2013, while giving up one more touchdown less on defense than it did in 2013? Can the Buffs defeat a team or two they are not supposed to beat?

Winning games that are winnable was a goal in 2013. That goal was met.

In 2014, however, winning games that are winnable will be the floor for the CU program, not the ceiling.

No. 3 – Colorado women’s basketball returns to elite status

With all of the success of the CU men’s basketball team (see No. 2 on the list, below), the CU women’s basketball team has enjoyed a similar – and perhaps even a better – renaissance.

Beginning in 1988, under coach Ceal Barry, the CU women’s team became a fixture in the NCAA tournament. The Buffs have made 13 trips to March Madness, including a string of six straight seasons in the 1990’s. Between 1993 and 1997, Colorado reached the Sweet Sixteen three times and the Elite Eight twice.

After a run of four straight tournament bids between 2001-04, however, the dancing stopped.

That was until this past March, when Linda Lappe took the Buffs back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in nine seasons. The Buffs were a No. 5 seed in the tournament last March, having compiled a 25-6 record, the 8th-best total in school history. Colorado finished fourth in the tough Pac-12 conference, and were nationally ranked for much of the season. The unexpected loss to Kansas in the opening round was a disappointment, but it was clear that the Buffs were back.

This season, the CU women’s team is 9-1, having only lost (69-62) to No. 7 Louisville on the road. The Buffs have been ranked all season, and are currently sitting at No. 12 nationally. A second consecutive NCAA tournament bid is all but assured, and the Buffs are built for the future. There are three seniors on the team (two starters), but plenty of young talent to keep CU in the polls, and in the NCAA tournament, for years to come.

No. 2 – Colorado men’s basketball becomes a national player

I have wondered, off and on through the years, what it must be like to be a fan of Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Indiana or UCLA basketball. Sure, there have been down years for all of these programs, but, for the most part, an NCAA tournament invitation is considered a birth right, not cause for speculation. These fans do not have scour the internet for the latest “bubble watch” postings as the season winds down, wondering if their team will get an at-large bid to March Madness.

Big games against ranked non-conference opponents? Fun, but not life-or-death.

Late season matchups against bitter conference rivals? Important, to be sure, but they are more for bragging rights and tournament seeding rather than entry into the tournament itself.

Colorado basketball fans have never been in that position.

Until now …

Consider: Colorado has fielded a men’s basketball team for 112 years (this is season 113). Think of that number as we roll through these statistics:

– Last March, Colorado made its third consecutive post-season appearance. That seemingly minor achievement had never been done before in school history… ever;

– Last March, CU finished with 21 victories, marking only the fifth time in school annals that the Buffs had reached 20 wins in a season … but for the third year in a row (so, yes, that means exactly two 20-win seasons, total, in the previous 109 years of basketball);

– Last March, CU appeared in back-to-back NCAA tournaments for the first time in 50 years.

It’s a whole new world for Colorado basketball under Tad Boyle, and the close of the 2013 season gives CU fans every reason to believe that the 2014 season and beyond will be more of the same.

Whoda’ ever believed it possible?

No. 1 – Colorado athletic department seems to be on the right track

While not as glamorous as NCAA tournament bids and national championships, the strides the University of Colorado has made off the field are every bit – and perhaps long term more – important as the recent successes on the field.

The Colorado athletic department has been adrift for years, with some problems of its own making; some out of its control.

The University knew that the first few years of transition into the Pac-12 would be difficult financially. CU had to buy its way out of the Big 12 (or, more correctly put, forego revenue it would have otherwise been entitled to), and would have to forego some aspects of revenue sharing as a new member of the Pac-12. In short, CU would start its Pac-12 reign with a financial handicap.

Adding to the financial difficulties was the fact that CU seemed to be paying almost as much to its former coaches as its present ones, with a revolving door of coaches costing the athletic department millions of dollars it didn’t have to spare.

Piling on to the problem was CU’s lack of adequate facilities. The athletic department knew it was behind its Pac-12 brethren in terms of infrastructure, but, with the other financial problems it faced, the reality was that things were going to get worse before they got better.

Shifting the momentum for CU athletics has been like turning around a super tanker. Quite simply, you can’t turn a tanker on a dime. First, it has to be slowed down (while still heading in the wrong direction) before efforts can be made to right the ship and turn it in a new direction.

The (negative) momentum of the CU athletic department has finally been curtailed, and the slow turn back to success is underway.

It started even before the change of athletic directors this past summer.

Much can be said about former athletic director Mike Bohn. Yes, Bohn did hire (and in 2009 wasn’t able to get rid of) Dan Hawkins, and he did hire Jon Embree … but he also brought in Mike MacIntyre. Yes, Bohn did hire Jeff Bzdelik and Kathy McConnell-Miller, but he also brought in Tad Boyle and Linda Lappe.

Whatever might be said about Mike Bohn, the instatement of Rick George as the new athletic director this past August has brought about a renewed enthusiasm for CU athletics. Rather than make announcements about future announcements as to facilities upgrades, George got the CU Board of Regents to approve a $143 million upgrade in infrastructure in and around Folsom Field.

Can the funds be raised for the new buildings?

Will the new buildings help with recruiting, which will, in turn, help with results on the field?

Time will tell.

But we’re only talking about 2013 right now.

2013, while not a great year for Buff fans, was at least a better year.

And CU is “trending up”.





2 Replies to “CU “Trending Up” in 2013”

  1. Stuart,
    I was finally able to put together my overall look at the CU football program, and how it has started to grow again after the severe drought wrought by Hawkins and Embree.

    I was so impressed with the job done by Mac and his staff overall that I believe that if David Bakhtiari had not gone pro and Alex Lewis had not decided to become a criminally inclined Husker wannabe, the Buffs would be bowling right now. Maybe not a Jan. 1st game just yet, but one of the myriad of other bowls certainly.

    Can’t wait to see the improvement of strength among the hogs on the lines this spring and next season. It might take yet another year after this before our lines are at top 20 levels, but this year our guys will be much less likely to be manhandled by the great teams in the Pac-12.

    I know I harp a lot about the line play, but it is the one true barometer of how good a team can be. Check out my evaluation if you get a chance. I still plan to take a look at what the Buffs have to be excited about and what still needs work. Those will be coming soon.


  2. Great comparison with the Super Tanker Stuart. Buff Nation has just endured the Perfect Storm, which will only make us stronger. Football is the true barometer for revelancy in college sports, but we’ve seen great progress with the other teams. I still think it will be another 3 to 4 years before the football team is in the hunt for PAC-12 glory, but I truly believe Buff Nation will be rewarded for weathering the storm. Had you told me in 1994 that we’d slip out of football relevance for 15+ years! but return with top 20 teams in football and basketball – I’d have taken that journey. I know I’ll be road tripping to a Sweet 16 venue this spring and our first bowl destination in forever (hopefully next fall, but expecting it in 2015) wherever that may be. Go Buffs!

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