Air of Inevitability

The scene Saturday afternoon at Folsom Field was idyllic for a Buff fan.

A 65-degree afternoon in Boulder on the last weekend of November. The air was bright and clean. In the distance, mountains glistened white from recent snows.

The home team, the University of Colorado Buffaloes, was ahead in the fourth quarter. The Buffs were up, 34-31, with just over ten minutes to play in the game.

What’s more, the Buffs had the ball, taking over after coaxing a punt from the Utah offense. During the television timeout on the change of possession, the CU band struck up the school fight song.

Hard to ask for a better scenario for a 2-9 team looking to post its first conference win of the season.

And yet, there was something wrong the picture.

I looked towards the field, gazing down upon the 71 rows of fans below me, 71 rows containing some of the hardest of the hardcore CU alumni, as well as the CU student senior section.

It was a beautiful day. The home team was ahead in the fourth quarter. The defense had just forced a punt. The band was playing the school fight song …

… But no one was singing the school fight song. No one was standing. No one was cheering.

Yes, there were a few raised arms for the “Fight, Fight, Fight, Fight, Fight” at the end of the song, but there was little outward enthusiasm from the crowd.

What was wrong?

I turned to my right, and asked Tony: “Does it feel like we’re winning?”. Tony gave me a wry smile and a shake of the head. “No”, he said.

I turned to my left, and asked Brad: “Does it feel like we’re winning?”. Another knowing smile. Another negative response.

CU was up by three points, in the fourth quarter, and had the ball.

And yet, despite all of that, the three of us were thinking the same thing: CU will find a way to lose this game.

We have become so accustomed to losing over the past nine seasons that it has become second nature to be skeptical of any success.

Yes, the Buffs set numerous offensive records during the season. Yes, the Buffs had stayed close in most games … But they had yet to win any of those close games against teams with equal or superior talent.

It was almost as if there was an air of inevitability about the final outcome.

I felt it. Tony and Brad felt it. The crowd sitting on its hands during the school fight song felt it.

Two plays later, our worst suspicions were confirmed. Sefo Liufau threw an interception for a touchdown, giving Utah the lead, 38-34. Colorado had two more possessions before the end of the game, but both possessions ended near midfield with punts. CU, which had scored in each of the previous three periods, became inept and scoreless in the fourth.

Game over. Another loss.

Another close loss, to be sure, but another loss.

That being said, I also feel that there is an air of inevitability about the CU program going forward.

And it’s a positive feeling.

Let’s start with those close losses.

The Buffs were blown out in only two games – USC and Oregon – with four of the other seven conference losses coming by a combined total of 15 points.

The significance? You have to go back to 1964 … 50 seasons ago … to find a year in which the Buffs were that close in four conference losses.

“It’s like getting on a roller coaster,” said CU head coach Mike MacIntyre. “Last year’s group just buckled into the roller coaster and crept up the hill a little bit. This group crept up the hill farther. Eventually, we’ll be on the other side going downhill, and we’ll be waving our hands and enjoying all of the moments”.

Additional evidence as to why Buff fans feel better about this year’s 2-10 team than they did about last year’s 4-8 team … an obscure statistic known as “Time Spent in the Lead“.

Now, I will be the first to grant you that the only time team’s need to be in the lead is at the final gun. Colorado was ahead of Utah after the first quarter (7-3), at halftime (24-16), and at the end of the third quarter (34-31). All that matters, though, is that the Buffs were not ahead at the end of the fourth quarter.

But consider this: Colorado was in the lead for 37:10 of game clock against Utah, with the Utes ahead for 17:40.

During the 2014 season, the Buffs were in the lead 261:22 of game time, CU’s opponents, 375:25.

Now compare those numbers to –

– 2013 … CU: 197:17; opponents: 413:47; or

– 2012 … CU: 77:38; opponents: 530:04.

So, while it is true that CU won only one more game than in 2012, and three less than last year, the Buffs were in the lead considerably more often this past season … almost the equal of the past two seasons combined.

And then there is this:

While you know that it is my policy not to disparage the efforts of any player (not the quality of their work, mind you, but the effort), there is something definitive which can be noted out of the Senior Class of 2014.

They were not a heralded bunch.

The 20 seniors who were introduced before the home finale against Utah included six survivors from the Recruiting Class of 2010, 12 members of the Recruiting Class of 2011, and two transfers. Of the 20, there were nine members rated as three-star prospects by Rivals, four were two-star prospects, and six – 40% of this year’s seniors – who were walk-ons or unrated prospects.

That being said, it’s really not their fault that there Classes were so poorly rated and represented. The Recruiting Class of 2010 was the last Class brought in by Dan Hawkins. As you will recall, Hawkins should have been fired at the end of the 2009 season, but, due to some last minute dealings Thanksgiving weekend, was given a year’s reprieve. The Class he recruited and signed in February, 2010, knew – or should have known – that they were being recruited by a staff that was not likely to be there for the majority of their careers.

The Class of 2011 was also a mess, mostly because it came in the transition between Dan Hawkins and Jon Embree (with a little Brian Cabral thrown in, just to add to the chaos). Jon Embree and his offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy, were known as solid recruiters, but the Class of 2011 was a jumble of Hawkins’ leftovers and Embree last minute persuasions.

Of his senior Class, head coach Mike MacIntyre had nothing but praise and respect for their perseverance:

“This group is really building a true foundation”, said MacIntyre this past Tuesday. “I told them ‘We’re not building a little house that will only take a small slab, we’re building a skyscraper. So, you have to dig down deep. There’s a lot of hard work and there’s a lot of setting on that with the foundation, a lot of adversity that goes into that. So, there’s a lot of things that happen and to be successful, eventually, you have to have that foundation. If you don’t, you don’t have the basis to sustain it and build what you want to build’. These young men have started that foundation and I’ve talked to them about that a lot. We’ll talk about it a lot at the banquet because there’s a lot of things they’ve done. I’m very sad to see these seniors go but, at the same time, in the two years that I’ve been here with them that they’ve bought into everything that we’ve asked, they’ve done everything we’ve asked and they’ve worked at it as hard as they can. They set a good culture with our young men. I think their attitude and their belief has helped our team to keep battling and show up and play each week”.

This past season was tough on the Buffs and their fans. Two double-overtime losses (UCLA; Cal), two other games in which the Buffs had the ball in enemy territory, down by less than a touchdown, in the waning moments of the fourth quarter (Oregon State; Utah), and three other games (CSU, Arizona, Washington) in which the Buffs held a lead for a significant portion of the game.

Win a handful of those games, and we’re not talking about the worst conference record in school history. Instead, we’re talking about a bowl game in 2015.

We will still have that conversation. If not in 2015, then very soon thereafter.

There’s an air of inevitability about it.



6 Replies to “Air of Inevitability”

  1. I sure am looking forward to the near future when we can all enjoy a scene similar to what you described – 4th quarter, CU in the lead, and the stands are half empty with no one singing along to the fight song. Heck, we even used to see a lot of late interceptions, but hey, garbage time is when your backup QBs get a chance to learn on the job. This happened regularly in the early 90s, mostly when we were up 48-0 against the the Mildcats or someone similar at halftime. I thoroughly enjoyed watching those moments on the tiny TVs at the Sink while clinking shot glasses full of Jagr with my closest friends, laughing at the hilariously named “Passout Check” I held in my hand. It’s been a long time since I felt secure enough to leave a game early, and I eagerly await the return of such salad days.

  2. Great write up Stuart, and I concur with everything you wrote. Oddly enough, the people sitting around me Saturday commented on how poorly supported that one time the fight song was played that you discussed. It was almost as if no one even recognized that the band was trying to rally the fans. We were all just waiting for the inevitable back breaking play that would snatch victory from the Buff’s grasp, and it happened, and no one seemed surprised. Too bad, because, as so many times before, this team was this close and yet so far from getting the “W”

    Maybe letting Cabral go was the biggest mistake that was made in the transition. The backers certainly don’t seem to have the dominating presence that they did when he was here, plus we could always count on him to make strong inroads into the islands for recruits. Maybe they could hire Pellini, and he could scream at the officials instead of Mac!

  3. Stuart I was at the game and one of the few singing the fight song when the band played! It was a frustrating season, but the games were fun to watch. The Buffs gave people a reason to stick around until the end, which is commendable. I don’t think Liufau’s high number of interceptions would have been as much of a factor this season if the defense wasn’t giving up 30+ points per game. I think if the defense can reduce its points allowed by another score, and the offense continues to move the ball like they have been we’ll see some more victories next year.

    Go Buffs!

  4. Stuart,

    It is tough to be positive after such a long loss-filled season and I appreciate and agree with your “glass half full” comments. My guess is most of us did not realize how bad CU really was so expected a quick turn around. Our bad !

    You made a lot of great points and we all can and should expect improvement next year and in each of the years ahead. However, we have to realize the program must craw before it walks and walk before it runs.

    You are closer to the program than I, so let me ask you. Do you feel MacIntyre has the best coaching staff? I wonder if some of those heart breaking “close losses” are from us getting outcoached? Not making an accusation, but wanted to get your opinion.

    1. Millard,
      After a poor season, there are always the likelihood of some changes. It was actually a unique situation this past off-season when there were no changes on the staff.
      It wouldn’t be a surprise if there was some movement (defense, special teams), but I’m not really sure it’s the staff. There were a half dozen plays on offense Saturday where the play call was perfect, the scheme was right on … but there was poor execution – a poor pass, a missed block. The defense, especially the linebacker corps, needs help or an overhaul. I’m not sure the incoming Class will help, but with hybrid safeties/linebackers and linebackers/defensive ends, there are some mix and match options.

      We’ll see. Keep the faith!

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