Buffs Still a Year Away

I was in a good mood.

It was Thursday night, with the weekend already well within sight. To make things better, the Pac-12 Networks were devoting their Thursday evening coverage to the University of Colorado.

What more could a Buff fan ask for?

The Pac-12 Networks started the evening with a show called “Timelines”, in which the success of the school’s teams from the previous year were showcased. Askia Booker’s game-winning three-pointer against Kansas was shown at least three times, and there was coverage of Buff football, soccer, skiing, and track and field. There was (insufficient) homage paid to CU’s national championship cross country men’s team, and a few highlights of CU lacrosse (without mentioning that the Buffs went 11-8 despite it being their inaugural season).

Not great, but it’s always fun to relive positive memories, and that’s what highlight shows are all about.

The evening was capped by an hour-long show featuring Fall Camp at the University of Colorado. Coach MacIntyre was interviewed by the Pac-12 crew (which included former CU head coach Rick Neuheisel). Also interviewed were defensive coordinator Kent Baer, linebackers Addison Gillam and Juda Parker, wide receivers D.D. Goodson and Bryce Bobo, and quarterback Sefo Liufau. It wasn’t a bad show, but there was little in the way of new insights or revelation … about what you would expect from a preview show.

In between the “Timelines” and “Fall Camp Preview” programs, the Pac-12 Networks aired two CU games from 2013, the Cal game in Boulder and the season finale against Utah in Salt Lake City, with both games condensed to one hour shows.

Knowing the outcomes of both games, I opted not to watch the Utah game (a 24-17 loss), choosing instead to watch the Colorado/Cal game (a 41-24 victory). I didn’t remember all of the highlights of the game against the Bears (the Nelson Spruce return of an onside kick for a touchdown the one memorable play which immediately came to mind), but I did recall that the outcome was positive, and that the Buffs won the game fairly comfortably.

Thing is … I kinda wish now that I hadn’t watched the game again …

Drinking the Kool-Aid

The phrase “Hope springs eternal” comes from a poem written by Alexander Pope, and was penned some 150 years before the first college football game was played. Still, it might best be used to describe the way college football fans treat every spring, as with the birth of a new year comes the resurrection of new hopes and dreams.

“Every team is undefeated in Fall Camp” is another phrase which can easily be applied to most college football fans – especially by the fans who are realistically looking at another losing season.

Colorado fans are now almost nine full months removed from the 2013 season. Nine months is a long time to allow wounds to heal, a long time to allow our memories to fade and become just a tad distorted.

I’m as guilty as the next guy in allowing my optimism meter to rise along with the temperature since the calendar turned to 2014.

After all, Colorado went from one win in 2012 to four wins in 2013. Colorado improved in 29 – 29! – statistical categories in just one season under Mike MacIntyre.

“Attitude and confidence in what you are doing is everything,” said Mike MacIntyre, whose three year metamorphosis from rancid to ranked while head coach at San Jose State is tattooed into the memory banks of every Buff fan. “The culture had to change to where when our guys stepped on the field that they had to believe that they could beat anybody. By the end of the season, that change took place”.

Is that how you remember the end of the 2013 season, with a feeling that the Buffs were playing better, and beginning to believe that they could beat anybody?

Me, too.

That was, I should say, until I re-watched the Colorado/Cal game.

Cold Splash of Reality

Let’s start with some numbers.

Colorado was 1-8 in the Pac-12 last season. The average score of last season’s conference games: 44-20. Take away the 41-24 win over Cal, and the average score of CU’s eight Pac-12 losses was 46-17.

That’s a four-touchdown differential, folks.

Did things improve as the season went along? Were the Buffs actually believing “that they could beat anybody” towards the end of the 2013 season?

Well, the average score of CU’s four Pac-12 losses in November was only marginally better than before, with the Buffs losing by an average score of 44-19.

Sure, we already knew these numbers, but what brought back to me the reality of how far CU has still to go came while watching the Cal game replay.

Colorado won its only game against a BCS opponent in 2013 by a convincing score of 41-24. The Buffs took an early 10-0 lead, had a 24-10 advantage at the halftime break, and pushed the lead to 34-10 in the fourth quarter before coasting home to a 17-point win. Colorado had 485 yards of total offense against Cal, with Sefo Liufau completing 23-of-36 passes for 364 yards and three touchdowns.

What’s not to like?

Well, plenty.

The offense scored only three touchdowns in six red zone opportunities (and yes, I know that Coach MacIntyre and the Buffs are emphasizing red zone success this off-season). The Buffs rushed for 121 yards on 38 carries, a paltry 3.1 yards per rush average … against a team which was 122nd in the nation in total defense in 2013. The Colorado defense, meanwhile, gave up 197 yards rushing to an offense which finished 107th nationally in rushing.

Even when Cal was trying to run out the clock (apparently out of habit, being used to having the game out of hand by the fourth quarter), the Bears were successful against the Buff defense. Down three scores in the fourth quarter, Cal ran the ball 17 times (to ten passes), and still managed to score two touchdowns. Had the Bears not botched an onside kick (the one Nelson Spruce ran back for a touchdown), things might have gotten dicey towards the end.

All this against a Cal team which came to Boulder riding an eight-game losing streak, a team whose only win of the 2013 season coming early in a 37-30 squeaker at home against Portland State.

Yes, Colorado improved dramatically from 2012 to 2013.

Yes, the Buff offense went from scoring 17.8 points per game to 25.8 – a touchdown more per game.

Yes, the Buff defense went from giving up 46.0 points per game to 38.3 – a touchdown less per game.

If the Buffs make similar leaps in 2014 – a touchdown more per game on offense; a touchdown less per game on defense – we’re looking at a .500 team.

Possible, but not likely.

Where’s the Optimism?

Don’t get me wrong.

I like coach MacIntyre and his staff. I believe that they are recruiting players to fit their system, and coaching them up the right way.

I do believe Colorado is heading in the right direction.

I’m just not convinced we’ll see the proof of it in the win column this year.

For Colorado to make it to a bowl game in 2014, Buff fans are counting on CU winning at least two games on the road – at Massachusetts and at California.

A reasonable expectation. Colorado could – and should – be favored in both of those games.

But then there is this annoying reality that the Colorado football program has posted all of two road victories … in the past six seasons (that’s a 2-31 record in true road games, folks).

Yikes!

Can Colorado win two on the road, take down CSU in the Rocky Mountain Showdown, handle Hawai’i, and find at least two other home Pac-12 wins?

Sure. As Coach MacIntyre puts it, Colorado this season will be trying to go 1-0 each week. The Buffs will go out and try and win each game, taking each week as it comes, and count up the wins and losses at the end of the season.

I’d actually be happy if Colorado put up totals like Utah did in 2013 – 5-7, 2-7. The Utes were tantalizingly close in several Pac-12 games – a 51-48 overtime loss to Oregon State, a 34-27 loss to UCLA, a 20-19 loss to Arizona State – to go with a spirit-raising 27-21 upset of No. 5 Stanford.

Would close losses be frustrating? Hell, yes. It would be agonizing to be that close to a bowl game, and still come up short.

But CU has to get closer to the rest of the Pac-12, in both talent and experience, before it can expect to start winning those games.

2014 is all about being competitive. It’s about getting close. Knocking on the door.

2015 can then be the season when the Buffs kick the door in …

——

10 Replies to “Buffs Still a Year Away”

  1. its hard to say what will happen would love to be surprized by the team and see yhem do better then we think . Coaching and heart talent speed and a alot of luck will help .but what flavor of kool aid do I have to drink to get all that? I will still hope for the best and be a Buff fan for life . Go Buffs

  2. Talent and experience can only get a team so far. Probably the most important ingredients of a successful football team are the intangibles. Successful coaches know how to create and instill the magic of synergism into a team. There is no doubt that Coach MacIntyre knows this just as deeply as Coach McCarthy knew it when he brought that national championship to the Buffs.
    Old buff fans will remember the Sal Aunese story and how his tragic death propelled the Buffs into the national title game in 1989, against criticism that they were using his death to play above their level. The name “Sal” was sewn onto their jerseys and his locker became a memorial throughout the year. I remember reading sports stories about this and thinking what better way to honor Sal than for the team to win it for him.
    Coach Mac II definitely does not have the talent or experience on this team to match up toe to toe with our Pac 12 opponents, but he is bringing back some of that old magic of playing outside of oneself for the team, the family. There is an obvious shift taking place in the team’s attitude which will compensate for being physically overmatched in most games. It’s exciting to see this chemistry develop – to feel how this diverse collection of individual players is coming together in an “UNCOMMON” way and becoming an unbreakable band of brothers. Coach Mac II is above all a people person who understands how to bring out the best in EVERYONE. That is the sure fire formula to becoming a winner.
    Stuart, I appreciate your reality check with this article and in general agree with most everything you say about 2014’s prospects and the year after. The Pac 12 is no doubt the strongest conference in the country this year and it will be a huge challenge to get those 6 wins to get to a bowl, but with some of that old Buff magic, it might turn out to be one of those Cinderella stories that makes us all such huge sports fans. Thank you Stuart for your very thoughtful and informative website – you are an amazing guy.
    GO BUFFS!

  3. Not so fast, Stu…

    Have a look at the swing of Sefo’s improvement from being thrown to the wolves, or sundevils, to playing the final game against Utah.

    He threw 1 touchdown in each of his first 5 games. He also threw 5 interceptions in that same span. In his final three games? Seven touchdowns, to three interceptions. Yes, it’s possible to argue the competition wasn’t as tough. Yes, it’s possible to argue he’ll have a sophomore slump.

    I’m not arguing either of those. Instead, I argue that with his talent, but more importantly intelligence and work ethic, he will progress remarkably in his sophomore campaign.

    And, QB is not the only position where results improved as the season progressed. As we know, this is a young team. But, it’s far from devoid of talent, and we’re seeing that they’re well coached. Possibly, and in my belief definitely, very, very well coached.

    There’s your cup o Sunday AM kool-aid. Enjoy.

    It’ll taste even better on August 30, but you’ll have to enjoy it that Saturday instead of Sunday.

    Go Buffs!

  4. I think everybody pretty much expects the Buffs to win 4 games and lose a few more by a tight margin, at least this is what I am counting on. I will say this, however. when I saw them practice this year there was one major difference in this team than any other in the past 10 seasons. Speed! This team does not just have a couple of speedsters like in the past, there is abundant speed on both sides of the ball and the overall physical appearance of the starters is beginning to look like an FBS team. It was hard to judge the physical conditioning as it was the second practice of the day during a typical Dog Day afternoon but the attitude of the players was 180 from when Embree left. The coaches were not screaming like an alcoholic stepfather, heads were up and tails were wagging. The injury to Jared Bell is a major setback and might completely change the chemistry of what was shaping up to be a decent secondary compared to the post Jimmy Smith days, but, oh well. If these kids can pull off one upset in 4 or 5 wins it would be wonderful. I can’t help but remember Mccartneys 2nd or third season so I’m trying to say stay off the Kool Aid, for now….

    1. Rob, I really like your perspective. I would like to add something to your reluctance to buy into chugging some Black and Gold Kool-Aid, however which is mostly spelled H-O-P-E.

      It’s difficult to go forward without hope.

      For us fans, it’s digesting the Kool-Aid that gives us hope…. but, it’s also a combination of things that stimulates optimism beginning with COACH MM. His philosophy. His charisma. His ability to sell his product to the kids, to the fans, and to some degree, the media. His ability to recruit diamonds in the rough and his ability to change a culture which requires changing an established standard of thinking. His ability to instill in his players the confidence necessary to become winners. His ability to create a desire in his players to do their very best against all odds up until the game clock reads 0:00, no matter the opponent or the score.

      So, don’t be afraid to sip a little Black and Gold Rob. (In England, they have a product – a beverage – called Black and Tan…. but that’s not Kool-Aid). Rob, it won’t hurt imbibe just a smidget of Black and Gold.

      This is the year of the Metamorphosis!!!! A 500. season will surpass my expectations and will not disappoint me if it doesn’t as I think the foundation is in place to build the future.

  5. Further, in 2015 this year’s top 6-7 PAC 12 QB’s should be playing in the NFL so Sefo should rise to the top 1/2 of the league. The problem with 2015 is the schedule…beatable teams on the road and best teams at home…looks much more difficult to me than this year.

  6. Yo Stuart,

    It all comes down to the hogs in the trenches, especially in Pac-12 play. If our O-line guys continue to be torched by fast defenders (see Anthony Barr in the UCLA game) and outmuscled on a weekly basis, it will be difficult for the Buffs to go bowling this season.

    Unlike last season, where the O-line depth was non-existent, this year Mac has some depth to work with. Finding a combination that best protects Sefo and opens up some holes for the RB’s will be huge.

    The Buffs made major strides last year compared to 2012. They will make major strides again this year. While I would love to see the Buffs again in the bowl picture, what must come first is still being in the game in the 4th quarter. A loss by 7 points is still a loss, but it is a great improvement than a loss by 20 or more.

    By 2015, the Buffs should have had enough time in Dave Forman’s strength and conditioning program to be as strong as most teams in the Pac-12 and the country. The rest is just learning to win.

    What we need to watch for starting against CSU is cutting way down on the 3 and outs. It puts a great stress on the defense. Control the ball and control the clock and it will limit the opportunity for the other folks to put points on the board.

    Right now, I will wait until ASU comes to town before making a prediction. It will be a great barometer of how far the Buffs have come since last year.

    Keep up the great work. It’s time for me to start up my own blog again for the season.

    Mark
    Boulderdevil

  7. I think this article is the proper view on the buffs. I’d be happy if we can raise the offensive points per game by seven and lower the defensive points per game by seven again. This would suddenly make a four touchdown differential a two touchdown differential. Suddenly with a couple hops this way or that and we might snag a big win with some team overlooking the Buffs. Still wouldnt mean “we’ve arrived” as I remember our Buffs beating a few great teams during the Hawkins era and look what happened. Still I think coach Mac has brought an attitude about all things in life(his own weight loss included) that is quite refreshing and perfect for this team. Go Buffs!!!!

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