Arguing With … Myself – Part Two

or … Colorado Football – 2015: Drinking the “Kool-Aid”… or drinking the “Cool-Aid”

As noted in “Arguing with … Myself” – Part One, there is plenty of reason for optimism – and pessimism – when trying to gauge how the 2015 Colorado Buffs will fare.

Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre, at the Pac-12 Media Days, said: “We’re going to win a lot of those close games this year … We expect to win every game”.

We’ll see.

The Buffs are coming off of a 2-10 season, with an 0-9 goose egg in Pac-12 play. For Colorado, there is – literally – no where to go but up.

So, as Fall Camp opens, let’s do a bit of point/counter-point, listing reasons to drink the CU Kool-Aid this August, along with some reasons to drink the “Cool”-Aid.

We’ll started with the “Reasons for Optimism“, so now we turn to the “Reasons for Pessimism”.

Reasons to Drink the Colorado “Cool-Aid” …

1. Every team in the Pac-12 South won at least nine games last season

Much has been made about how close Colorado came to winning several games last season.

But here is a sobering thought:

Colorado could have defeated Colorado State last season, won both of its double-overtime games (against Cal and UCLA), and finished off its amazing comeback against Oregon State. The Buffs could have finished with a 6-6 record, earned their first bowl bid since 2007 …

… and still would have finished dead last in the Pac-12 South.

That’s the ridiculously high bar the other teams in the Pac-12 South have set.

Neill Woelk (welcome back, Neill!) has, of course, posted an article which is right on point. His “Buffs’ Task is to Improve in Nation’s Toughest Division” has some quotes from fellow sportswriters which sums up CU’s dilemma:

“Their Pac-12 home schedule is the schedule from hell,” said Dennis Dodd, senior college football columnist for “This is one of those quintessential, ‘They may be better, but it may not show in their record’ situations.”

“I think the Buffs would be a bowl team if they played in the Pac-12 North,” said Ryan Thorburn of the Eugene Register-Guard. “Unfortunately, they play in the best division in college football. I think they are definitely going to be better, but it might not show up in the win column.”

And this from Dan Wolken of the USA Today: “It’s going to be difficult for them to show improvement in that division,” Wolken said. “I don’t envy Mike MacIntyre. He’s a good coach and headed in the right direction, but everyone else in that division got a head start on him. It’s not an easy situation. He’s shown he can do it before, but it’s not going to be easy for him to catch up.”

Counter-point … It will only take two or three Pac-12 wins to go bowling

As noted in the first installment, on paper Colorado is favored to win all four of its non-conference games. The Buffs are at least a touchdown favorite over Hawai’i and Colorado State, the toughest two non-conference opponents, and will likely be even bigger favorites over UMass and Nicholls.

So, let’s suppose, for the moment, that CU holds serve, and finishes September 4-0. That would mean Colorado would need three Pac-12 wins to go be bowl eligible (there are some scenarios in which a 6-7 Buff team could go bowling, but we’ll save that discussion for November, should the need arise).

All four of CU’s Pac-12 home games come against teams which are ranked in the USA Today preseason coaches poll – No. 5 Oregon; No. 10 USC; No. 21 Stanford and No. 22 Arizona. While it difficult to predict CU defeating a ranked team, if the Buffs are going to do it, it will likely come at home. If I had to pick one upset of a ranked team, I’d go with the only one of the four ranked home opponents the Buffs have defeated as a member of the Pac-12 … Arizona.

Can CU pick up two – or perhaps three – road wins in Pac-12 play? Throw out No. 16 Arizona State (the Buffs have stunk it up in their first two trips to Tempe as members of the Pac-12) and No. 14 UCLA. This leaves Oregon State, Washington State, and Utah as the Buffs’ best chances at road victories.

Let’s start with Oregon State. The Beavers have a new head coach and no quarterback, and have to play Michigan and Stanford in September. Colorado is the only home game (Oct. 24th) for the Beavers in the entire month of October, and may be beaten down by the time the Buffs get to Corvallis. A possible CU win.

Washington State and Utah close out the Buffs’ 2015 schedule. The Buffs won the last time they ventured into the Palouse, and won’t be intimidated by November weather in Pullman.

If – if – the Buffs run out to a 4-0 non-conference record, and if the Buffs can pick up a pair of road wins before Thanksgiving … it might all come down to the finale against Utah to decide CU’s bowl fate.

If the Buffs have six wins by the time they head to Salt Lake City, I like their chances to get to No. 7.

2. The Buffs have lost Josh Tupou, and have no kicker or punter

Stop me if you have heard this before … The Colorado athletic department seems to have a bizarre relationship with its hometown of Boulder, and even with its own University administration.

Latest case in point – defensive lineman Josh Tupou.

Cleared of any criminal charges stemming from an off-campus brawl in February, Tupou was nonetheless suspended by the University, forcing him off the team for the 2015 season.

The 6-foot-3, 325-pounder from Buena Park, Calif., had started all 24 games the past two seasons and had made 31 starts in his three-year career. Last season, Tupou played 642 snaps, recording 42 tackles and three sacks. He earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention in 2014.

But Tupou was not the only player lost.

Kicker Will Oliver and punter Darragh O’Neill, both four year starters, will have to be replaced. Colorado has tried to recruit new players at those positions over the past few seasons, but has been largely unsuccessful. Diego Gonzalez and Chris Graham have both auditioned for the roles, but neither has proven themselves to be the next starter at either position.

And it’s not like you need a dependable kicker or punter to win close games, right?

Counter-point … Buffs do have the bodies to replace Tupou, Oliver and O’Neill

Granted, the loss of Josh Tupou is huge. No argument – the Buffs would have been much better off with a proven defensive lineman of Tupou’s caliber in the starting lineup.

But, for a change, there are alternatives in the lineup.

Where to start? In addition to returning starters Derek McCartney and Justin Solis, CU welcomes back former starters Tyler Henington (injury) and Samson Kafovalu (personal reasons) to the fold. Then there are the junior college transfers Jordan Carrell and Leo Jackson, who will start the season as the primary backups to Solis and Kafovalu.

Add in contributors from last season, like Clay Norgard and Eddy Lopez, and red-shirt freshmen earning their first playing time, like Terran Hasselback and Jase Franke, and you have the makings of a productive defensive line.

Even without Tupou.

As to the kicking game, the Buffs may have put all of their eggs into one basket – incoming freshman Alex Kinney – but its a pretty nice basket.

Kinney will bring the following numbers to Boulder … As a senior, he averaged 41.6 yards for 47 punts, with a long of 66 and nine inside-the-20; he scored 58 points as he made all 34 of his extra point kicks and 8-of-12 field goals, including a 57-yard boot that tied the eighth-longest in state history. In addition, 51 of his 54 kickoffs went for touchback.

Kinney might not take both jobs (probably punter; probably not kicker), but he does give the Buff Nation hopes that CU has found another four-year starter for at least one of those positions.

3. You can’t just turn the Titanic on a dime. Losing begets losing, and it’s a habit for the CU program

I endured the worst period in Colorado football history.

From 1979-84, the Buffs posted six straight losing seasons, including two 1-10 campaigns.

In the then 90+ year history of the program, Buff fans had never before been asked to go six straight years without a winning campaign. When the Buffs climbed out of the hole in 1985, the worst of the worst had been survived.

Or at least that’s what we thought.

The current streak of losing seasons is now at nine, with a tenth consecutive losing season all but conceded. Going from 2-10 last season to 7-6 this fall – with eight teams on the calendar which won eight or more games last season – seems ludicrous.

And there are just too many numbers to overcome.

Last season, Colorado was 100th or worse in too many categories to recount, but 100th in passing defense, 102nd in rushing defense, 111th in total defense and 116th in scoring defense paint a pretty clear picture.

Okay, throw in one more … 112th in turnover margin.

None of the players on the roster have seen a winning season. Sixth year senior Jered Bell, the oldest of the Buffs, was in junior high the last time CU posted a winning season.

These players weren’t even born when Colorado won its national championship, and most were in elementary school when CU last won a conference title.

Losing is a habit, and these players are used to losing.

Counter-point … But it doesn’t take much to turn it around

Texas Christian went from 4-8 in 2013 to 12-1 and complaining about not being in the national championship playoffs in 2014.

No one is predicting such an immediate turnaround at Colorado, but it’s not as if the chances of a winning season are prohibitive.

Phil Steele is one prognosticator who is bullish on the Buffs. Steele predicted Colorado to be one of the most improved teams in the country this year, with his “Turnover = Turnaround” article also noting that the Buffs will have much to gain by simply hanging onto the ball more often this year … and by taking it away more often.

Then there is 1985.

It was 30 years ago (damn, I’m getting old!) that Bill McCartney took a team which had gone 1-10 the year before and turned it into a bowl team in 1985. The 7-5 season ended a (then record) string of six consecutive losing seasons, and ushered in a run of 12 consecutive campaigns without a losing season.

Now, it doesn’t appear likely – even with the closed practices – that Colorado will come out September 3rd with a wishbone offense, so the solution of 1985 aren’t available in 2015. That being said, having depth and experience on the team, and bringing in a new defensive coordinator and new safeties coach (don’t forget about Joe Tumpkin, who also has experience as a defensive coordinator) will certainly add a new vitality to the defensive roster.

It’s a crapshoot.

Colorado could finally turn a corner in 2015, or just post closer losses. It’s hard to predict the future, especially when that future is dependent upon the decision-making abilities and fragile psyches of a bunch of 19- and 20-year olds.

All I can tell you is that for me, personally, I am more excited about 2015 than I was about 2014. Even though the Buffs had gone from 1-11 in 2012 to 4-8 in 2013, there were storm clouds on the horizon, and I was not optimistic about the 2014 season.

This year, as Fall Camp opens, I am excited about the possibilities. I can foresee better play in the non-conference games, and an upset of a ranked team sometime in Pac-12 play (and it’s not as if the Buffs won’t have plenty of chances, with half of the conference ranked in the USA Today coaches preseason poll).

We’ll see …


— In case you missed it, here is “Arguing With … Myself – Part One

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One Reply to “Arguing With Myself – Part 2”

  1. One thing I have not seen mentioned one way or another is that we lost a lot of games at the end. The defense always seemed tired, especially the line. With the added depth on the line I think we will be tougher and should be in a better position to make those plays we needed to make last year.

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