Best Case / Worst Case Scenarios … Colorado Football, 2015

Three weeks from today, thousands of Buff fans will wake up, grab their smart phones, turn on the radio, or switch on their computers, looking to find out how their team fared on the late, late show in Honolulu.

The 2015 season opener against Hawai’i will finish up around 3:00 a.m., Mountain time on Friday, September 4th, with only the hardiest of Buff fans calling it a day after the final gun. For many Colorado fans, the first questions about the fate of the 2015 Buffs will only be answered after they roll out of bed on Friday morning (just so you know, the full game report will be waiting for you here at CU at the Game when you get up).

As is usually the case with a team with a string of losing seasons, a tough loss in the opener can set the tone for the entire season, eroding all of the optimism built up over the previous nine months. A win, on the other hand, can be a launching pad for a turnaround season.

Without knowing how the Hawai’i game will unfold, or how injuries/momentum/luck will affect the team week-to-week, let’s try and lay out the Buffs’ 2015, looking at both the best and worst case scenarios.

Non-conference schedule … Best case scenario

Sept. 3rd/4th – at Hawai’i … The Warriors have a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator, and a former four-star quarterback … but they are not enough to overcome Hawai’i’s deficiencies. The Colorado offense takes advantage of Hawai’i’s inexperienced defense, with the Buff defense making enough plays to keep the Warriors from making a comeback. Colorado 37, Hawai’i 27.

Sept. 12th – Massachusetts … The Minutemen had an 11-point lead on the Buffs in the third quarter in the game in Boston last fall. While UMass has a potential NFL-caliber quarterback in Blake Frohnapel, there are not enough weapons in his arsenal to make a difference in the altitude of Boulder. The CU secondary picks up its first interceptions in 12 months, turning a close game early into a fun afternoon for the Buff Nation. Colorado 41, Massachusetts 20.

Sept. 19th – v. Colorado State (Denver) … Since the CU/CSU series resumed in 1983, the teams have met eight times in games which were not the season opener. In those games, the Buffs are 7-1, with the only loss coming in the lost season of 2006, Dan Hawkins’ debut. The Rams won’t have a full month to prepare for the Buffs, and it will show. Momentum, and emotion, are on the Buffs’ side this year. Colorado 33, Colorado State 27.

Sept. 26th – Nicholls … Colorado has finished in the 100’s in multiple categories nationally, on both offense and defense, over the past few seasons. The Buffs finally get a game where they can pad their stats. Colorado 49, Nicholls 10.

Non-conference schedule … Worst case scenario

Sept. 3rd/4th – at Hawai’i … Teams travelling to play on “The Rock” have struggled over the years. Even ranked teams, taking on struggling Warrior teams, have had difficulties coming away with wins. Buffs – to the frustration of their fan base – come out flat, not adjusting well to the schemes put in place by Hawai’i’s new coordinators. Max Wittek shows why he was a coveted USC recruit. Hawai’i 31, Colorado 21.

Sept. 12th – Massachusetts … The Buffs, as was the case in 2014, are surprised early by the Minutemen. It takes all four quarters – again – to hold off UMass. Colorado comes away with a win, but a disheartened Buff fans base is left to quietly exit a half empty Folsom Field. Colorado 34, UMass 31.

Sept. 19th – v. Colorado State (Denver) … In 2014, Colorado State won ten games, while Colorado lost ten games. The Buffs dominated the play in the season opener, but could not take advantage of multiple scoring opportunities. When the Rams hit the Buffs in the mouth in the second half, the Buffs failed to respond. Same song. Different year. Colorado State 30, Colorado 24.

Sept. 26th – Nicholls … When things are going poorly, every opponent looks like Alabama. During difficult seasons, Colorado had difficulties with teams like Charleston-Southern, Eastern Washington, and Central Arkansas (we won’t even mention Montana State and Sacramento State). Before the smallest crowd in Folsom in 40 years, the Buffs pick up win No. 2, but limp into Pac-12 play with a 2-2 record. Colorado 35, Nicholls 24.

Pac-12 conference schedule … Best case scenario

Oct. 3rd – Oregon … With a 4-0 non-conference mark, the Buffs are brimming with confidence against an Oregon team still smarting from a tough loss to Michigan State in Week Two, and a harder-than-expected physical win over Utah in Week Four. As was the case the last time the Ducks came to Boulder, Colorado hangs with Oregon for a quarter. Unlike the 2013 game, though, this time CU remains competitive throughout. Oregon 49, Colorado 38.

Oct. 10th – at Arizona State … The first two times Colorado visited Tempe as a member of the Pac-12, the results were gruesome – 48-14 in 2011; 54-13 in 2013. The 4-1 Buffs are much improved, but not enough to overcome talented teams on the road. Arizona State 40, Colorado 27.

Oct. 17th – Arizona … Entering the most crucial two-game stretch of the conference season, the 4-2 Buffs take on another 4-2 team in Arizona. The defending Pac-12 South champions, though, are looking up at the rest of the division after early losses to UCLA and Stanford. Sefo Liufau and Nelson Spruce have a field day against a secondary which has been exposed in the early season. Colorado 42, Arizona 28.

Oct. 24th – at Oregon State … It’s all about momentum. Colorado travels to Corvallis with a 5-2 record, and with the Buff Nation abuzz about bowl possibilities. The Beavers, though, have been exposed as the worst team in the Pac-12. Humbling losses to Michigan and Stanford in September have been followed by road losses to Arizona and Washington State to open the October campaign. The Beavers are home for the first time in a month, but no one in Corvallis in the stands to notice. A small, wet contingent of Buff fans sign the fight song with the team after a big road win. Colorado 28, Oregon State 20.

Oct. 31st – at UCLA … It’s Halloween at the Los Angeles Coliseum, but its more tricks than treats for the Buffs. The Bruins are one of the best teams in the nation, and are cruising through the easy part of their schedule (Cal, Colorado, Oregon State, Washington State). UCLA 51, Colorado 27.

Nov. 7th – Stanford … It’s a trap game for the Cardinal. The de facto Pac-12 North championship game is coming at home the following weekend against Oregon. The Buffs are playing for a bowl berth and respect; the Cardinal are just trying to get out of town with a win. In a close, dramatic game, the Buffs show the nation that they are – almost – back. Stanford 35, Colorado 31.

Nov. 13th – USC … ESPN is contractually obligated to show Colorado on its networks at least once in awhile. How better to get that obligation out of the way than on a Friday night, with a national brand opponent to bring in the casual fan? ESPN – and the Trojans – get more of a game than they expected. USC 30, Colorado 27.

Nov. 21st – at Washington State … The last time Colorado played the Cougars, it was during the 2012 season. In an otherwise forgettable 1-11 season, the sole victory for the Buffs that year was an unlikely comeback 35-34 win over Washington State in Pullman. This time, the national attention for the game centers on whether embattled WSU head coach Mike Leach, heading for his fourth straight losing season in the Palouse, will be around in 2016. Buffs pick up win No. 7 and start preparing for bowl season. Colorado 37, Washington State 28.

Nov. 28th – at Utah … The Utes came into 2015 season off of a 9-4 campaign and with some momentum. Road losses to Oregon, USC and Arizona, though, coupled with a tough home loss to UCLA the weekend before the Buff invasion, have taken some of the steam out of the Utes’ season. Bowl-eligible, but once again far removed from top tier consideration, Utah has less to play for than its “rival”, which brings in serious momentum to the contest. Colorado 28, Utah 20.

Jan. 2, 2016 – Cactus Bowl – v. Kansas State – Tempe, Arizona … Despite the fact that the Buffs’ 8-5, 4-5 record is better than some of the other bowl-eligible teams in the Pac-12, Colorado is relegated to the last selection amongst the Pac-12 bowl tie-ins. The Buffs are matched with former Big 12 foe, Kansas State. Wildcats’ head coach Bill Snyder has announced that this game will be his last. Speculation that CU defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, who coached for Snyder, will be Snyder’s replacement, is the biggest story leading up to the game. Leavitt tells everyone who will listen that he wants to stay in Boulder, and his defense responds with its best game of the season. Colorado finishes 9-5, only one fewer win than the previous four seasons combined. Colorado 27, Kansas State 17.

Pac-12 conference schedule … Worst case scenario

Do we really want to go there?

Colorado has lost its last 11 Pac-12 conference games, dating back to a November, 2013, win over California. The Buffs are 4-32 in their four years in the conference, and, if they limp into the Pac-12 with a 2-2 record this fall, all bets are off in terms of winning many – if any – conference games.

Oct. 3rd  – Oregon … Colorado vs. Oregon in the Pac-12: 45-2; 70-14; 57-16; and 44-10 … an average of 54-10. Sounds about right.

Oct. 10th – at Arizona State … CU’s two trips to Tempe as a member of the Pac-12:  48-14 and 54-13 … an average of 51-14. Repeat.

Oct. 17th – Arizona …  The reeling 2-4 Buffs are no match for quarterback Anu Solomon and his array of weapons. Arizona 45, Colorado 27.

Oct. 24th – at Oregon State … The “Battle for the Basement” of the Pac-12 … the home team wins an ugly game. Oregon State 27, Colorado 20.

Oct. 31st – at UCLA … Colorado had a Halloween massacre in 1992, falling to Nebraska 52-7. The only difference: that Buff team came into the game tied with the Cornhuskers as the No. 8 team in the nation. UCLA 52, Colorado 7.

Nov. 7th – Stanford … Four games left to in the season, the Buffs are out of bowl contention, and the fan base is looking with hopeful eyes towards basketball season. Stanford 35, Colorado 10.

Nov. 13th – USC … In the final home game of the season, the Buffs try to play with some emotion before a national television audience. Between pans of a half-empty stadium, ESPN announcers wonder whether Mike MacIntyre can survive another winless Pac-12 campaign. USC rests its starters in the second half, prepping for its showdown with Oregon, keeping the score more respectable. USC 48, Colorado 28.

Nov. 21st – at Washington State … Jon Embree found some magic in Pullman in 2012, with the Buffs only win in a 1-11 season. No such luck this year, as a cold but largely satisfied home crowd sends off its senior class with a win. Washington State 40, Colorado 28.

Nov. 28th – at Utah … Neither Utah nor Colorado fans think much of the manufactured “rivalry” between the two programs, but Ute fans are the ones looking down their noses as the Buffs. Utah goes bowling again with another nine win season, while Colorado limps into the 2016 season with a 2-11 record and a 20-game Pac-12 losing streak. Utah 27, Colorado 13.

So, which will it be?

A 9-5 record and national adulation for a seven game turnaround?

Or a 2-11 embarrassment, with calls for yet another regime change?

Probably somewhere in between. Most pundits, as well as Las Vegas, seem to have the Buffs somewhere between 5-8 and 6-7, with a 4-9 record on the low end, and a bowl bid on the high.

Let the games begin …




9 Replies to “Best Case / Worst Case”

  1. It s a classic Liufau-to-Spruce game from the jump as the two connect for first down after first down, touchdown after touchdown, the combo can t be stopped, but the Buffs defense looks to have taken the day off themselves, allowing tailback Nick Wilson to do his best Kadeem Carey impression. The teams go back and fourth all day, it s an old fashioned shootout.

  2. As an eternal optimist i see the Buffs pulling out a win against either Stanford or USC. And if everything goes the way you foresee up to that point, that friday night game against USC could be the return to magic at Folsom. I pray my optimism proves true but we will see. Go CU!

  3. I always find it interesting that “worst case” scenarios ALWAYS have the Buffs opponents playing unrivaled , great football, always at the top of their game, while the Buffs are pegged at playing down to “DanHawkins/Jon Embree” level of play, while nothing we have seen under HCMM’s teams HAVE EVER SHOWN THIS TO BE THE CASE.

    This is a talented, developing team that was a decent defensive coordinator away from being 8-4 last year. Yet, no one wants to acknowledge that. CU has shown they are a more than competitive physically in the Pac 12 and that their mental gap is closing, with no quit in them.

    Acknowledge that and stop with the “Woe is us, we might be looking at a new coach” crap! Even if your’ worst case is hypothetical; Hawkins and Embree left the building some time ago.

    Its frankly tiring to read the same old stuff, implying their cloud is still in place. Just as its tiring to presume that all CU’s opponents play nothing but wonderfully. Look at UCLA: lost a huge lead at ASU, before ASU tanks on their own and should have lost to the Buffs. ASU itself blew a huge lead at home to a very mediocre Notre Dame, before hanging on for dear life. The Devils were trying to stop a Buff drive (and did with a Pass int.) that would have cut the lead to 7, with 6 minutes to go in a game where they lost their starting QB and the back-up QB was choking badly.The Cal game and OSU game were stolen by poor officiating. UA looked terrible at home and needed three TDs from Sefo turnovers to win that game. Utah showed little life in Boulder, only a another Sefo TO saved their bacon. Point is, the opponents don’t play perfectly, which is what your worst case requires.

    Buffs are no longer playing with a stolid, unimaginative DC, which is what Baer was. (There is a reason Baer was a DC at EIGHT different programs, rarely lasting more than a couple years in that position at any one school!) Leavitt has talent, energy, track record and has players. Worst case denigrates that entirely; which is just plain silly.

  4. Reality of a season is that a team like CU -regardless of record at the time- will lose a game it should win and lose one it shouldn’t. I think they have 7-8 win potential, but special teams will likely cost them a game somewhere and the pick-six show has to be remedied from the QB position before they can realize that potential.

    I’ll be at Oregon and usc games, hold serve on what they should win, and I’m hoping one of those is an upset for the buffs.

  5. Nice article, Stuart. Interesting. I agree this Buff team has an outside chance to catch fire and win 9 games, but most likely, they are going to be right in that 4-8 win range. In the last few years, I have been thinking that CSU game was the pivotal one. This year, though, I really think it is Hawaii. Sort of a trap game, considering the travel, the really, really late start, etc. However, if the Buffs can beat Hawaii handily and then trounce UMass the next week, I am pretty confident they are going to go 4-0 in non-con and win 1 or 2 of those first 3 games against Oregon, ASU and UofA and go bowling from there. The key is the fast start at Hawaii and then crushing UMass. If so, I predict a bowl.

  6. Yo Stuart,

    I appreciate your effort to look at best and worst case scenarios over the entire season… but things don’t always work out that way. Look back at 1986, the year the Buffs finally broke through and beat Nebraska. Up until that game (as you pointed out in your post) the Buffs were suffering. O-4 to start the season and only 2-4 when the Fuskers showed up. That win against the #3 Bugeaters catapulted the Buffs to only one more loss during the regular season and a trip to go bowling.

    I am hoping you review and renew your best and worst case scenarios before each game, because (and I think you’ll agree) that you can never really tell when the magical turning point will be reached. That game against Nebraska ending years of futility really was the turning point that led the Buffs to becoming a national powerhouse and ultimately winning the National Championship.

    The question for the Buff this year is: Who will they beat that no one would have predicted? We have yet to EVER beat USC or ASU, and our wins since joining the Pac-12 have been way too few. Whose door will the Buffs kick down this year and announce that they are no longer a walkover? I myself feel it will happen this year, but the question remains as to when.


  7. Thanks for a short worst-case! A thoughtful and realistic evaluation of the possibilities coming this season, which goes to show how critical a solid year this needs to be.

    With a 1985 type year, this team could be on the cusp of a move back to respectability, even better with a 1986 type year.

    Have another year like the last 10, and who knows how low this could go. What is concerning is that both the worst and best case laid out are as likely as the other, and that is what tries the souls of Buffs fans. Here’s to the best case scenario, may it be our fate!

  8. Great article Stuart. I hope to be one of the “small contingent of rain soaked fans” this fall in Corvallis that is singing the fight song. I have a dumb question: I live about 60 mile from Corvallis and am looking forward to seeing the Buffs live for the first time in over 25 years. I would like to sit in the Buffs section if at all possible. Where do I find those tickets? Thanks in advance

    1. The CU ticket site for road games is here, if you don’t want to go through StubHub or other ticket sites.
      Glad you are going to the Oregon State game … I’ll be there with my rain poncho. Look for the tall guy with the CU at the Game hat, and stop by to say “hi”. A CU at the Game mousepad will be waiting for you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *