Sewing a Silk Purse out of a Sow’s Ear

April is a busy month for college football fans, even with the opening kickoff to the 2015 season still five months away.

Spring practices bring about renewed hope for the upcoming year, while the NFL draft allows college fans to watch like proud parents as their former players head off to professional riches.

That is true, of course, unless you are a fan of the University of Colorado.

Spring practices ended six weeks ago in Boulder, and, if the projections of CBS Sports are to be believed, not a single Buff will have their name called in the NFL draft, which begins this Thursday.

So, on Friday afternoon, instead of checking draft websites for news on where CU players will land in the draft, I checked in … on a lacrosse game between CU and Fresno State.

Not to dismiss the efforts of the CU women’s lacrosse team (more on them later), but I would have preferred to spend time this weekend checking to see if the Buffs’ top defensive back will be going in the second or third round, and whether the Buffs’ latest great offensive tackle will be playing on the east or west coast next fall.

The drought of success at Colorado has hit Dust Bowl-like proportions. We are all familiar with the record-setting nine straight losing seasons, but being shut out of the NFL Draft is a rarity, even in these lean times. In the period from start of the common draft, in 1967, there have been only five drafts which have gone without a CU player being selected.

If the 2015 draft comes up empty for the Buffs, however, it will mark the third time in the past 11 drafts without a Buff being picked.

Or, to put it another way … In the 38 drafts between 1967 and 2004, there were only three empty drafts for the University of Colorado.

If there are no Buffs picked this weekend, it will make three empty drafts in the past 11 years (with two other drafts during that span with only one player picked, including last season, when Paul Richardson was the only Buff selected).

Rendering me all the more disconsolate this past Friday was taking on the task of writing up a Spring recap of CU football for The Saturday Edge website. The request was to do a short 500-word piece on whether CU’s offense and defense would be better or worse, and whether CU was a “Buy” or “Sell” in 2015. The task wasn’t difficult, and is one I have done before (the timing may have seemed off, but The Saturday Edge is just now publishing its spring recaps, with most teams – including four Pac-12 teams this weekend – just now wrapping up spring practices).

I tried to keep the write-up objective (you can read it here), but two stats I put into the piece surprised even me. The first was that Colorado has been 100th or worse in both total defense and scoring defense for each of the past four seasons. That is not just awful, that is historically awful … we have just become immune to it.

How bad has CU’s defense been?

The last time CU was in the top 40 teams in the nation in scoring defense? 2002.

The last time CU was in the top 40 teams in the nation in total defense? 1998.


Then there was this sobering realization: Colorado could quadruple its win total in 2015 – going from two wins to eight – and still finish in last place in the Pac-12 South.

Let’s go through that note again … slowly.

Colorado could post an epic turnaround, going from a 2-10 team in 2014 to an 8-6 team with a bowl trip in 2015 … a feat which would match the program-changing upswing from 1984 (1-10) to 1985 (7-5) … an outlandish result which would result in head coach Mike MacIntyre receiving votes for Coach-of-the-Year … a quadrupling of wins …

… and the Buffs could still finish last in the Pac-12 South.

Last year, the other five teams in the Pac-12 South finished with either nine or ten wins, with Utah finishing fifth with a 9-4 record. All of these same five teams have been mentioned in preseason Top 25 polls this spring, so it would not be outrageous to forecast that CU would have to get to eight or nine wins just to get to fifth place in its own division.

Imagine … a program which went 97 seasons (from 1915 to 2011) without ever finishing alone in last place in conference play, but which has now finished last alone in conference play in each of the past three seasons, will have to make national news just to get into fifth place and avoid a last place finish for a fourth consecutive season.


So where is the silver lining?

How do we make a silk purse out of this particular sow’s ear?

Well, we start with believing in the coaching staff. We believe that Mike MacIntyre knows what he is doing, and is putting his plan in place. We believe that the hiring of Jim Leavitt as the new defensive coordinator, combined with the influx (and return) of multiple talented players along the defensive line will make an immediate impact. We believe that Sefo Liufau can develop into a top-tier Pac-12 quarterback. We believe that the new facilities will make a difference in recruiting, and help push CU back from the abyss, and back towards the quality program which never once as a member of the Big Seven, Big Eight, or Big 12, ever finished last in conference play.

We believe … because the alternative is to give up and put away our CU gear.

And that ain’t going to happen.

In the meantime, we can celebrate how well our other CU programs are faring.

With the flagship sports – football; men’s and women’s basketball – having down seasons, the “non-revenue” sports have been faring well.

Colorado is one of only a handful of schools which can boast not one but two national champions this year. The CU men’s cross-country team successfully defended its national title this past fall, and the CU ski team brought home national championship No. 20 in March.

This past month, with no CU spring football to keep tabs on, I have bee paying more attention to the CU golf and lacrosse teams.

Both of the CU golf teams are nationally ranked, with the women ranked 39th and the men 48th. This is all the more remarkable when you consider how hard it must be to recruit quality golf prospects to Boulder. Not that there is anything wrong with Boulder, of course, but if you are a golfer, wouldn’t signing onto a program with 12-month golf weather make more sense than packing your clubs and heading to the volatile weather patterns of Colorado? That CU is competitive in golf is an achievement in and of itself.

The women’s team was not only competitive, but downright good this past weekend. The Buffs finished 5th in the Pac-12 championships, beating out four other Pac-12 schools which were ranked higher nationally than the Buffs (including besting the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, USC, by eight strokes. The four teams which finished ahead of the Buffs were ranked 6th, 28th, 7th and 3rd nationally).

And head coach Anne Kelly did it with two juniors, two sophomores, and a freshman.

Well done.

The CU women’s lacrosse team is an even more remarkable story. In only the second year of its existence, the Buffs, ranked No. 59 in the nation (out of 107 teams), guaranteed a second consecutive winning season with a 16-7 over Fresno State on Friday. The win gave CU a 9-6 overall record, and a 4-4 record in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play, clinching a spot in the MPSF tournament to be held in Denver this week. The Buffs, made up off all sophomores and freshmen (with one junior, Sarah Lautman, a holdover from the CU club lacrosse team), has more than held its own against nationally ranked powers this season.

So, while it is unlikely that cornerback Greg Henderson or punter Darragh O’Neill (CU’s highest-rated prospects) will hear their names called this upcoming weekend at the NFL draft, there are reasons for Buff fans to be keeping an eye on their student athletes.

On Monday, the four day men’s Pac-12 golf championships get underway in Pullman, Washington.

On Thursday, the MPSF women’s lacrosse championships get underway in Denver.

… I, for one, will be watching …



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