Changing of the Guard

There was a seismic event in the Bay Area this weekend … and it had nothing to do with earthquakes.

Stanford and Oregon, the two teams which have won all five of the Pac-12 titles to date, officially bowed out of the race for the 2016 Pac-12 championship. On Friday night, Oregon lost to California, 52-49, in a game which featured 203 plays, 101 points, and 1,086 total yards. Then, on Saturday afternoon, Stanford lost to Colorado, 10-5, in a game which featured a grand total of one touchdown and just over 600 total yards between the two offenses.

Oregon and Stanford found two different ways to lose this weekend.

Yet the two teams suffered similar fates.

Oregon, which has lost five straight for the first time since 1996, fell to 2-5, 1-4 in Pac-12 play. Stanford, which lost to Colorado for the first time since 1990, fell to 4-3, 2-3 in Pac-12 play. While there are still mathematical possibilities for the Ducks or Cardinal to overtake Washington (7-0, 4-0) and Washington State (5-2, 4-0) … it ain’t happenin’.

Which means that, after three Stanford titles (2012, 2013, and 2015) and two for Oregon (2011, 2014), there will be a new Pac-12 champion anointed at the Pac-12 title game in Levi’s Stadium on December 2nd.

A changing of the guard.

One of the contenders for the 2016 Pac-12 title is the University of Colorado.

Let’s let that one sink in for a moment.

As the calendar turns from October to November, one of the prime candidates to compete for the Pac-12 championship is – and will be – the University of Colorado.

The same team which entered this season with a 5-40 all-time record in Pac-12 play.

The same team which had never beaten Oregon or Stanford in Pac-12 play, and now has wins over both (to carry into the 2019 season, as the Buffs will not play either the Ducks or the Cardinal again in the regular season until 2019).

The same team which had never beaten Arizona State … ever … before a dominating 40-14 win last weekend.

Colorado reached bowl eligibility with its sixth win of the season after holding off Stanford, 10-5, before 44,535 most stunned fans at Stanford Stadium. The victory allows Buff fans to make December travel plans for the first time since 2007.

But bowl eligibility alone is not enough for this team.

“We have one goal, and that’s Pac-12 champions,” said running back Phillip Lindsay after rushing for 131 yards before leaving midway through the third quarter with a (reportedly slight) ankle injury. “Winning six games, that’s cool, it’s cute. But we have to continue to move on. We have bigger things to worry about.”

Which brings us to the Pac-12 South.

UCLA won the first two Pac-12 South division titles, in 2011 and 2012. Since then, the crown has rotated through the division, with Arizona State winning in 2013, Arizona in 2014, and USC in 2015.

At the midway point in conference play, the two teams which have yet to win a division title, Utah and Colorado, are the front-runners for the 2016 division crown.

Utah is 7-1, 4-1, with its only loss coming against Cal when the Utes failed to score from the one yard line as time expired. Colorado, meanwhile, is 6-2, 4-1, with the only conference loss coming at the hands of USC.

It would be folly to discount the USC from the Pac-12 South race. The Trojans began their season 1-3, but have since won three straight, and are tacking right behind the Utes and the Buffs, with a 3-2 record in conference play.

The rest of the division?

Wait until next year.

Arizona State is 2-3 in Pac-12 play after a 37-32 loss at home to Washington State. The Sun Devils must play three of their final four games away from home, with the only home game coming against Utah.

UCLA is also leaking oil, with a 1-4 conference record after falling at home, 52-45, to Utah. The Bruins have lost four of their last five games, and Saturday gave up 332 rushing yards to the Utes’ Joe Williams, the most ever by a UCLA opponent.

Arizona (2-5, 0-4)? … Perhaps Wildcat head coach Rich Rodriguez should have taken the job at South Carolina last December when he had the chance …

While the Buffs are certainly no shoe-in to face Utah in the regular season finale with the Pac-12 South division on the line, it does appear likely that there will be a changing of the guard in the bottom of the Pac-12 standings.

And that, in and of itself, is news.

Colorado, which never finished alone in last place in any year it played in the Big Seven, Big Eight, or Big 12, had set up a man cave in the basement of the Pac-12 South, finishing in last place each of the last five seasons.

It’s true that the Buffs could, conceivably, lose all four November games to finish with a 4-5 Pac-12 record. Even that much of a tail spin, however, would not lower CU to the depths of the division.

Small victories.

Yet the greatest changing of the guard of all is what has taken place in the Colorado locker room these past few years.

The winning culture at the University of Colorado has been revived. It took time, and there is plenty of credit – from athletic director Rick George to head coach Mike MacIntyre to the hiring of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini – to go around.

Still, it if wasn’t for the players buying in, “Welcome to The Fight” and “#TheRiseIsComing” would have just been the latest in a long series of slogans which didn’t pan out.

“No one left, no one from my class quit,” Sefo Liufau reminded us after the game. “It’s a great feeling. We worked so hard. To see it all come to fruition is a great feeling. I’ll remember this season for the rest of my life no matter how it ends.”

It’s the solidarity of the locker room which has earned the Buffs bowl eligibility for the first time in nine seasons. Even when Buff fans might have gone cynical during the Stanford game (yes, I include myself), the Buff players were having none of it.

“There was never a doubt on the sidelines,” Tedric Thompson, who had two interceptions on the afternoon, said. “Every time the offense came off the field, we told them not to worry, that we had their backs. That’s the way this team is. They’ve had games where they’ve scored and had our backs. That’s just what this team is — whatever’s necessary, that’s what we’re going to do. We’ve been together too long for it to be any other way.”

The Buffs are breaking through barriers almost every week … first conference wins over Oregon, Arizona State, and Stanford … first six win season since 2007 … first national rankings since 2005 … first win in the state of California since 2002 …

And yet, winning over outsiders will remain a challenge. The headline for the Colorado/Stanford game could have been: “Colorado defense dominates Stanford”, or “Buffs become only the sixth team to defeat a David Shaw coached team at Stanford Stadium”.

Instead, the ESPN headline for the game … “Sloppy Colorado holds off equally bad Stanford 10-5“.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the 6-2 Buffs.

“Honestly, I think that’s what continues to motivate us,” said cornerback Chidobe Awuzie about the continued lack of respect for what the Buffs have accomplished this year. “It’s what drives us. We know there are going to be people who still don’t believe in us, who still doubt — and that’s fine. We’ll be ready to play and we’ll keep proving who we are. That’s all we can do.”

It’s been a crazy season.

Two months ago, Stanford and Oregon were both nationally ranked. The showdown between the two teams in Eugene on November 12th was supposed to – again – play a pivotal role in deciding the Pac-12 North, and, if history was to serve as a guide, the Pac-12 championship.

Now the focus of the league may shift to Folsom Field on November 26th, when Colorado faces Utah in what could well be the deciding game for the Pac-12 South title, and, perhaps, the Pac-12 championship.

A changing of the guard, indeed …

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14 Replies to “Changing of the Guard”

  1. Defense Nicknames (just workshoppin it here folks):

    > The Black Diamond
    > “Shortness of Breath” or Altitude Sickness
    > The (Black &) Gold Rush (or Crush? Homage to the Orange Crush?)
    > Mac Attack!
    > Flatirons Frenzy
    > Folsom Phoenix or Phalanx

  2. Defense Name Suggestions:
    1) Gold Strike Defense
    2) High Plains Thefters
    3) Black Plague Defense

    Like everyone else, I’m loving this ride! I’ve been sitting in my same seats, meeting up with my friends for tailgates, and waiting for it to turnaround for all these years. If they really do TCB these last 4 games, I will be torn between going to the PAC 12 Champ game and waiting for the bowl game. Probably can’t swing both.

    GO BUFFS!

    1. Those are pretty good, Andrew. I kind of like the Black Plague, but that’s because of my dark-ish, dryer sense of humor. Not sure how far that flies otherwise. Could also expand from the DB’s self-glossed “money gang”. But, I don’t really care what we or they call themselves. As long as they keep Buffalo Balling like they are now. And, all signs point to them doing just that. Will be interesting to see them finally “reload” and not so much “rebuild” next year.

      Go Buffs!

  3. A nickname for this defense is most certainly in order. Leavitt’s Legions is nice, but it’s hard to envision Jim Leavitt being here too much longer. He’s earned another shot as a head coach and it could come as soon as next year. So that doesn’t work long term. We need something that will endure through the years. Our own Orange Crush so to speak. A contest perhaps?

    1. Sounds like we are stuck with hoping that Leavitt (and esp. the family) loves Boulder so much that leaving to be a head coach somewhere isn’t worth it. I’m hoping for 2 more years at the most, but in all likelihood just 1, but won’t hold my breath.

      Stuart, if you had the interest, is there a way we could throw up some names and you could put them into a poll like you do with the Poll of the Week? This defensive turnaround is astounding, it would be nice if the whole unit had a nickname, not just the DB’s.

      1. I’d love to, but I’ve only seen one or two options.
        If we could get to three or four good choices, I’ll put it in a poll …

        1. Alright you guys, if you have any additional ideas or any desire to move this, get Stuart the names. ATL Buff is correct, we probably need a name that can stay long term (I can’t believe I am typing this….struggling…….really struggling……but something like the Blackshirts.

          1. LOL WarBuff. The same thing came to mind on the B-shirts comparison but I couldn’t bring myself to type the word (I still can’t type the full name). I will have a suggestion in by the end of the week!

  4. Remember a couple months ago when some of you were calling for MacIntyre’s head and I constantly defended him and said: I can’t wait until we are ranked and bowl eligible to tell you I told you so?

    Well…

    I. Told. You. So.

  5. Yo Stuart,

    Nice write-up. There is indeed a changing of the guard in the Pac-12. And with the way Oregon is losing, probably a changing of head coaches in Eugene.

    Mark
    Boulderdevil

  6. Great write-up Stuart, you always seem to nail these!

    After watching the defense almost singlehandedly win this game, I have one thought. The whole defense needs a nickname. I have 2 thoughts, but maybe some sort of poll would make sense if people were interested:

    1) Leavitt’s Legion
    2) Stampede D

    Anyone else have any thoughts on this?

    1. Hey WB, I named em Leavitts Legion last year. So lets go with that.

      Now for the offense it could be

      Chevs Cavilers

      Or Lindgrens ???????????////

      1. Sounds good VK. I hope Leavitt and Mac2 can keep it going for a few more years. Leavitt is literally working miracles, because the O and ST let the D down. No doubt that win belongs to the Leavitt Legion!

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