Great(er) Expectations

It’s been a long time since Colorado football has been part of the national discussion. So long, in fact, that Buff fans can be forgiven for not remembering what it’s like.

The past two weeks, though, there has been a pleasant sprinkling of rain in CU’s decade-long drought.

In the polls which came out after the Colorado State game, Colorado received a solitary vote in both the Associated Press Top 25 poll and the USA Today Coaches’ poll. Not exactly “hold the presses” news for the rest of the nation, but it was a big deal for #TheRise in Colorado football.

Which coach voted for the Buffs in the USA Today poll remains a mystery. Sources report that CU coach Mike MacIntyre, one of six Pac-12 coaches among the 64 head coaches on the panel, did not vote for the Buffs (and, no, CSU head coach Mike Bobo is not on the list, so it wasn’t him, either).

The writer who cast the one vote the Buffs received in the Associated Press poll, however, is known. Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald, publicly disclosed his vote for Colorado. His explanation:

… No. 25 Colorado: And here we have a controversial pick. CU? The Buffaloes? Which has won 11 games in four years? Yes. Colorado, based on one of the most dominant wins of the weekend, a 44-7 rout of Colorado State. CU out-gained CSU by 353 yards, won the turnover battle +2, converted 12 of 19 third downs — this was a good performance. Better than TCU and Pitt — even if both won. If the goal is to reward performance, and not some preconceived notion of goodness, then, through one week, Colorado is a top 25 team to me. They may drop out soon enough.

With the quixotic vote from a writer from the Big Red Report being a tenuous one at best, Colorado’s stay in the “others receiving votes” in the AP poll may be short-lived. Still, it remains the first top 25 vote for the program since 2008 (the Buffs haven’t been in the Top 25 proper since 2005).

And it’s not as if the Colorado program isn’t receiving love from other sectors:

— In the ESPN Top 25 Power Rankings after the CSU game, Colorado was given an “honorable mention”;

— In the CBS Sportsline rankings of all 128 teams, the Buffs jumped 34 spots, coming in at No. 57 after starting the year at No. 94;

— In the ESPN updated bowl projections, Colorado was listed as a possible selection for either the Cactus Bowl or the Birmingham Bowl; and

— In something called the CBS Fornelli Top 50, a ranking which starts every school at zero to open the season, and is weighted mostly to wins and losses, Colorado came in as the No. 7 team … in the entire nation.

Not bad for a school which has won five conference games in five years as a member of the Pac-12.

Here’s the thing … the wins over Colorado State and Idaho State are a big deal. The Buff Nation has been fed a steady diet of #TheRise for the past nine months. Enthusiasm, however, has been tempered by the “it doesn’t matter unless it translates into something on the field” reality.

Last year’s loss to Hawai’i in the season opener was a punch in the gut. Nine months of buildup were crushed in one ugly evening on the islands. Even after the Buffs finished the non-conference slate with a 3-1 record, expectations for the season as a whole were tarnished. The Buffs went on to a 1-8 Pac-12 campaign and another last place finish in the Pac-12 South.

So … Why does this season’s 2-0 start feel different?

Let’s go back 30 years or so …

In his first three seasons at Colorado, Bill McCartney went 7-25-1. In McCartney’s third campaign, 1984, the Buffs went 1-10 (and would have gone 0-11 had an Iowa State kicker not missed a 26-yard field goal with 2:16 remaining, giving the Buffs a 23-21 win).

Expectations for McCartney’s fourth season, 1985, were modest. The Buffs were changing to the wishbone on offense, but that wasn’t considered to be a move which would bear instant results.

What did make a difference, though, was improved play on offense. After giving up 33.1 points per game in 1984 (a large number in those days), the Buffs surrendered only 14.0 points per game in 1985. A turning point in the season (and perhaps in the history of the program) came in Week Two when Mickey Pruitt sacked Oregon quarterback Chris Miller on fourth-and-goal on the final play of the game to preserve a 21-17 victory.

Two weeks later, after shocking Arizona on the road, 14-13, the Buffs were back in the Associated Press poll. Not in the Top 20 mind you (the Buffs didn’t make it back into Top 20 until 1988), but back in the “others receiving votes”.

Fast forward to today …

In his first three seasons at Colorado, Mike MacIntyre went 10-27. In his third season, 2015, the Buffs went 4-9, falling to 2-25 against Pac-12 foes in MacIntyre’s tenure.

Expectations for MacIntyre’s fourth season, 2016, have been modest – at least nationally. The Buffs were picked last in the Pac-12 South (again), by almost every preseason prognosticator. The Buffs did pick up a new co-offensive coordinator in Darrin Chiaverini, but, with co-offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren still calling the plays, the hire wasn’t considered to be a move which would bear instant results.

While the Colorado offense has made significant strides (against two lesser defenses in Colorado State and Idaho State), what has made a difference in the future outlook for the program has been the play of the defense.

The Buffs have given up two touchdowns in two games … both coming in the second half of games which had long since been decided. Colorado held Idaho State under 100 yards of total offense for the game, and produced the two largest consecutive margins of victory since the 1994 season.

Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt has his charges are playing well – and playing with confidence. “I feel like everything has been clicking so far defensively,” said sophomore linebacker Rick Gamboa. “We have everyone healthy, we have a good rotation going everywhere from the D-line, linebackers, secondary; and right now, everyone is just playing their hardest. Everyone is trying to play as good as the guy next to him. No one wants to let their teammate down. We are just trying to do our best out there.”

During the long off-season, there was plenty of time to analyze the upcoming 2016 schedule. In the search for six wins and a bowl game, the Colorado State and Idaho State games were seen as “must wins”.

Mission accomplished.

The first road game – against Michigan, a preseason top ten team – was seen as a game which was one of the guaranteed “L’s” on the schedule.

After starting the season, however, by out-scoring the first two opponents by a combined score of 100-14, expectations are changing.

“We’re really looking forward to it,” said wide receiver Jay MacIntyre when asked about the road trip to Ann Arbor. “I think we know that we’ve really improved. We have confidence in our abilities and to be such a big stage at Michigan, we’re really excited to show everyone what we can do”.

Buff fans are also excited to see what the Buffs can do on the national stage against a Michigan team which out-scored its first two opponents by the combined score of 114-17.

It may still be too soon to say that there are (with apologies to Charles Dickens) Great Expectations for the University of Colorado 2016 football team.

But – after the first two wonderfully successful weekends of the 2016 campaign – it is certainly fair to say that there are Great(er) Expectations than there were two weeks ago.











8 Replies to “Great(er) Expectations”

  1. Couldn’t have asked for a better start…being said I think the question is still around our Offense vs. Michigan D. Sefo will not make it through the game if he takes hits like he did at CSU, many of which came when he was a runner. First real test for our O-Line and therefore our Offense, need to have a semblance of a running game w/o running Sefo to death (literally in this game) to be competitive. D is playing up to expectation, Leavitt (always need to plug:) is the man.

    Only Mac2.0 could come out of the CSU game looking stupid..if you forget it’s because he kept Sefo in waaay too long and continued to call zone reads without telling Sefo to hand the ball to the RB no matter what?!?!

  2. For the first time in over a decade, CU’s offense looks competent. They can run and they have speed at the wide receiver. Fields’ speed caused two pass interference calls. Defense–wow, what a difference a DC makes as well as better talent. I think CU will be competitive with Michigan. After that, CU will find 6 wins.

    1. I actually saw 3 PI calls by that corner against Shay Fields, it was amazing! Each time, Shay got the extra step and the corner was reduced to grabbing at Shay’s arms to stop him from making a huge play out of it. I felt kind of sorry for the corner, he was clearly over-matched by Fields. But it has been a LONG time since I can remember seeing such clear evidence of a CU player so thoroughly out-playing his matchup. It was heartening to see.

  3. Yo Stuart,

    The game in Michigan is perfect right now for the Buffs. They will not face a larger or louder crowd this year, and most likely not a team ranked as high.

    Of course, you want to go in and get a win in the Big House, but more importantly you want the guys to learn to play in adverse conditions. Pac-12 play (the stuff that really matters) starts the following week. Even if the Buffs lose this one, they can set themselves up for league play.

    If the first two weeks shows anything, there are some Pac-12 teams that are ripe for the taking this season. Conference defenses that are normally stout (ASU, Arizona, USC, for example)seem to be softer than normal this year. For the Buffs to make a bowl game, they must win some Pac-12 games against some teams that have owned them in the past. It would be an excellent time to get those 0-fers against certain teams over and done with.

    I am very excited for this week and an really looking forward for my very first trip to the Big House in Ann Arbor.

    Go Buffs!


    1. Totally agreed. This Michigan test is perfectly timed. I don’t expect to win, but there is a part of me that feels hopeful…maybe even excited to find out. I looked at the numbers, and while Michigan pounded Hawaii and UCF, UCF gashed Michigan for a lot of yards on the ground.

  4. Great start to the season, but expectations have been met. Next week tells us what we really want to know. How competitive is this team against Top 10 competition….on the road? Many of us are just hoping for a competitive game, but concerned there may be a blowout. That’s what happens after a decade of futility.

    But in the back of our minds is 1994…….

    1. Yup. Actually, not only is 1994 rattling around my brain pan, but another similar circumstance comes to mind as well…
      #3 Oklahoma losing to CU in Boulder in 2007.

      If that defense is as stout as it appears that it can be, and if it can keep Michigan close…we could see an upset. But my superstitious side won’t allow me to get too excited.

  5. nice to be 2 and 0 for a start. Next week is a big time game and will see how much work needs to be done. That said even if next week is a loss the Buffs are doing better . I take this start and be happy ,it is great to be 2 and 0 .Way to go Buffs

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