Return to Relevance

I’ve had the same office desk for my entire professional career.

It’s large. It’s oak. And it wasn’t exactly new when I took it over in 1987.

Inside the middle drawer of my desk is a living history of my career … old business cards, thank you notes from the (periodic) satisfied client, post-it notes containing passwords which long ago lost their relevance.

There is also, not surprisingly, a fair share of CU memorabilia.

And it was CU item which caught my eye the other day when I was digging through the middle drawer in search of a flash drive I knew had to be there somewhere.

It was a plastic outline of Ralphie, with “RTD” written across the bottom, along with a “personalized” thank you from head coach Gary Barnett for contributing to the “Return to Dominance” campaign.

For those whose CU history does not span back to the 20th century, Gary Barnett was hired in 1999 to replace the departed Rick Neuheisel. “Return to Dominance” was a Barnett creation, playing off of the RTD bus system in the Denver metro area.

The campaign was anything but far-fetched. Barnett inherited a team which had gone 8-4 in 1998, including an Aloha Bowl win over No. 21 Oregon. True enough, the team had suffered through a 5-7 campaign in 1997, but that was the first losing season for the Buffs since 1984.

There was no reason to believe Barnett could not bring about a “Return to Dominance” … and he did. Barnett led the Buffs to four Big 12 North division titles in five years before circumstances – some of his own making, some outside of his control – led to his demise.

And the demise of the program.

Ten full seasons removed from Barnett’s ouster, the Colorado football program is still a ways away from any realistic “Return to Dominance” rallying cry.

“Return to Relevance”, though, is no longer just a hope.

Here are five reasons why:

1. Sefo Liufau is healthy and motivated

We’ve known for two months that Sefo Liufau is fully recovered from a Lisfranc foot injury suffered last Nov. 13 against USC, but this week he returned to the practice field for the first time since that game. Liufau reportedly showed absolutely no signs of any problems during his first practices. He participated in all the individual drills — both footwork and throwing — and also took his full share of snaps in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, running and throwing with no hint of an issue.

Liufau, who has trimmed about 15 pounds from his frame, pronounced himself “100 percent” after the practice, adding, “I’m ready to go. I’m just happy to be back out there. It’s a great feeling and I just feel blessed.”

Despite being just 8-21 as a starter, Liufau is optimistic about his senior season. “You want to go out there and make the play,” he said. “I’m more excited than anything. You want to be in those big-time moments and make the big plays. That’s where all the memories are made, whether good or bad. I’m excited and just ready to go.”

Just a few short months ago, the Buff Nation was all abuzz about Liufau being replaced, with Texas Tech transfer Davis Webb coming to Boulder to lead the team to victories.

Now Webb is the starting quarterback at Cal, and Liufau (who handled the Davis situation with class, by the way), is ready to lead his team to a bowl game.

“They elected him a captain again; that was very impressive”, said MacIntyre of his quarterback. “He’s a three-year captain, that’s only been done twice in history and the last time was 1893. That’s huge. I think that answers the leadership side of it. On the football side of it, he’s broken 75 records and he’ll break about 15 or 20 more this year. Our football team has caught up with him”.

2. Darrin Chiaverini has brought new life to the Colorado offense

Yes, Darrin Chiaverini is only the co-offensive coordinator, sharing the duties with incumbent Brian Lindgren.

True, Lindgren will still be calling the plays.

But there is a new sense of optimism that the Colorado offense, which finished 97th in scoring last season (24.6 points per game), will find its stride in 2016.

“I think there’s a misconception that we’re reinventing the wheel,” said Liufau. “There’s just tweaks here and there, new things that Chev brought in, new things that we changed with the offense as a whole. Great things that I think ultimately that will help our team. We’re also trying to pick up the tempo a little bit.”

“We want to play fast but also be efficient in what we’re doing,” Chiaverini said. “The tempo was great (in the first practice earlier this week). We’ve got a long ways to go, but you could tell they’re a veteran group. We didn’t have to slow things down to teach.”

Chiaverini’s legacy in rebuilding the Buffs may ultimately come to his ability to recruit quality players to Boulder in a period in which the program was stuck in the bottom of the Pac-12 … but his contributions to the offense may prove to be just as valuable.

We just won’t see the results until the Buffs take the field in September.

3.  The offense is not lacking for weapons … and finally has some depth

For those unfamiliar with the Colorado program, the Buff offense does not appear to be one for opponents to fear.

After all, Colorado was 97th in the nation in scoring offense last fall … and lost its only Pac-12 caliber weapon in Nelson Spruce.

The view that the Buffs will struggle on offense may be held by many outside of Boulder, but is not a view held in the Champions Center.

“They’re on a mission to leave a great legacy,” Chiaverini said of his upperclassmen on offense. “They’ve heard the noise, the naysayers and critics and they’re tired of it.  We want to go to a bowl game but we have to put the work in to do that.”

There are many options in the receiving corps, but many eyes will be focused upon two players – transfer Juwann Winfree and returning (potential) star Shay Fields.

“Shay Fields is a guy that I think can step up and be a top echelon Pac-12 wide receiver”, said Mike MacIntyre at the Pac-12 media days press conference.

What is perhaps even more vital to the improvement of the offense, though, is the development of the offensive line.

“Offensively, in 2014, we had the least amount of sacks in the Pac-12,” said MacIntyre. “Last year, we had the most sacks in the Pac-12. A lot of that was predicated to injuries. We had quite a few injuries, the most I’ve ever seen on the offensive line as a head coach … We have Jeromy Irwin coming back who I think is an excellent, excellent player. He could never really get over 285 [pounds], which you really wanted him in the 300’s. He’s now 308 and doing really well. All of the other guys have started multiple games which is good for us. They’ve all gotten stronger. We’ve also added Timmy Lynott into the mix who I think is an excellent player. I feel like our whole offensive line is very good and has a lot of experience.”.

4. Defense wins championships

Colorado isn’t ready to be in the conversations about “championships” just yet, but the defense is becoming a real force with which offensive coordinators will have to contend.

In the first season under Jim Leavitt, the Buffs went from 39.0 points allowed per game to 27.5. Giving up an average of four touchdowns per game won’t win titles (CU was ranked 70th in the nation in scoring defense in 2015), but there is reason to believe that the Buffs will be even better in 2016.

And it starts in the trenches. With the return of Josh Tupou and Samson Kafovalu, the defensive line is a strength, not a weakness. “Defensively, we are big, strong, physical and tough,” said MacIntyre. “We’re two-deep in the front. I’m excited about those guys. I think we average 6-3 and a half and 295 across the front. Our outside linebackers: Derek McCartney’s now 250-something and six foot four and a half and Jimmie Gilbert’s 240-something and six foot four and a half. We’re a big, intimidating front now. When we first got here that wasn’t the case. Upfront I think we’ve made the strides we need to make.”

The linebackers? Well, you have read the stat here, and you will hear it often this season: CU returns the leading tackler from each of the past three seasons in Addison Gillam, Kenneth Olugbode and Rick Gamboa.

That’s before we get to the secondary, the unit has received the most ink from the preseason prognosticators as one of the best in the Pac-12. Chidobe Awuzie is a legitimate NFL talent, and the Buff coaches want to exploit his talents. “Chido (Awuzie) is definitely a leader on defense, he’s what you would call a true playmaker on defense,” said MacIntyre. “People come up to me all the time and say, ‘golly, he’s all over the field.’ Well we put him all over the field and he also has the ability to make plays all over the field. He’s a key ingredient in our defense and we definitely build things around him depending how we play certain teams.”

5.  The Buffs are playing “with a chip on their shoulders”

“I think they do have a chip on their shoulder,” MacIntyre said at his Media Day press conference. “You always hear that, but they really do — and they’ve stuck with this program. These kids have stuck through it all. We’ve built a team, and that’s how you develop a program from the ashes. You get people to stay here, to believe and compete and keep going.”

Senior strong safety Tedric Thompson is one of those players who has endured the difficult times. Thompson, a preseason third-team all-Pac-12 pick and rated among the top 20 strong safeties in the nation, said he and the rest of CU’s upperclassmen are simply “done with it” when it comes to coming up short.

“No more,” Thompson told “I’ve been here for four years and every one of us is tired of it. We’re just done with it. Coach Mac talks about the little stuff, and that correlates with practice. When the older guys see something that’s not supposed to happen, we let people know. We’re just tired of losing. That’s where the leadership and discipline comes from. Nobody wants to lose anymore. We’re here to do one thing — work hard. We’re going to challenge each other, compete and get ready to win some games.”

… “We’re just tired of losing” … If there is a theme to the 2016 season, this could well be it.

It’s easy to be optimistic in August.

Everyone is undefeated at the opening of Fall Camp.

This year, though, there is a real feeling that the 2016 will be the year that the Buffs finally get it done.

Perhaps it was the hiring of Darrin Chiaverini last January, and the subsequent infusion of talent into the Recruiting Class of 2016.

Perhaps it was the fast start to the Recruiting Class of 2017, currently ranked in the top 25 in the nation.

Perhaps it has been the respect, albeit grudgingly given, from many of the preseason magazines to the 2016 Buffs.

Perhaps … just perhaps … it’s just time.

Not for a “Return to Dominance”, mind you.

But, at the very least, a “Return to Relevance”.


8 Replies to “Return to Relevance”

  1. Return to Relevance.

    Nice. And that would be Nice.
    Uh Oh is this really the return of the Mighty Buffalo

    1. Sure do miss those Uh Oh’s on BZ. Relevance is a good word, as sitting down here in Tucson and listening to the local fans and media just refer to CU as a minor player and one of the programs that make it possible for the other programs to be closer to the top in the PAC 12 standings is like me, getting old. Time for me to take my anti-aging pill, but even more important its is time for the Buffs to truly become Relevant again.

      1. Those pills don’t work ep told me that.

        Hey hope you are doing okay or better.

        You will know who is really running the offense after the first game.

        Go Buffs.

        Note: Hot down there or what?

        Note 2: any improvements on and to the windmill hole?

    2. I agree with AZBuff, I miss those UhOh’s as well. BZ has gotten so crappy I don’t go there any more, usually my computer gets a “Warning: Unresponsive Script” and hangs for a while.

      Go Buffs! Let’s get it done in 2016 (we’ll have to define “it” but this article pretty much says it all).

  2. Great write up and couldn’t agree more. Think the upperclassmen have finally bought in to the concept that “success will not be given, only earned”. For them to take ownership of how people are working and executing in practice, speaks volumes. Go Buffs!

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