Calm … or Clammy?

I was jostling my way through the throngs in the Reagan National Airport earlier this summer, when I happened to pass a middle-aged man wearing a bright red Rutgers polo shirt.

“Good for you”, I thought. “That takes some nerve”.

After all, Rutgers is coming off of a 2-10 campaign in 2016, with the two wins coming over Howard and New Mexico. The Scarlet Knights went 0-9 in Big Ten play last fall, falling to Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State by a combined score of 214-0.

That’s 214-0 in four losses, from a Power Five conference school.

(For the record, it was Ohio State 58-0, Michigan 78-0, Michigan State 49-0, and Penn State 39-0).

There are those who have questioned the admission of Rutgers (along with Maryland) to the Big Ten Conference three seasons ago. Other than bringing in the New York television market to the conference, the Scarlet Knights haven’t been a threat, going 4-21 in conference play.

You have to be a real fan to wear a Rutgers shirt these days. Still, there this gentleman was at Reagan National, wearing his red polo shirt.

And that’s when it occurred to me … how quickly attitudes change.

A year ago, had I been at Reagan National, wearing one of my CU polo shirts, a passerby could have had the same thoughts.

There were those who were questioning the admission of Colorado (along with Utah) to the Pac-12 Conference five seasons earlier. Other than bringing in the Denver television market to the conference, the Buffs hadn’t been a threat, going 5-40 in conference play.

What a difference a year makes.

Coming off of a 10-4 season and a Pac-12 South title, the inclusion of Colorado into the Pac-12 conference is no longer being questioned. The Buffs went 8-1 in conference play, going “worst-to-first”. CU’s head coach, Mike MacIntyre, won almost every national Coach-of-the-Year award offered.

The off-season was not without its downsides, from Jim Leavitt leaving to Joe Tumpkin’s legal issues. Overall, however, it was nice spending the past nine months being the fan of a ten-win team instead of a ten-loss team.

That all comes to a close on Friday (6:00 p.m., MT, Pac-12 Networks). The 2016 season officially becomes history, as the 2017 season officially kicks off.

Will the 2016 prove to be an anomaly, with CU reverting back to its losing ways?

Or will the 2016 season prove to be the first of a long run of successful campaigns in Boulder?

Should Buff fans be calm … or should their hands be unpleasantly damp and sticky?

The question marks:

How well will Steven Montez adjust to being the starting quarterback?

Yes, Steven Montez is 2-1 as a starting quarterback, but that was last fall, in relief of an entrenched starter. For the past nine months, Montez has known he will be The Man this fall. Have the CU coaches been able to reign in his gunslinger mentality, one which produces big plays … but can also produce big mistakes?

Reports from Fall Camp have been positive, and the sentiment around the Champions Center is that Montez is primed for a big season.

Will the offensive line be able to keep the CU offensive machine moving?

CU has a quarterback with a strong arm and mobility, a running back who is primed to become CU’s first back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher in school history, and a wide receiver corps which is ranked among the best in the nation.

What could hold the Buffs’ back?

Poor offensive line play.

Mike MacIntyre has called this year’s offensive line the best in his five years in Boulder, so there should be no reason why this year’s team shouldn’t set offensive records.

Still, the offense will have to produce for CU to be successful. Last year, Colorado averaged 31.1 points per game. That total was the fifth-highest in school history.

It was also only good enough for 7th in the Pac-12, 51st in the nation.

Teams need to be able to score in bunches to be successful in today’s game (witness Oregon State scoring 27 points against Colorado State … and getting blown out), and it will be up to the CU offense – and the offensive line – to make that happen for the Buffs.

— Can the revamped CU defensive line hold up against point-a-minute offenses?

The key to the defensive line’s success is nose tackle Javier Edwards … Can he fill the shoes of the departed Josh Tupou?

Physically? Yes, as Edwards weighs in at 6’3″, 350-pounds.

Otherwise? TBD. “I think Javier has a lot of talent,” said MacIntyre. “We’ll just see if he can put it on and do it during a game like Josh did.”

“We have depth this year and I think it’s pretty good depth,” defensive line Jim Jeffcoat said. “When we have depth and don’t have to have a guy play 70 to 75 plays, that helps us. That keeps them fresh and it keeps them involved in the game. It’s why I like to play more than three guys if I have the young guys who can do it and the depth. We have to keep them fresh.”

The issue … CU had the same players as backups last year as they do this year, but the coaching staff kept the starters on the field, instead of bringing in the backups. Have the backups improved that much this off-season that they will be worthy of being in the rotation?

Or is all of the talk about the quality depth along the defensive line just coach-speak for “we hope we can make this work”?

– Will the linebacker corps be a liability?

In the Colorado depth chart, there are four junior linebackers listed as starters: Derek McCartney, Rick Gamboa, Drew Lewis, and Terran Hasselback. Of the four, only Gamboa was in the top 18 tacklers on the team last season. McCartney was injured during the Michigan game, but Lewis and Hasselback just didn’t see much playing time.

Behind that group? All four of the primary backups are freshmen.

Yikes.

“There’s no doubt the future is bright for us at linebacker,” defensive linebacker D.J. Eliot said. “We have all those true freshmen who have gotten a lot of practice reps already in camp, and some of them are going to get game reps this year.”

The future may be bright for CU at linebacker … but what about 2017?

– How well will the Buffs absorb the loss of three starters in the defensive backfield?

We’ve heard about it since the end of last season. We’ve heard about it since the NFL draft in April.

How can the CU secondary do anything but take a step back after having three starters drafted?

Isaiah Oliver has one cornerback position covered. “Isaiah is as good as Isaiah wants to be,” defensive backs coach ShaDon Brown said. “I’m not surprised by anything he does”.

The safety positions also appear to be in good shape, with Afodabi Laguda, Nick Fisher, and Ryan Moeller handling CU’s last line of defense.

The real question will be how well the Buffs will be able to protect the most vulnerable position – the other cornerback spot. With the loss of potential starter Anthony Julmisse (suspension), the job has fallen to red-shirt freshman Trey Udoffia, the only freshman to earn a starting position for the opener.

“Trey’s made some plays, but he’s got a ways to come,” Brown said. “I’d like for him to finish in the red zone a little bit better on some of the jump balls”.

Until Udoffia proves otherwise, he will be the target of opposing offensive coordinators.

Can Colorado special teams make any improvement?

Once the home of All-conference kickers and punters, Colorado has fallen on hard times in the kicking game.

CU’s kicker for the opener? A 30-year old soccer player from Australia.

Alex Kinney returns as punter, and, according to Mike MacIntyre, is primed for a breakout season

Isaiah Oliver – perhaps CU’s most indispensable player – is listed as the primary punt returner.

Colorado, even with the upgrade in talent and speed across the board … was 123rd in the nation in kickoff coverage last season.

Where have you gone, Mason Crosby?

Last year, Colorado lost four games. The four teams which beat the Buffs all finished in Top 11 in the final rankings.

Which means the Buffs went 10-0 against the rest of the nation, including victories over Stanford, which finished 12th in the final polls, and Utah, which finished 23rd.

That’s a pretty damn good resume.

But there were chinks in the armor …

The Buffs beat Oregon, 41-38, but it took a last second interception in the end zone to preserve the victory.

The Buffs beat Stanford, 10-5, but it took a fumble at the CU five-yard line to keep the Cardinal from a fourth quarter lead.

The Buffs beat UCLA, 20-10, but it took two Isaiah Oliver punt returns, one for a touchdown, to make it happen.

The Buffs beat Washington State, 38-24, but the Buffs trailed, 24-21, late in the third quarter.

The Buffs beat Utah, 27-22, but it took a Kenneth Olugbode fumble return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to give the Buffs some breathing room.

Good teams make big plays when the game is on the line.

The 2016 CU team was able to make the big plays. The Buffs could have easily been a 6-6 team or a 7-5 team last year. It still would have been labeled a turnaround season, and be called a success.

Now, the stakes are higher. The expectations are higher. The Buffs won ten games, and are defending Pac-12 South champions.

Colorado beat up on Colorado State, 44-7, to open the 2016 season. That victory set the tone for the rest of the year.

But, as coach MacIntyre is fond of saying, each year is a new year.

The Rams had little trouble taking out Oregon State, 58-27, in their 2017 opener. Colorado State had 525 yards of total offense, with the much-maligned defense forcing five turnovers, including a game-changing pick-six in the third quarter to break the game open.

Is Colorado State that good, or is Oregon State that bad?

Will Buff fans, in the 2017-18 off-season, be proud to wear their polo shirts in airports across the nation?

Time will tell.

—–

15 Replies to “Calm … Or Clammy?”

  1. The CSU game ALWAYS scares me to death. And it usually scares me the most in years I feel like we should win more than others. In 2009 we were being told this is the best CU team in years, we have a loaded o-line and this is the team to get behind. Then we laid an egg against CSU and the wheels fell off of Dan Hawkins. 2012 CU just ended our road losing streak at Utah and we won 2 of 3 games at the end of the year. Looked like we were ready to improve and CSU beat us and we had the worst season in school history. Whereas I am usually really confident in years I feel like we sohouldnt win. ie 2003, 2007 or 2015. This one scares me because we are coming in hot and have huge expectations. CSU just had an impressive win against a pac 12 foe, not at all unlike 2002. CU came off of a conference championship and a throttling of CSU the previous year and came into 2002 with a #7 Ranking. CSU the week before had an impressive win at Virginia and then stuck it to us. I just dont want this year to be a repeat of 2002 in this game.

    1. I’m predicting your ACQB butt-groove in the Barca-Lounger gets bigger every day… after all those elbow curls with a “John Daly”.

      What kind of vodka is in that, Old Overcoat?

  2. I’m more concerned about the new defensive coordinator than anything else. Not the changing players on defense, or the quarterback with only a few games of experience, but the coaching.

    Also, how the hell did Jim Leavitt not get an offer to be a head coach? He’s clearly one of the greatest defensive coaches in the nation. Is he still effectively blackballed due to the incident at USF?

    1. Leavitt’s biding his time; might as well do so sitting on a pile of benjamins!

      New DC has SEC and FSU background. He’s likely game-planned for Bobo before. He, Els and Brown all appear to be fiery and emotional, which is what you want on the defensive side. Eliot worked for a Stoops who was also from a “D” background, the over-rated Stoops boys are a bit whacko/selfish in their approach to coaching.

      Working for HCMM is a step up in learning. Elliot showed his colors when HE learned the Buffs terminology, rather than the team, his. Kids like him and the LBs enjoy the emphasis on coaching their position. (Note how the DB situation evolved with added talent and experience, so that now all DBs are coached by one guy Brown, aided by HCMM; while the rookie LBs enjoy more personalized coaching from both Els and Elliot)

      Most of us here, when we played ball (No, VK, criticizing the FB team from the 19th hole does not count), stood around a lot in practice, even if we were starters. The way HCMM runs practices there is no standing around: these players get more reps in one practice than we got in a week’s worth of practices! That’s gotta count for something, especially when its against other Pac level players.

      1. Were those leather helmets as tight as they looked? Hindered blood to the brain.

        But based on your posts they certainly didn’t offer much
        Protection?

        Buffs

        1. And I never cricitze the players.
          But the coaches now can always be scrutinized and commented on.

          Jimmies and joes have no chance without the X’s and O’s
          Just how it is

          ?

  3. Yup the players got to be making the plays. Lotta hype for the Mighty Buffs offense. For all the right reasons. OC’s will have to be on point.

    Defense front 7 will be the key. Gotta stop the dang run (CSU has some good backs) Hopefully the defense coaches are ready for that CSU offense. They are pretty dang good.

    Montez is a budding star. Great interview guy. Exudes what a leader is.

    Start of the game the Buffs need to hold on until they get their game heads in place. CSU is past that phase and will be coming out with a confidence. Buffs need to kill that “false bravado” very early.

    Buffs ain’t OSU. But as Mac says it’s a new year and a new team..

    Buffs….

    Note: Since CSU/OSU was the only game on, the Whammies will get some votes in the polls. That is good for CU, cause when the Mighty Buffs roll em it will start the rise up the polls.

  4. calm. CSU had a great game and that was great but fun is not osu anymore.

    1. Osu had 21 points off of turn overs and I believe cu will have much better ball security.
    2. Osu had a bunch of chances deep and just could not hit them. Montez and his reci vets have proven they can hit those in games.
    3. Csu has one great receiver and 2 ok ones. My bet is we match up here much better than osu.

    Now that CSU has proven they can play though I am excited to see
    1. Our defensive line versus their o line. They had some good gaps to run through. I am interested to see if our d line can hold up and let our linebackers flow to the ball.
    2. Lindsey. Lindsey could set the tone here.
    3. Chev and Lindgren. Osu made a mistake and moved away from the run game way too early. Reminds me of the Hawaii game 2 years ago. I am interested to see if the offense they have developed together and their dynamic has created a balance and a consistency that cu gained last year.
    4. How cu reacts when they are punched in the mouth. CSU is better than they were last year and they are going to hit cu harder. Will they fold, will they hit back

    I think we are going to answer all of these positively so that is why I am calm.

    1. Spot on analysis. Not worried about Friday.

      Wondering how much of a toll that heat ( reported at 110+ on the field) took on the Lammies. Short week and recovering from heat stress/exhaustion doesnt bode well for the energy level.

      Buffs should win easily if they play to their potential.

  5. Yo Stuart,

    The Buffs beat these teams by a combined score of 91-13 last season. Nothing I saw in this game gave any indication that the Buffs should be nervous. They just need to show up and play Colorado Buffaloes football. Oregon State receivers were wide open deep numerous times but OSU QB Jake Luton and his wideouts just could not make the completions.

    The refs also ripped OSU off of a TD late in the first half that would have changed momentum going into the 2nd half. When the the Beavers started fading, they stopped caring. It was a big loss, but they gave up 24 points late to make it look ugly. CSU did NOT come out and dominate from the opening kickoff… far from it.

    My concern of CSU is probably the same as head coach Mike Bobo. Mainly that he Rams players will think a big win at HOME over a 4 win team from last year is much more notable than it really is. There was not much in the way of excellent defense from either team.

    It seems to me that the CU offense will have it’s way with either of these teams. Oregon State does not even look as good as last year (which is pretty bad).

    So, to answer the question… I’m much more calm. No clamminess at all. Reality hits Friday night in Denver for the CSU gang. But hey, at least they get to go to Denver.

    Mark
    Boulderdevil

  6. Your poll question should of had as a possible answer ” CSU better bring THEIR “A” game ’cause if they don’t, they are going to get ROLLED by the Buffs.

    This team better be ready to run through fire this year. From everything I’ve read, it seems like they are.

    Second guessing is over. The Buffs are back. Mac, Chiv, Lund, Elliot. Your team is a loaded weapon. Time to pull the trigger

    Make it happen

  7. Pretty calm. Always proud to sport my CU garb. Definitely nice to see them back on the right track, but always a proud Buff.

    Go Buffs.

  8. Stuart, you comment about the Rutgers guy inspired me to share a pre-2016 story with you and my fellow fans on your site.

    Prior to the 2016 campaign I spent some time work in Mongolia, so naturally I wore Buffs gear constantly. I would have expected to get no reaction or at best, snide comments. To my surprise, I ran into Buff fans in just about every airport and even at the mine where I was working. There couldn’t have been more than 100 Americans working there but there was a Buff fan that made it a point to come and talk Buffs football.

    It did my fandom proud! I can only hope that those type of meetings become more about playing for National Championships than the “I hope they can make a bowl game” discussions we had together 13 months ago.

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