Lasting Impressions

Colorado and Utah came into the 2017 “Rumble in the Rockies” (not that anyone calls it that anymore) with 5-6 records.

The winner would be given the opportunity for a bowl game and a winning season; the loser would finish 5-7 and dead last in the Pac-12 South.

In 13 seasons under Kyle Whittingham, the Utes had gone bowling 11 times.

In five seasons under Mike MacIntyre, the Buffs had gone bowling once.

Simply put, the Utes were used to playing in the post-season; the Buffs were not.

It showed on the field Saturday night in Salt Lake City, with the Utes racing out to a 28-0 halftime lead, on their way to a 34-13 rout.

But it also showed in the days leading up to the game.

In a Salt Lake City Tribune article in the week leading up to the game, “For Utah, reaching a bowl game is not about swag — it’s about practice“, there were quotes like: “Me taking all the one reps after the season leading into our next season could give us an extra start,” quarterback Tyler Huntley said, “and I feel like we’ve done learned so much this season all we need to do is get back healthy and people will be back to talking about everybody winning.”

Now, compare that quote to that of another sophomore quarterback, Buff Steven Montez: “Who doesn’t want to make a bowl game, who doesn’t want to get those extra practices and get that extra time and those gifts?’.


It wasn’t just the perception of the CU players which was troubling in the days leading up to the Utah game, it was that of the head coach. Mike MacIntyre was asked about how a bowl game might impact the new early Signing Day, coming December 20th:

“Going to a bowl game will advertise for yourself, because there’ll be commercials and different things out there,” said MacIntyre. “I think they’ll see all that stuff. That helps you I believe. The negative side of it is you’ll be practicing and you won’t be able to get quite out as much. You hardly have enough time to get everywhere. The head coach can only go one time, so it’s hard to get everywhere in that small of time when signing is on the 20th … That will be tough with some of the bowl situations for sure. I still think being in a bowl helps recruiting itself. There’s pros and cons for it.”

After the blowout loss to Utah, coach MacIntyre was still trying to put the importance of recruiting over that of the advantages which come with a bowl invitation.

“You still want to be in a bowl, you want your name out there,” said MacIntyre. “Logistics wise, you don’t have to worry about bowl things like media day and all that.  We’ll get out there recruiting starting tomorrow night, we’ll get out there and be ready to go.”

I understand the comments … to an extent.

Sure, moving the Signing Day up from the first Wednesday in February to December 20th will have an impact on recruiting for those teams with bowl practices, but it should not be a primary consideration.

The CU Recruiting Class of 2018 currently has 18 commitments. The Buffs will likely sign 20-23 players this off-season, which means that the next four weeks will be about picking up a handful of additional recruits (and keeping the commitments of those already in the fold).

Important, sure.

But which is more important:

— Worrying about the commitments of a handful of high school players; or

— Getting in another three weeks of practices with the 65 or so players returning for the 2018 season you already have on the roster?

That’s a no-brainer.

Nine teams from the Pac-12 are bowl eligible. Three teams, including only one from the Pac-12 South, are done for the year.

That hurts the Buffs in preparation for the 2018 season, and it also hurts the program in terms of national perception.

Give the average football team the following standings, and ask them how to rate the following hypothetical division:

  • Team A: 10-2
  • Team B: 7-5
  • Team C: 7-5
  • Team D: 6-6
  • Team E: 6-6
  • Team F: 5-7

Most fans would see a division in which there is a dominant team, and a jumble below Team A which has little separation between Team B and the No. 2 position, and Team F, in at No. 6.

Now tell that fan that two coaches from the above list, the coach of Team B and the coach of Team D, were fired, and that the team of coach No. 6 was in no immediate danger of being let go.

Be prepared for curious looks.

The above listing, of course, is how the Pac-12 South standings will read from now bowl season, with all but Team F, Colorado, still having a game to play (or, in the case of Team A, USC, two games). Team B, Arizona State, fired its head coach, Todd Graham, right after Graham and the Sun Devils defeated rival Arizona, in the Territorial Cup. Team E, UCLA, fired its coach, Jim Mora, a week earlier … just in time to get in on the Chip Kelly sweepstakes.

Perception, while not everything in college football, is not to be dismissed.

Colorado went from worst-to-first-to-worst between 2015 and 2017. With the decade of poor production on the field which preceded the 2016 Pac-12 South title run, the perception in the world of college football is that Colorado was a “one-hit wonder” in 2016, and reverted back to true form in 2017.

That will be tough to overcome, both in the homes of recruits, and the offices of potential replacements among the assistant coaches.

Compare two other schools which also finished up play this weekend:

— California … The Bears, like the Buffs, finished their season 5-7, 2-7 in Pac-12 play. Given that Colorado beat Cal, 44-28, this season, it would seem logical that the Buffs would be ranked higher than the Bears when next season’s preseason magazines are printed.

Don’t count on it.

Cal went 5-7 in 2016, and then 5-7 again this fall. The perception, however, will be that the Bears are an “up-and-coming” team, with new head coach Justin Wilcox being praised for turning the program around.

Colorado, meanwhile, will not be given the benefits of such doubts.

— Nebraska … The Cornhuskers turned a 14-14 halftime tie in their season finale against Iowa into a 56-14 home loss. The rout left Nebraska with a 4-8 record … the worst record for the Cornhuskers since 1961. The loss to Iowa was the fourth consecutive home loss … the first such streak for NU since 1968-69. In each of the final three games of the 2017 campaign, the Nebraska defense gave up at least 50 points (and at least 500 yards of total offense) in each … the first such streak, well, ever.

Remember the 2001 game, when Colorado put up 62 points against the Cornhuskers, breaking a Nebraska school record for points allowed which had stood since 1945?

The “Blackshirts” ain’t what they used to be.

The disappointing season led to the firing of Nebraska head coach Mike Riley after just three seasons in Lincoln.

Now, I don’t know who the new Nebraska head coach will be, and I haven’t taken a deep dive into the Cornhusker lineup to see how many seniors they will be losing.

But I do know that Nebraska, with its 4-8 record in 2017, losers of six of its last seven games, a team which lost 54-21 to Minnesota (a team which subsequently was shutout its final two games of the season), lost 56-44 to Penn State (42-10, PSU, at halftime), and lost 56-14 at home to Iowa …

… will still be ranked higher than Colorado heading into the matchup between the teams next September.


Colorado fans know all too well what might have been in the 2017 … which makes the final result all the more frustrating.

Yes, the Buffs could have (should have) beaten Arizona, UCLA, and Arizona State.

But this is also team which, in its last five games:

  • lost to Washington State, 28-0;
  • fell behind USC, 27-0, on its way to a 38-24 loss; and
  • fell behind Utah, 28-0, on its way to a 34-13 defeat.

That ain’t great.

The lasting impression of the 2017 Colorado football team is that it underachieved. There was talent on the roster, but that talent never meshed into a team.

The Buffs lost a great deal of senior talent from the 2016 team, and with it a great deal of leadership. Other than Phillip Lindsay, however, it was hard to discern any true leadership on the 2017 team.

Neill Woelk, who has access to the team, and has attended practices and meetings throughout the year, had this chilling (yet telling) forecast in his “Fast Five Keys” to the CU/Utah game:

Coaches from both teams have spent the week saying this game will come down to how much each team wants to play again this season.

Truth is, it has been a long year for both squads. Both have lost their share of narrow decisions — games they could have won but let slip away. Both entered the year with hopes of playing for a Pac-12 title, and neither believed they would be needing a win in the regular season finale just to become bowl eligible.

No doubt, some of that disappointment has seeped into the psyche of both teams. If there are any players on either team who would secretly like to put this year behind them … they will likely get their wish Saturday night.

Utah played Saturday like a team which wanted to win, a team which wanted the benefits of bowl practices, a team which wanted a positive boost to the 2018 season.

Colorado played Saturday like a team ready to have the season be over.

That’s the impression the Buff Nation was left with as the year came to a close with an embarrassing 34-13 loss to Utah.

That’s the impression CU fans will be left to deal with … unless there are changes in the program between now and next September.



22 Replies to “Lasting Impressions”

  1. Really??? Someone is actually interested in Mac2.0? That would be the greatest gift from Santa. Then go fix the wrong and hire Leavitt back as HC…or anyone else for that matter so I can end my in-person boycott and attend a game or two next year.

  2. The lost decade of the mighty Buffs. When was that exactly?

    I say 2006 to 2015

    Coaching responsibility

    Flim flam Man #1……4 years
    Ex Buff……………2 years
    Flim Flam Man #2……4 years

    Main characteristic of all of those coaches?

    Krappy Staffs.


  3. Stuart, I would like to hear your opinion (perhaps in another essay or even briefly here) about what level of play for our football team you believe is realistic year in and year out, especially as a “have not have” as you recently referred to us as. Perhaps it would be easier to give an example of similar programs in the country that are “have not haves” but are still reasonably competitive from year to year. We’ve stunk for so long now I’m genuinely confused about what’s realistic anymore. Who are we? What are we?

    1. Great questions. In my world view, Colorado and Georgia Tech (thanks for nothing, Tom Osborne) can be considered two of the last “have not haves” to win the national championship. Since 1970, the list of national champions includes: USC; Notre Dame; Pittsburgh; Georgia; Penn State; BYU; Washington; Miami; Alabama; Florida State; Nebraska; Florida; Oklahoma; Ohio State; LSU; USC; Texas; LSU; Auburn; and Clemson.

      Other than CU, Georgia Tech; Pittsburgh, BYU, and perhaps, Washington, you are looking at the blue bloods of college football.

      I see Colorado as being in the same category as Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, and other similarly situated schools. There are many in the Power Five conferences, teams which can have a season or two of success, but cannot sustain it. Not all that long ago, Washington was 0-12, and could regress if Chris Petersen moves on. The Arizona schools and Utah certainly fit into this category, along with Cal from the North (Washington State, even with its recent run of success under Mike Leach, is still a cut below these schools, as is Oregon State).

      Colorado has a great history. Other than the 1950’s, when Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma Sooners dominated the Big Seven, CU has won a conference in every decade since it began playing football back in the 1890’s. Before the latest decade-long drought, CU had never had more than six straight losing seasons (1979-84).

      Can CU compete for a national title in today’s market? Realistically, no.

      Colorado fans should expect (and demand), however, a program which consistently posts winning seasons, occasionally competes for a conference title, and, once a generation, finds magic in a bottle and is in the conversation for a national title.

      1. I agree. It certainly seems that a winning season, every season, is a reasonable expectation. Shoot, I would take an occasional losing season if the team played with passion and the league was particularly super competitive one season. The sooner we can get THAT coach the better…one that wants to make CU his home for the long haul and who is content with remaining at a “non-blue blood school.” Rick George needs to press MM either toward this…or out of town.

  4. The Rise was a Mirage-After watching real football most of the day before the CU-Utah game started, one had to be struck by the contrast: CU played like a listless, clueless team. Even a diehard fan had to be bored and embarrassed by this game and hope that most fans across the country didn’t watch. It is hard to acknowledge, but CU doesn’t give any impression that it can compete in football in the Pac-12.

  5. UCLA(46-30) , ARIZONA STATE(46-31) and know TEXAS A&M(51-26)all after 6 years have fired their head coaches this season. All with winning records and some how MM(25-38)5 years who actually thinks theirs a con to playing in a bowl game , a losing record and to many other issues to list is still the CU head coach. Last year was an aberration and clearly Jim Leavitt was the inspiration for what did take place. I have never liked MM his approach his attitude just don’t care for him. Don’t know why Rick George is wasting time keeping him here?? I would much rather have any of the three fired coaches from the list above any day compared to MM. That’s something because i don’t care much for Mora Or Graham. Changes need to be made and it has to start at the top !!!!!

  6. …When your top NFL prospect, cornerback Isaiah Oliver, says after a lackadaisical performance in a game that could have sent the team to a bowl game, “It kind of seemed like we didn’t really know what to do offensively and defensively,”

    Is the most lasting impression………….

  7. As usual Stuart nails it. MM using recruiting as a rationalization demonstrates to me nothing is going to change next year…just more excuses…unless a coaching change is made. RG has to be between a rock and a hard place. The 13 million buyout on the line if you take another gamble on another coach.
    I will give Eliot a pass for another year because he needs players on the D line but if Lingering is still here I may be a dormant fan for a doormat team.

    1. ep, the CU offense hasn’t kept up with the times since Lingering has been the coordinator. I was hopefully encouraged when they hired Chev but except for maybe a little more spirited approach on the sideline it still looks the same. There is no identity to it and if they are going to continue to zone read and run a running back between guard and tackle most of the time. It might help that at least they could do continually do it with the QB under center and maybe a blocking full back. might even have a 3rd down and short now and then. They are so repetitious that one can almost sit in front of the TV with eyes shut, listen to the down and distance and call the play in your own mind. I don’t know what kind of routes these vaunted Wideouts are running but they sure do like running straight down the sidelines a lot. Right now being a Defensive Coordinator in the PAC 12 with CU on the schedule must be a pretty good life.

  8. Stuart, I have to amend my ASU comments. The firing of Graham will cost them $12M and if they really have to spend that much they obviously are not going to just sit on their hands and be satisfied with being a mediocre program. CU needs to take notice as all these Schools in the South and the entire PAC for that matter are serious and will continue to figure out how to compete at a level that is much greater then CU did this last year.

  9. Stuart, as I posted on one of your other threads, times have changed in college football, and they will continue to change. Of course there are also some important aspects of the game that never change. Blocking, Tackling, Strength, Speed, Discipline, playing with a hard nosed attitude. Haven’t really seen a consistent element of that with this year’s Buffs.

    The PAC 12 is also changing and right now after watching last night’s futility it appears that CU is falling behind.

    Oregon with Taggert & Leavitt in second year will be something to reckon with.
    Cal with their 2nd year coach who did more with nothing this year then expected will be even better.
    Stanford, if they find a QB they will be Stanford solid.
    Washington with their coaching staff and money, a solid league and national contender.
    Wash. St. …… I don’t know as Leach is a mystery and I thought they would do better this year.
    OSU ………. probably totally will remain in the basement large rebuilding ahead (they could hire back Riley).

    UCLA, new coach lots of hype but Kelly has a great college football pedigree, will history repeat? Probably.
    USC, will always be USC with the most talent but will most likely have to replace a great QB.
    AZ St. maybe will have a new coach but if not they will still be above average.
    Univ. of AZ 61 Freshman and RS Freshman on this team with some very good contributions this year by that group, and with a QB, that if he remains healthy could be one of the best in the nation next year.

    Utah, with the Polynesian connection they have and mature players off of church missions will be as good or better next year.
    Colorado, they better sit down and analyze their situation. An offense that has never been able to protect the QB and even with talented WR’s can’t seem to get a solid consistent passing game going. Who’s going to run with the ball next year?

    A defense with some hope except will the Dline be up to what is needed to compete over 60 minutes in the PAC 12? Are the coaching and schemes with this group also up to PAC 12 standards? Jury still out on those D questions.

    After writing this I’m getting depressed, but maybe it is just TCUASB (Typical CU After Season Blues).

  10. One more year. That’s all that Mac II will be given at C.U. unless he comes in with at least a Bowl Game.
    Meanwhile, it will not be easy to land any more recruits except those that have no offers from any Power 5 programs ( and we already have some of those coming in for the 2018 season). We need some coaching changes, probably an offensive line coach and a quarterback coach. Sad situation.

  11. This team lost because the coaching staff is a joke. This cannot be fixed without firing somebody! Those players are loaded with talent but poor technique and awful coaching did not put them in a position to win. Where is the energy? Where is the motivation. Go steal Jim Leavitt back from Oregon and make him the head coach! Spend some money on a real coaching staff CU and show the players how commited you really are. The droppoff this season was not from losing key players, it was from losing key coaches!

  12. I stayed up last night here in New Jersey to watch the Buffs. I went to bed at halftime exceptionally disappointed – and frankly, more than a bit surprised – by how incredibly unprepared they appeared to be. Being 2/3 of a continent away and (thanks to the Pac-12 Network) not having had the chance to watch too much of them in action this season, I do not know whether last night was the exception or the rule in terms of how prepared they were all season. After reading all of the articles, etc. in the two weeks since the SC game regarding how much this game meant to the program and how focused they were on going to SLC and playing well, they looked clueless.

    Tough year for Buff Nation on the heels of 2016. 2018, it seems to me, will be most important year for this regime. Going from worst to first to worst again certainly makes it tough to sell the idea that “the Rise is Real”.

  13. Right on Stuart… very succinct, as usual. 2 things, especially jump out to me, and I concur…

    Utah played like the team that wanted to win, and CU played like the team ready to have the season be over.

    There was talent on the roster, but that talent never meshed into a team.

    Both, in my opinion, squarely on the shoulders of the head coach and his staff.

    Thank you Stuart for your web site, your perspective as a knowledgeable and loyal fan, and your insights.

    1. Talent never meshed into a team is correct. Montez gets drilled out of bounds and not one teammate comes over to help him up. No team chemistry at all. That’s on the coaches.

  14. Coach Mac will have the time he appearantly wanted to recruit some more wideouts and slot receivers while the other pac-12 coaches gobble up the linemen and linebackers. Until this changes we will see more of the same.

  15. Great work as usual Stuart. Players make plays, players win games; but only if the coaches put them in a position to win. The coaches, from top to bottom, failed this year. Some (most?) of those guy better be gone next year. If MM goes to Ole Miss I won’t shed a tear.

  16. I didn’t watch it per my stance that CU is a “never was” team that doesn’t deserve my attention until they earn it. But saw the score at 28-0. Although I have defended him, Mac needs to go. But I think he will jump to Ole Miss before we can fire him. Boy isn’t the shine removed from those coaching trophies? Another year of this and people will realize he’s a fraud, so he’s going to cash out and jump to the next level in the CFB hierarchy (kinda like Hawkins going from Boise to CU). That score was a disgrace. Sorry y’all wasted your evening watching it.

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