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Taking the Next Step

For much of the 1970’s and 80’s, the Big Eight was often derisively called as the “Big Two and the Little Six”, with Oklahoma and Nebraska dominating the conference. In fact, other than Colorado (1976, 1989, 1990) no Big Eight teams other than the Sooners and Cornhuskers made it to the Orange Bowl as the Big Eight’s representative in the final 25 years of the Big Eight’s existence.

If you look at the Pac-12 standings in 2019, there is distinct look of a “Big Two and Little Ten” to the conference:

Pac-12 North:

  • Oregon – 6-0, 8-1
  • Oregon State – 3-3, 4-5
  • Washington – 3-4, 6-4
  • Stanford – 3-4, 4-5
  • California – 2-4, 5-4
  • Washington State – 1-5, 4-5

Pac-12 South:

  • Utah – 5-1, 8-1
  • USC – 5-2, 6-4
  • UCLA – 4-2, 4-5
  • Arizona State – 2-4, 5-4
  • Arizona – 2-4, 4-5
  • Colorado – 2-5, 4-6

The parity in the conference this fall has led to some quirky factoids:

  • Heading into this weekend, the Pac-12 was the only Power-Five conference in which every team had at least four victories. In fact, each of the other four Power-Five conferences came into this weekend with at least two teams still looking for win No. 4 (ACC: Syracuse, 3-6; Georgia Tech, 2-7 … Big Ten: Maryland, 3-7; Rutgers, 2-7; Northwestern, 1-8 … Big 12: West Virginia: 3-6; Kansas, 3-6 … SEC: Vanderbilt, 2-7; Arkansas, 2-8);
  • Heading into this weekend, the Pac-12 had only four teams – Oregon; Utah; Washington; and USC – which were bowl-eligible. The Big 12, with only ten teams in its conference, already had five, while the Big Ten already had eight teams with six wins or more); and, perhaps all the more amazing …
  • The Pac-12, not only this weekend, but also heading into next weekend – the weekend before Thanksgiving – will still have every team in its conference – all twelve – still competing with the chance of becoming bowl-eligible.

That’s parity, folks.

Heading into this weekend, every team in the Pac-12 other than Oregon and Utah had at a least one 4, 5, or 6 attached to its record … USC and Washington at 6-4; Cal and Arizona State at 5-4; Oregon State, Stanford, Washington State, UCLA, and Arizona at 4-5; and Colorado at 4-6.

Glass half empty: Colorado is, once again, at the bottom of the Pac-12 conference.

Glass half full: Colorado is, unlike previous years, two plays away from being tied for the third-best record in the conference:

— Had James Stefanou not had an extra point blocked with six minutes to go against Air Force, his second extra point of the fourth quarter would have been a game-winner, with CU coming back to defeat the Falcons, 24-23, instead of having the game go into overtime at 23-23;

— Had the Buffs made any number of plays in the fourth quarter when holding a ten-point against USC (take your pick of several head-scratching calls), CU would have been celebrating its first-ever win over the Trojans, instead of muttering about what could have been.

True enough, the Buffs had no business rallying for a win over Nebraska, and the Stanford game could have gone either way, but the point here is that, unlike prior years, the Buffs are not only thisclose to a winning record and a bowl bid, they are thisclose to being one of the top teams in the conference.

The Pac-12 has had eight teams earn a national ranking in the 2019 season. While Oregon and Utah are currently the only ranked teams, six other teams – Washington (as high as 13th); Cal (as high as 15th); Arizona State (as high as 17th); Washington State (as high as 19th); USC (as high as 21st); and Stanford (as high as 23rd) – have been ranked, with Colorado (as high as 32nd), Arizona and UCLA also receiving votes in at least one poll (only Oregon State has gone the entire season without mention in the polls).

Pac-12 … the land of many teams which have success for periods of time, but can’t sustain it.

Witness:

  • Washington … opened as the preseason Pac-12 North co-favorite (along with Oregon) … started 4-1 … then lost three of four (including tough losses to both Oregon and Utah) before bouncing back strong against Oregon State;
  • Cal … opened 4-0, including a surprise road win over Washington … then lost four in a row to fall off the map … before bouncing back with a strong win over Washington State;
  • Arizona State … opened 5-1, with the only loss coming at home at Colorado … then lost three in a row;
  • Washington State … opened 3-0, then lost five of its next six, with the only win coming over Colorado;
  • USC … the most schizophrenic of teams … opened 2-0 … then lost to BYU … then gave Utah its only loss … then lost to Washington and Notre Dame … then beat Arizona and Colorado … then got killed by Oregon, 56-24;
  • Stanford … opened 1-4 … then won three-of-four, including a win over Washington … then lost to Colorado;
  • Arizona … opened 4-1 … then lost four in a row;
  • UCLA … opened 1-5, with everyone and their third cousin predicting a quick end to the Chip Kelly era … then won three in a row;
  • Oregon State … opened 1-3, with the only victory coming over Cal Poly … then won three-of-four before being completely shut down by Washington (five second-half possessions – five three-and-outs).

If you are a Colorado fan, there is much to like about the parity of the Pac-12. While the rest of the nation sees Colorado as 4-6 team which is only equal to (if not lesser than) the last two 5-7 teams of the Mike MacIntyre era, Buff fans know different. This team will not end its season on an eight-game losing streak, as many of us feared. With their backs against the wall, the Buffs rose up and showed Stanford – and the Pac-12 – what is possible in Boulder.

“We had success on Saturday (against Stanford) because we had the discipline to do our jobs and our guys played together as a team,” Tucker said after Tuesday’s workout. “They’re starting to get our culture in terms of everyone doing their job, trusting that the man next to us is going to do his job, and playing for each other, playing as a team. That’s a that’s a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish here. Just everyone understanding what their role is and being a star in your role.”

The win over Stanford, coupled with the announcement of CU’s three latest commitments: Five-star defensive lineman Antonio Alfano; four-star running back Ashaad Clayton; and three-star linebacker (and son and grandson of NFL players) Toren Pittman, only adds to the excitement. Recruiting, at the end of the day, is the lifeblood of any collegiate football program, and Mel Tucker & Co. seem to be doing a great job of selling the future of the Colorado program.

Colorado may not beat Washington or Utah in their final regular season games.

The Buffs may be staying home for the holidays for the 11th time in 12 seasons.

But the foundation is being laid. The program is ready to take the next step.

And, with the parity that exists in the Pac-12 right now … that next step may not be as big a step as we once thought …

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3 Replies to “Taking The Next Step”

  1. Yo Stuart,

    Great insight as always. We always know that hope springs eternal. But for the first time in a many years, we in the Buff Nation are entering the holidays knowing that Colorado is on the upswing. Under Carpetbagger Boy, the only hope we had at this time of year was when Jim Leavitt was motivating the defense. Now, we have an early Christmas present in knowing MT has the reins.

    I have full confidence in Mel Tucker. We knew and still know it’s a process. But the man has a process and a plan. And that plan will absolutely bring Colorado back to national prominence. No more recruiting linemen that need to gain 50 pounds before they are able to play at the Power Five and Pac 12 level.

    Bigger and better things are on the way. And more importantly, this coaching staff knows how to develop players. That’s a skill that hasn’t been around in way too long. I expect the Buffs will take a massive step forward next year.

    Watching Minnesota yesterday, I was envious of the size of that offensive line. They average higher than 6’6″ tall and 340 pounds. The Gophers have only been ranked in the Top 25 at the end of the season twice in the last 50 years. And the last time was 2003. This year they will be back behind that massive line. Mel Tucker will have the Buffs on the same upward path through recruiting and development.

    Two of the three toughest teams Colorado faces this year are still ahead. The Buffs may very well lose both, but I also think they are capable of winning them. Mel Tucker thinks they are capable as well. Most importantly, the players are beginning to believe too.

    Having players believe in themselves and each other is the toughest task any new coach faces when coming in to take over for a fired coach. Lots of guys on this team have had to suffer through mediocre coaching and a head coach who believed that mediocre was okay. The standards are higher now.

    Thanks to the football deities for Mel Tucker.

    GO BUFFS!

    Mark
    Boulderdevil
    GoldenBuffs.com

  2. Nice article. No argument about recruiting as the lifeblood of program; however, don’t overlook what Tucker is doing regarding developing players, even those who were not highly rated. Trust your own evaluation, put in place a system that will develop them throughout the year(s) and during the season instead of languishing on the scout team. Several recent articles and Summer’s recent interview point to Tucker doing just that based on his personal experience at previous programs. (A bowl game with extra practices is also vital). The recruiting stars and game visits and crystal ball projections and all that is the nice shiny new sports car in the driveway getting everyone all giddy; however, its the evaluating , identifying and developing the right guys for your program that is the work truck parked in the back that is bringing home the bacon and will build a program that is sustainable. Plus you don’t have to dip too heavily into the JUCO bowl but can be selective.
    Give me Phil Lindsay and Chidobe Awuzie over Darrell Scott and Yuri Wright any day.

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