Breakfast With Champions

… With my apologies to General Mills, the maker of Wheaties … 

From 1995, which was the first year of the Big 12, until 2010, when Colorado and Nebraska left for other conferences, the Buffs and Cornhuskers squared off in the regular season finale on Thanksgiving weekend. Often showcased around the other Big 12 rivalry game of note – Texas v. Texas A&M – the Buffs and Cornhuskers were occasionally asked to play the early game on the Friday afternoon after Turkey Day.

Such was the case in 2007, when Colorado faced Nebraska at Folsom Field in a game which kicked off at 10:09 MT. It was the earliest kickoff for a game in the history of Folsom Field.

Until 2020.

When Buff kicker Mac Willis put toe to leather at 10:05, the CU/Utah game was underway. The early start came about because Ohio State/Michigan had been canceled, moving the CU/Utah game from Friday night on FS1 to the “Big Noon Kickoff” on Fox (with the “noon” part of the title the dead giveaway as to what time zone matters most to the networks).

Just over three hours later – just in time for a late lunch – Utah walked off the field with a 38-21 victory. The loss ended the four-game win streak to open Karl Dorrell’s head coaching career at Colorado. It also ended Jarek Broussard’s run of 100-yard rushing games … and CU’s hopes for a Pac-12 title … and Nate Landman’s career at Colorado … and CU’s brief foray into national relevance.

While Buff fans can fully expect Karl Dorrell, Jarek Broussard and Nate Landman (in the NFL) to bounce back from this loss, the biggest hit Colorado took in the loss to Utah was to its national reputation.

In 2016, the Buffs came from out of nowhere to win the Pac-12 South and earn a berth in the Alamo Bowl. “The Rise” took the 10-2 Buffs as far as the conference title game, but, once there, CU fell hard to Washington, 41-10. That loss was followed up by a no-show in the Alamo Bowl, with Oklahoma State routing the Buffs, 38-8. The losses dropped Colorado from 9th to 15th in the polls … and right back out again to start the 2017 season.

Colorado came into this weekend as one of only nine teams in the FBS with an undefeated record. In the Power Five, there were four blue bloods – Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and USC – and Colorado.

Pretty heady company for the Buff Nation, even if the Buffs were ranked only 21st, well behind the other undefeated schools.

And now, after a 38-21 loss on the Fox “Big Noon Kickoff”?

Say goodbye to the polls … and the national attention.

Just watch. Here’s how the Pac-12 will be lined up for the 2021 season by the media:

— USC, barring an apocalypse, will be the favorite, even if three of their five wins came in the final minute of play this fall. On the other end of the spectrum, Arizona, unless they hire Urban Meyer or Nick Saban as its new head coach, will be picked to finish last.

For the other four schools, it’s a toss-up …

— Utah is only 2-2, but beat the Buffs by 17 in Boulder (forget the fact that it was only 27-21 with five minutes remaining, with the Buffs driving. In the span of two plays – a fourth down incomplete pass by the Buffs, and a 66-yard touchdown run by the Utes – the game went from a pick ’em to a rout). The Utes will be given a pass for their slow start, and will again be given a high rating (Utah was ranked No. 22 in the AP preseason poll);

— Arizona State is only 1-2, but had USC beaten in the opener, and is coming off of a 70-7 rout of Arizona. The consensus coming into the 2020 season was that the Sun Devils were on the rise under Herm Edwards, and the Sun Devils will again be perceived as up-and-comers in the Pac-12;

— UCLA is only 3-3, but had both Oregon and USC on the ropes, and made a huge comeback against Colorado. Chip Kelly had the Bruins above .500 (at 2-1 and 3-2) for the first time in his three seasons at Westwood, and the Bruins’ play this fall will earn him a fourth year (Jon Wilner tweeted out after UCLA lost to USC, 43-38, that the Bruins and Trojans should meet in a re-match to play for the Pac-12 title, as they were the best two teams in the conference).

Which leaves 4-1 Colorado, the only Pac-12 team not named USC with four wins this fall, exactly where?

The Buffs will be picked to finish fifth, ahead of only Arizona … the same placement they received in this season’s preseason media poll.

Same ‘ol, same ‘ol?

Don’t believe it, Buff fans.

It says here that, even though the Buffs are no longer undefeated … and will drop out of the polls … and will not get a shot at the Pac-12 title … that this is still should be considered to be a championship season …

Let’s start at the top:

CU Athletic Director Rick George … It’s always a tough decision when choosing a new head coach. After all, the fate of the AD is often directly tied to the fate of the coach and the football program.

Rick George had to do it twice in just over a year, and had do so this off-season under very trying circumstances.

It’s extraordinarily rare that a school is forced to choose its new head coach after Signing Day, but that was the hand George was dealt when Mel Tucker bolted for Michigan State in late February. There was no time to waste, what with spring practices less than a month away. Yet there were few obvious candidates, and many would-be candidates were already situated in their new positions. CU was the 23rd team in the 2019-20 coaching carousel to pick a new coach – with 22 other teams getting to pick first.

Rick George chose Karl Dorrell, who was so under-the-radar that CU didn’t even know Dorrell had built his permanent home in Lafayette.

The national reaction to the hire was, at best, lukewarm.

Lindy’s preseason magazine rated Dorrell 22nd out of the 23 new hires. Lindy’s assessment was hardly unique: “Colorado’s search eventually (disappointingly?) landed on Dorrell, who was a middling coach at UCLA, and who has spent exactly one season in college since 2007“.

The jury is still out on Dorrell’s long-term prospects, but, considering the circumstances, Rick George (and Lance Carl) did very well with this last-minute hire.

Which brings us to …

Head coach Karl Dorrell … What Dorrell and his staff have been able to accomplish this season is nothing short of extraordinary. The program was already behind the eight-ball – with Dorrell trying to assemble a staff just weeks before the start of spring practices – but then really hit the skids when the shutdown came.

Dorrell was hired on February 23rd, but didn’t have his first practice with his team until October 9th … some 228 days later. And yet, Dorrell and his assistants were able to keep the team together (a grand total of one defection from the Recruiting Class of 2020, and that was a player from Cleveland whose only tie to CU was through Mel Tucker), and somehow get the team to believe in his vision.

And now, Dorrell is almost a lock for the Pac-12 Coach-of-the-Year.

“I do believe this team has really good character”, Dorrell said after the loss to Utah. “I do feel that. In the locker room, there is disappointment but there is also understanding of why they are disappointed. They knew where the issues were as to why we lost today. That tells you a lot about their growth as a team when they can basically say, ‘Coach, this was our problem today.’ The mindset now is to get those things fixed to get ready for next week.”

Sure, it’s coach-speak, but when you hear Dorrell say it, you want to believe it.

Not bad for a “disappointing” hire.

Which brings us to …

The team … You could have polled a thousand Buff fans six weeks ago, and my guess is that only a handful would have pegged Sam Noyer to start at quarterback over Tyler Lytle and Brendon Lewis, or Jarek Broussard to start at tailback over Alex Fontenot, Jaren Mangham, Joe Davis, and Ashaad Clayton.

Both players had issues in the loss to Utah – Noyer had a bad interception and a fumble in Utah territory, while Broussard fumbled the ball away late in the first half as the Buffs were trying to run out the clock with a 14-7 lead, leading to a Utah field goal.

Broussard had 80 yards (on only 14 carries), but it marked the first time this season that the sophomore was held under 100 yards rushing. If he had been featured more (he came into the game averaging over 29 carries per game), Broussard would have easily had his fifth 100-yard game.

While both players – who have three Pac-12 Offensive Players-of-the-Week between them – had subpar outings, the fact that they have been successful this fall is a testament to them, as well as to the development of the team overall.

The Buffs have had to deal with a rash of injuries, exposing their lack of quality depth. The offensive line has to be reassembled each week, the tight end position has been removed from the offense since Brady Russell was injured, and the loss of Nate Landman was clearly felt in the second half of the Utah game, as the Utes out-scored the Buffs 28-0 after CU had taken a 21-10 lead.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda is common for every fan base after a defeat. The amazing thing is that the Buff Nation got to wait until game five to endure that particular post-game ritual.

CU has one – and deservedly two – more games left to play this season. Regardless of how those games turn out, the 2020 season has already been a huge success.

The 38-21 loss to Utah may have ended some dreams for 2020 notoriety, and will, in all likelihood, allow the pundits to discount the prospects for the 2021 team.

And it certainly didn’t help our breakfasts go down any easier.

But, if Buff fans can keep their perspective … it’s still been (an unexpectedly) great regular season, with much to be hopeful about as the calendar turns to 2021 …

—–

10 Replies to “Breakfast With Champions”

  1. Good article & perceptions, But Dorrell shouldn’t be almost a sure in for PAC12 COY, he better get it! Not hired until very late & missing out on camps & then winning 4 of 5 when slated for 1 win.

  2. It would be nice if Pacific Island families moved to Colorado. Utah has a great defense every year with those tough and big guys in the trenches. Their front 4 on defense looked impressive.

  3. Great write up again.
    Yeah I honestly was ok with the play calling to go after the weaker part of the Utah D with more passing and screens. Also it seemed like Broussard was frequently pulling himself out of action which makes me wonder if he wasn’t 100%. Buffs just couldn’t execute down the stretch.

  4. Two things: 1) You mention the The Rise year. I truly enjoyed that whole year, even the Pac 12 Championship and Valero Bowl. But as time passes, I ‘ve come think of it as a mirage and have rebranded it in my mind, “Mickey Mac’s Crying Game.” I really got sick of that guy crying every 5 minutes. I’m as sentimental as the next guy, but c’mon man. 2) Chev seemed to revert to his 2017-18 play calling. Watching the game from afar, the game plan was incoherent and he appeared to have conceded that Buffs couldn’t run the ball against the yutes. Towards the middle of the 3rd quarter it looked like Jarek was starting to get a rhythm, then Chev calls the pass play that Noyer promptly threw to a DB that everyone in the stadium saw except him. Chev had a bad game and was outcoached. I hope he can learn from it.

    Setting that aside, I have been very happy watching these games. The Buffs have given us so much more than we could’ve expected and seem to have navigated the COVID hurdles better than most of the FCS programs.

    1. Yes that game plan was interesting. Okay go after the supposed weakness of the Utes. But those first 6 passing plays were crap.

      That is all

      Note: Wait, KD said this last week they wanted to fix the passing game. Welp ya still got alot of work to do. Chev did get out coached.

  5. If Nate tore his Achilles, which would suck, the bright side is he may come back. Those can take a year to fully heal. NFL guys may not want to draft and wait and hope he returns to form.

    Beyond that, more nfl dudes and we will see more wins. There’s a few more on this team than in the recent past (other than 2016, and maybe even then when all said and done).

    Need a qb. Sam needs to make another leap if he is going to be that guy. Very curious to see Lewis and chandler compete next year.

    Go Buffs

  6. Great perspective. When there is a disappointing loss with a lot at stake, it’s easy to focus upon the negatives. The reality is that good and very unexpected progress was made this year which bodes well for the future. Who cares what the pundits say? Buffs will prove them wrong again next season. Even with the devastating injury to Landman, turnovers, and poor conditions, the Buffs were within one score with 5 minutes left to play. This team can overcome a lot. That is cultural resilience. Expect more going forward. Go Buffs!

  7. Agree with everything…my only nit to pick is that, once again our teams don’t seem to improve week/week. When we suck, we suck all year. Or we seem to start well then fade down the stretch, while other teams (Utah, UCLAs) seemingly are getting better every week. Unfortunately if we played UCLA again, I think the outcome would be different (or even Stanford for that matter). Did anyone else see what ASU did to the Arizona team we ‘survived’?
    Unfortunately at the broadest level, that’s coaching (esp. at the coordinator/position level).

  8. Proud of the BUFFS….!!!!
    But… we have a top RB and we did not feed him the ball?????
    Teach the boys how to tackle runners by flying up and hitting below the knee at shin. Hard to run With your feet over your head.

  9. Ya gotta love homers now don’t ya????

    Jack is gonna be Jack not matter what he owns. Right??

    Anyway
    As stated before HCKD is the vaccine for what has ailed the Mighty Buffs. I said it was a great choice even if it was kinda an unknown and I am gonna say miraculous season so far………..and more to come……..No shadow banning Jack…..
    Was hoping for the win but got the loss.

    Were the Buffs actually favored in this game?

    Hey doesn’t matter what the pundits, local or non local, project.

    5 and 1 would be outstanding. So who will the Mighty Buffs be playing and where. Hey why not 6 and 1??

    Go Buffs

    Note: Broussard carried the ball 14 times. What??
    Note 2: Broussard did not touch the ball the first 6 offensive plays. What??
    Note 3: Why was that?…………..asking for a friend.

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