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The 2016 Season – A Look Back at the Buffs’ unlikely run to the Pac-12 South title

As college football remains in limbo, we’ll continue to take a look back at some of the best seasons in the CU at the Game Archives.

Previously posted

Here is a look back at the Buffs’ unlikely run to the Pac-12 South title in 2016. CU had finished last or tied for last in the South division in every season since joining the conference in 2011, but the 2016 season had a special group of dedicated players who had had enough, and wasn’t going to accept another losing campaign. The Buffs went from “worst-to-first” in posting a 10-2 regular season record.

August Optimism

The Associated Press preseason top 25 will be released Sunday.

In case you were wondering … Colorado won’t be listed.

It used to be a high point of dog days of August, as Buff fans were anxious to see where Colorado would land in the minds of the Associated Press writers. From 1989 to 2002, there were only two polls (1998 and 2001) in which the Buffs were not considered – at least in August – to be one of the best 25 teams in the nation.

It’s been awhile.

The last time Colorado was ranked in the preseason polls came back in 2002, when the Buffs, coming off of a Big 12 championship, were ranked 7th in the Associated Press poll; 6th in the coaches’ poll.

Since then, Colorado has been outside of the preseason national debate … but speculation concerning the Buffs has never waned.

Every August, hope is renewed.

Every August, every team is undefeated.

Every August, we strain to make arguments how this season will be different.

Most seasons in the past decade, I have dreaded the season opener, as I have feared that the hopes built up since the previous Thanksgiving weekend will be dashed before the Labor Day weekend comes to a close.

This August, though, I have been more confident than usual about the season opener against Colorado State. After all, the Buffs defeated the Rams last year, when CSU was coming off of a ten-win season, and CU was coming off of a ten-loss season. This year, the Rams are replacing eight starters on defense and have no clear-cut starter at quarterback. Meanwhile, the Buffs are as deep and as talented as they have been in years.

Uh-oh.

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Game One … 

September 2nd – Denver          Colorado 44, Colorado State 7

Colorado wanted a fast start to the first game of the 2016 season.

The 2015 opener against Hawai’i opened with a three-and-out and a blocked punt from the Colorado offense, and the Buffs never really recovered … in that game, or really, the entire season.

Against Colorado State in the 2016 opener, though, the Buffs got off to a fast start, storming out to a 21-0 first quarter lead, never looking back in a 44-7 domination of the Rams.

Sefo Liufau went 23-for-33 for 318 yards and a touchdown, also contributing 66 yards rushing on 14 carries. Phillip Lindsay had 20 carries for 95 yards and two touchdowns to lead a 260-yard rushing attack. The receiving corps also failed to post a 100-yard effort, but were more than happy to settle for Bryce Bobo’s 99 yards on five catches, and the 97 yards and a touchdown from Devin Ross.

In all, Colorado went for 578 yards of total offense, holding Colorado State to 225 yards (including only 63 yards passing). The Buff defense forced four turnovers, and surrendered only 12 first downs.

Continue reading game story here

Essay for the Game “Welcome To The Fight”

A theme for the Buffs this off-season has been “W.T.T.F.”. Fans have seen coaches and players wearing this on t-shirts and sweatshirts throughout the spring and summer.

An obvious play on “WTF”, the eye-catching slogan instead stands for “Welcome to the Fight”.

“I said it all spring, ‘Welcome to the Fight’,” said coach Mike MacIntyre in the Colorado Video “The Rise – Episode 1” (posted below).  “This is a fight, because life is a fight. You men are ready to fight. It’s everything you do. 24/7/365”.

After a dominating 44-7 victory over Colorado State, a few other “W.T.T.F.” possibilities come to mind:

W.T.T.F … Whoa! Texas Tech Football

There was much debate, and a great deal of consternation, in the Buff Nation this off-season about co-offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren calling the plays. Sure, the line of reasoning went, it’s great to have Darrin Chiaverini on the staff, but if Lindgren is still in charge of orchestrating the offense, won’t these be the same ‘ol Buffs who struggled to score last season?

Nope.

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Here is the YouTube video of the game … 

Here is “The Rise: Episode 1” … 

Game Two … 

September 10th – Boulder          Colorado 56, Idaho State 7

Sefo Liufau passed for 204 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 54 yards and another score in less than a half as Colorado routed Idaho State, 56-7.

Phillip Lindsay ran for two scores as the Buffs built a 49-0 halftime lead on its way to a second straight blowout win.

Liufau, who had 384 yards of offense in the 44-7 win over Colorado State in the 2016 opener to earn Pac-12 Player of the Week honors, had another big game with touchdown passes of 15 and 4 yards. He ended his day with a 19-yard touchdown run late in Colorado’s 35-point second quarter that made it 42-0.

Liufau’s backup Steven Montez connected with Kabion Ento for two more touchdown passes.

Jakori Ford scored for the Bengals (1-1), who had just seven first downs and 96 yards total offense.

“I was very impressed with what our staff did with our guys, I liked how focused they were”, said CU coach Mike MacIntyre. “Our upperclassmen did a good job of staying focused in practice and they kept working.  That’s what we talk about all the time, it’s to worry about Colorado and nothing else.  I’m seeing that in this group of guys”.

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Essay for the Game … Great(er) Expectations

It’s been a long time since Colorado football has been part of the national discussion. So long, in fact, that Buff fans can be forgiven for not remembering what it’s like.

The past two weeks, though, there has been a pleasant sprinkling of rain in CU’s decade-long drought.

In the polls which came out after the Colorado State game, Colorado received a solitary vote in both the Associated Press Top 25 poll and the USA Today Coaches’ poll. Not exactly “hold the presses” news for the rest of the nation, but it was a big deal for #TheRise in Colorado football.

Which coach voted for the Buffs in the USA Today poll remains a mystery. Sources report that CU coach Mike MacIntyre, one of six Pac-12 coaches among the 64 head coaches on the panel, did not vote for the Buffs (and, no, CSU head coach Mike Bobo is not on the list, so it wasn’t him, either).

The writer who cast the one vote the Buffs received in the Associated Press poll, however, is known. Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald, publicly disclosed his vote for Colorado. His explanation:

… No. 25 Colorado: And here we have a controversial pick. CU? The Buffaloes? Which has won 11 games in four years? Yes. Colorado, based on one of the most dominant wins of the weekend, a 44-7 rout of Colorado State. CU out-gained CSU by 353 yards, won the turnover battle +2, converted 12 of 19 third downs — this was a good performance. Better than TCU and Pitt — even if both won. If the goal is to reward performance, and not some preconceived notion of goodness, then, through one week, Colorado is a top 25 team to me. They may drop out soon enough.

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Here is the YouTube video of the game … 

Game Three … 

September 17th – at Michigan          No. 4 Michigan 45, Colorado 28

Colorado jumped out a to a 14-0 lead on Michigan in the first five minutes, but special teams mistakes and an injured quarterback prevented the Buffs from coming up with an upset, falling on the road to the 4th-ranked Wolverines, 45-28.

Sefo Liufau went 16-for-25 for 246 yards and three touchdowns, but left the game in the third quarter with a right leg injury. After Liufau left the game, the Buff offense faltered, allowing the Wolverines to turn an close game into a 17-point victory.

Shay Fields had seven catches for 99 yards and a score, with Devin Ross collecting seven receptions for 77 yards and two scores. The Buffs, though, were held to just 64 total yards rushing on 33 carries, a 1.9 yard average. Overall, Colorado had 325 yards, holding Michigan to 397. The Buffs, who were 4th in the nation in third down conversion offense coming into the game (66.2%), were held to 1-of-13 in third down conversions by the Wolverine defense.

“The message to our team was that we got a good football team”, said Mike MacIntyre, who fell to 0-19 against ranked teams (0-12 at Colorado). “We have to correct a few things. When you are playing another good football team, you have to do some of those things better so we will go back and correct them and move forward to the next game.”

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Essay for the Game … “We have good guys who want to win. Must work harder – smarter”

The bar has definitely been raised.

Colorado hasn’t beaten a ranked team on the road since 2002.

Colorado hasn’t beaten a ranked team of any kind since 2009.

The only two times that the Buffs have taken out a top five team, on the road, in school history (Nebraska, 1990; Michigan, 1994), Colorado was also ranked in the top ten.

And yet, after the Buffs succumbed to No. 4 Michigan, on the road, 45-28, the Buff Nation was up in arms. “Special teams were an embarrassment”. “CU’s play calling was a joke”. “Mike MacIntyre failed his players”.

Love the passion … can’t completely agree with the arguments.

It was tough to watch the second half, no question about it. After generating 28 points in 31 minutes against the No. 9 scoring defense in the nation, the Colorado offense lost starting quarterback Sefo Liufau. Over the next 29 minutes, the Buff offense was held to 18 total yards on 24 plays. A 28-24 lead quickly turned into a 45-28 loss.

What to take from the Buffs’ first loss of the 2016 season, in order of priority:

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Here is the YouTube video of the game … 

The Rise: Episode 2 – The first three games … CSU, Idaho State, and Michigan … 

Game Four … 

September 24th – at Oregon          Colorado 41, Oregon 38

Red-shirt freshman quarterback Steven Montez threw for 333 yards and three touchdowns in his starting debut, leading Colorado to a 41-38 victory over Oregon. Montez also ran for 135 yards and a score as the Buffs raced out to leads of 23-7 and 33-17 before needing an Ahkello Witherspoon interception in the end zone with 48 seconds remaining to preserve the victory.

Devin Ross had 153 yards and a touchdown receiving, with the Buffs rolling to 593 total yards overall. The victory was the first for the Buffs over the Ducks since joining the Pac-12, and the first overall since defeating Oregon in the 1998 Aloha Bowl.

“I would say this is a signature win,” said MacIntyre, whose team was 0-5 against the Ducks since joining the league. “These kids believe they can beat anybody.”

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Essay for the Game … Halfway There

Colorado went 1-0 this week.

That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

It’s been the mantra of the Colorado football coaching staff all year. “Go 1-0 this week”. “Colorado is the most important team on the schedule”. “Play your own game; ignore the logos on the helmets of the opposition”.

The players have been very consistent in re-stating this lesson through the first month of the season. Sure, the Colorado State game was a big win, but it was just one victory. Idaho State and Michigan? Identical opponents in the eyes of the Buffs.

The 41-38 victory over Oregon was just one victory … Colorado went 1-0 in Eugene on Saturday.

The Buffs are now 3-1. Halfway to the bowl eligibility which has eluded them since 2007.

Just another game.

Yet they … and we … know better.

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Here is the YouTube replay of the Witherspoon interception … 

Here are some additional highlights from the Oregon … 

Game Five … 

October 1st – Boulder           Colorado 47, Oregon State 6

Steven Montez and Shay Fields hooked up for three first-half touchdowns, leading the Buffs to a 47-6 rout of Oregon State. Montez went 19-for-27 for 293 yards in three quarters of action, with Fields collecting seven of those passes for 169 yards. Fields tied a school record for touchdown receptions in a game, with 160 of his 169 yards coming in the first half as the Buffs turned an early 3-0 deficit into a 37-6 blowout by halftime.

Phillip Lindsay was the leading rusher for the Buffs, with 90 yards and a score in 16 carries. The defense was also stellar, holding the Beavers to 226 yards of total offense. While holding the Oregon State offense out of the end zone, the Colorado defense was able to get there on its own, with linebacker Rick Gamboa scoring on a 20-yard interception return.

“It proves we’re legitimate, maybe, that we can do it,” Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. “Everybody kept asking me all week, `Are they going to have a letdown? Did they play out of their minds?’ Like I said since Day 1, we’re a good football team.”

The win gave Colorado a 4-1 record overall, with a 2-0 record in Pac-12 play. In defeating Oregon State (1-3, 0-1), the Buffs equaled their 2015 win total, and made a claim for a national ranking for the first time since 2005.

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Essay for the Game …  Let Down? Not so much …

It’s not like we haven’t been here before.

It’s just that we haven’t been here in a long time.

The University of Colorado Buffaloes, the laughing stock of the Pac-12 since joining the league, find themselves atop the South division two weeks into conference play. The Buffs are 4-1, 2-0 … the only team in the Pac-12 South without a conference loss after completing the sweep of the Oregon schools with a dominating 47-6 win over Oregon State.

“We’re a good football team. That’s the good thing, we don’t have any kids anymore; we’ve got some men,” said Mike MacIntyre after the rout. “They listen, they come prepared to practice, they ask questions, they come over after class, they do more studying, they’re involved. They say all the time, ‘Players make plays, players win games.’ They’re understanding that now. They’re taking their coaching. We don’t have guys late for things. They’re getting more professional. As you mature, that’s what happens. The less teenagers you have playing the better off you are.”

The Buffs kept the Folsom Field crowd of 46,839 (the largest of the Mike MacIntyre era) wondering about a letdown from the 41-38 win over Oregon …

… for about half a quarter.

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Here the YouTube video with highlights from the game … 

Game Six … 

October 8th – at USC          USC 21, No. 21 Colorado 17

The Colorado defense forced four USC turnovers, but also allowed 540 yards of total offense as the Trojans defeated the Buffs for the 11th-straight time, 21-17.

In a battle of freshman quarterbacks, USC’s Sam Darnold won the day. Darnold went 25-for-37 for 358 yards and three touchdowns … with all three scoring passes going to tight ends. Steven Montez, meanwhile, was held to 192 yards passing, completing 24-of-39 passes, with one touchdown and one interception.

Bryce Bobo was in line for player of the game, with a career-high ten catches, going for 83 yards and a ten-yard touchdown. Bobo was also in on the Buffs’ other touchdown, with the junior receiver throwing a 67-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Lindsay to help keep Colorado in the game.

“We didn’t play Colorado football,” Mike MacIntyre said. “We didn’t play hard and fast like we’re capable of doing. They (the Trojans) are a good team and had something to do with that, but we didn’t play as well as we could have.”

The loss dropped Colorado to 4-2, 2-1 in Pac-12 play, falling to 2-20-1 all-time in games played in the state of California.

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Essay for the GameMoving (Just a Little) Too Fast

It was a heady week for the Buff Nation.

Colorado was 4-1, 2-0 in Pac-12 conference play, and the plaudits were coming in from all quarters. The Buffs were featured on ESPN’s GameDay broadcast, Mike MacIntyre was interviewed on SportsCenter, and national sportswriters fawned over the “feel good” rags-to-riches story that was the 2016 Colorado football team.

The “first time since” stats were everywhere:

— First time with a 2-0 record in conference play since 2007;

— First time ranked in the national polls since 2005;

— Largest margin of victory in a conference game (47-6 over Oregon State) since 1992 (54-6 over Kansas State).

Mike MacIntyre talked about being the 2-0 record be just that – 2-0. There were seven games left to be played in the Pac-12 race, and the Buffs had clinched exactly nothing. It was hard, though, not to start thinking about CU’s first winning record since 2005, and the first bowl appearance since 2007.

Then Colorado went to Los Angeles, in search of the elusive first-ever win over USC. The Buffs were 0-10 all-time against the Trojans, but had come tantalizing close in a 27-24 loss in 2015.

The Buffs came up just short once again, falling 21-17 before 68,302 sun-baked fans in the Coliseum.

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Here are the YouTube video highlights from the game … 

 

Here is The Rise: Episode 3 … The Oregon, Oregon State, and USC games … 

 

Game Seven … 

October 15th – Boulder           Colorado 40, No. 24 Arizona State 16

Phillip Lindsay rushed for 219 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Colorado Buffaloes to their first win over Arizona State in their history, 40-16.

Lindsay averaged 8.4 yards on 26 carries and his big day included a 75-yard rumble on the first snap of the second half. He also scored from 13 yards out, capping off a memorable evening with a 4-yard scoring run in the final minute.

The Buffs ran for 315 yards overall.

“We didn’t play very well and my hat goes off to them because they ran the ball on us unlike anyone has ever run it the whole time I’ve been at Arizona State,” said Sun Devils fifth-year coach Todd Graham.

Sefo Liufau threw for 265 yards on 23 of 31 passing against the nation’s worst pass defense in his return to the Buffs starting lineup for the first time since spraining his left ankle at Michigan on Sept. 17.

His biggest play came when he slipped a sack, rolled left and found Bryce Bobo all alone for a 66-yard gain to the Sun Devils 9. Three plays later, Liufau took it in himself from the 3 to snap a 10-10 tie.

“We can enjoy the win tonight, but we have to go back to work on Monday and prove ourselves all over again,” Liufau said.

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Essay for the GameMaking A Statement

Just so we are clear, the 40-16 win over Arizona State was, in my opinion, not a “statement game”. It was not a “signature win”. It did not merit a Gatorade bath for coach MacIntyre, nor should the fans have stormed the field after the game.

“I thought tonight was a break-through win”, said Mike MacIntyre. “Sefo [Liufau] getting to come back and get his start tonight, and this team he played four years ago was the first time he ever played and it didn’t go great. I kept telling them they built the water up in the dam and the dam had cracks in it. I said you got to go punch it one more time, and now the water’s going to flow”.

A break-through game? Okay. I’ll give you that.

But it wasn’t a “statement game”.

What the Buffs did, however, in taking down Arizona State in dominating fashion, was to make a “statement”.

They made a statement to their fans, to the national media, and, most importantly, to the rest of the Pac-12.

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Here is the YouTube video with highlights from the game … 

Game Eight … 

October 22nd – at Stanford          Colorado 10, Stanford 5

Colorado became bowl eligible for the first time since 2007 with a hard-fought 10-5 win over Stanford. Buff field goal kickers missed three of four field goal attempts, making the game tense throughout, but four turnovers forced by the Buff defense preserved the victory.

Sefo Liufau connected with Shay Fields on a 15-yard score early in the second quarter, providing the game’s only touchdown. Otherwise, Liufau was largely held in check, hitting 12-of-25 for 135 yards, but was picked up by running back Phillip Lindsay, who had 12 carries for 131 yards.

In holding the Cardinal out of the end zone, the Buff defense had three interceptions and a fumble recovery. Tedric Thompson had two interceptions, the second coming midway through the fourth quarter, setting up the Buffs’ field goal. Linebacker Kenneth Olugbode recovered a fumble at the Buff five yard line to snuff out Stanford’s drive to take the lead, with Isaiah Oliver collecting his interception in the final minutes to seal the victory.

“We have one goal, and that’s Pac-12 champions,” said running back Phillip Lindsay after rushing for 131 yards before leaving midway through the third quarter with an ankle injury. “Winning six games, that’s cool, it’s cute. But we have to continue to move on. We have bigger things to worry about.”

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Essay for the GameChanging of the Guard

There was a seismic event in the Bay Area this weekend … and it had nothing to do with earthquakes.

Stanford and Oregon, the two teams which have won all five of the Pac-12 titles to date, officially bowed out of the race for the 2016 Pac-12 championship. On Friday night, Oregon lost to California, 52-49, in a game which featured 203 plays, 101 points, and 1,086 total yards. Then, on Saturday afternoon, Stanford lost to Colorado, 10-5, in a game which featured a grand total of one touchdown and just over 600 total yards between the two offenses.

Oregon and Stanford found two different ways to lose this weekend.

Yet the two teams suffered similar fates.

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Here is the YouTube video with highlights from the game … 

Here is the KOA recap of the game … 

Game Nine … 

November 3rd – Boulder           No. 21 Colorado 20, UCLA 10

Isaiah Oliver returned a punt 68 yards for a score with 5:27 remaining and No. 21 Colorado overcame eight personal-foul penalties to beat UCLA 20-10 on Thursday night.

Oliver caught the punt on the right side of the field, cut back to the left and went untouched for the decisive score. It was the first punt return for a touchdown in 11 years for Colorado, giving the Buffs a guaranteed winning season since 2005 … the last time the Buffs had a punt return for a touchdown (Stephone Robinson v. Kansas).

The game featured a combined 25 penalties for 224 yards, two blocked kicks and five turnovers.

Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau went a school-record 152 attempts without throwing an interception before throwing two in a span of six passes. The Buffs had four turnovers in the first half, but was only behind 10-7 at the break due to the play of the defense.

The Buff defenders, who have yet to give up a touchdown drive of over 40 yards in four games at Folsom Field, held the Bruins to 25 rushing yards (on 30 carries, or 0.8 yards per attempt) and 210 total yards. The Colorado offense, though, allowed UCLA to stay in the game, with only 304 total yards to go with the four turnovers.

“The good thing that shows you about our team is we found a way to win,” Mike MacIntyre said. “We found a way to win and you’re going to have a game like that every once in a while, but not with the selfish penalties that we had and we’ll fix that.”

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Essay for the Game … Even Ugly Wins Count

The statistics tell the story:

— Four turnovers;

— A total of 12 penalties – including four personal fouls and four calls for unsportsmanlike conduct – for a total of 128 yards;

— Four trips to the red zone by the offense, with only one touchdown to show for the effort.

In year’s past … Hell, last year … this would have been the post-mortem of yet another close loss. The Buffs, at times in the very recent past, played well enough to win Pac-12 games, but turnovers, missed opportunities, and self-inflicted wounds kept the team from posting “W’s”.

Against UCLA, however, the team found a way to win, coming away with a 20-10 victory before a Thursday night Blackout crowd of 43,761.

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Here are YouTube video highlights from the game … 

The Rise: Episode 4 – Arizona State, Stanford, and UCLA games … 

Game Ten … 

November 12th – at Arizona           No. 16 Colorado 49, Arizona 24

Colorado ran its record to 8-2 with a harder-than-it-looked 49-24 victory on the road against Arizona. The Buffs were out-gained by the Wildcats, 412 yards to 388, but costly penalties (13 for 138 yards) and three missed field goals kept the Wildcats from making it a game.

The Colorado offense did produce a 100-yard rusher (Phillip Lindsay, 25 carries for 119 yards and three touchdowns), and a 100-yard receiver (Shay Fields, six catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns), but the Buff offense seemed out of sync for much of the evening. Sefo Liufau had his first three-touchdown pass game since the Michigan contest in September, finishing with 19-of-27 passing for 213 yards.

The Colorado defense struggled at times as well. The Buffs came into the game surrendering only 117.6 yards per game rushing (17th in the nation), but gave up 186 yards rushing to the Wildcats in the first half alone (and 262 yards for the game). The 412 total yards surrendered were over 100 yards over the 296.9 yards per game the Buffs had posted in the first nine games of the season.

The victory gave the Buffs an 8-2 overall record, 6-1 in Pac-12 play. The eight wins represented the highest total since 2004, with the team’s first four game winning streak the longest since 2002.

“It was a good win for us”, said Mike MacIntyre. “Rich Rod(riguez) does a heck of a job and they’ve beat us three years in a row now and we finally got them. The last time we were here, we got beat pretty good, so I am excited about what we have done and we are going to get some In-n-Out Burger after this.”

Essay for the Game … Time to Get a Little Greedy

The fan base was getting irritated:

— “Sacko Lefo is having his ups and downs. Sacks killing us – AZ D-Line getting past our O-Line”;

— “They are bashing us with a wide receiver playing running back”;

— “They are gonna bring the house on Sefo. If the coaches can’t figure out this out then I give up.
Teams have kind of figured this out”;

— “Defense sucks so far. WTF”

… and that was as Colorado was building a 28-10 halftime lead on Arizona.

Such is the life of a division-leading team.

Colorado won its eighth game of the season in defeating Arizona on the road, 49-24. The eight wins are the most since 2004, the same year the Buffs last won two straight conference games on the road.

And yet the Colorado fan base is – in some respects justifiably – concerned about the state of the Buffs.

The Buffs haven’t played as well the last month as they did earlier in the season, and yet have strung together four consecutive wins for the first time since 2002.

It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Buffs are 8-2, 6-1, and, with two games remaining, stand alone atop the Pac-12 South standings …

… And I’m trying to soak up every minute of it.

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Here are YouTube video highlights from the game … 

Game Eleven … 

November 19th – Boulder          No. 12 Colorado 38, No. 20 Washington State 24

Sefo Liufau passed for 345 yards, rushing for another 108 yards and three touchdowns, leading No. 12 Colorado to a 38-24 victory over No. 20 Washington State. The victory, the first for head coach Mike MacIntyre against a ranked team, witnessed 603 yards of total offense from the Buffs, while holding the Cougars to a season-low 24 points.

“He’s the poster boy of our team,” Buff cornerback Chidobe Awuzie said of Liufau. “Everyone from the outside looking in, that’s what Colorado football looks like. He never quits.

“On the interior, in the locker room, we look at him like the guy who’s going to lead us to the promised land. He goes down, but he always comes back. That tough mindset, that gritty mindset — that’s what this team is built on because that’s who he is and that’s who we are.”

Phillip Lindsay had 31 carries for 144 yards and two touchdowns, with the receiving corps being led by Devin Ross, who had eight catches for 121 yards.

Luke Falk went 26-for-53 for 325 yards and three touchdowns for the Cougars, but was held at bay for most of the final three quarters despite the fact that the Buffs were without defensive backs Afodabi Laguda (ejected for targeting in the first quarter) and Ryan Moeller, out with an injury for all of the second half.

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Essay for the Game … Giving Thanks

The 2016 Redemption Tour by your Colorado Buffaloes continued this weekend with yet another victory. Before a national television audience on Fox, No. 12 Colorado took down No. 20 Washington State, 38-24, to run its record to 9-2, 7-1 in Pac-12 play.

There are, of course, the latest additions to the list of “not since” or “first time since” to add to the ever-growing pile of superlatives being posted by these Buffs … First win over a ranked team since 2009 … First five-game winning streak since 2002 … First nine-win season since 2002 … First 5-0 home record since 1994 …

And that’s before we get to the heroics of the individual players.

Rather than pile on the statistics, though, let’s talk about this historic ride, and what it means to those closest to the fray … the coaches and players who are making this run possible.

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Here are YouTube highlights from the game … 

Game Twelve … 

November 26th – Boulder          No. 9 Colorado 27, No. 21 Utah 22

Colorado relied upon its defense to bring home the school’s first ten win season since 2001, downing No. 21 Utah, 27-22. With the victory, the “worst-to-first” dream season was completed, with the Buffs going from 1-8 in Pac-12 play in 2015 to 8-1 in 2016, claiming CU’s first Pac-12 South title, and first division title since winning the Big 12 North in 2005.

The Buffs were held to 378 yards of total offense, but the CU defense held the Utes to 339 yards of total offense, forcing four turnovers along the way. A forced fumble from Utah running back Joe Williams was returned by Buff linebacker Kenneth Olugbode ten yards for a game-clinching score early in the fourth quarter. Olugbode’s score made it 27-16, and the Buff defense made it hold up.

Special teams almost cost the Buffs the game, with Utah scoring on a punt return for a touchdown early in the game, and almost scoring on a kickoff return early in the fourth quarter.

“I’m very excited to grind one out,” said Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau, who had 270 yards passing and a team-leading 59 yards rushing, but fumbled twice. “The defense got my back.”

“Nobody thought we’d be here, especially four years ago,” said senior safety Tedric Thompson, who had two interceptions and broke up four passes.

“I can’t really put it into words right now,” said Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre. “The best word I can use right now is joy. Joy from the bottom of my toes to the top of my head for the players, the coaches, everybody involved with our program, all the fans that stayed with us and all the fans that came back. It’s just really gratifying on that side of it. I’m so happy for these kids and we have the opportunity to go play for the Pac-12 Championship.”

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Essay for the GameNo Conflict, No Story

Worst. To. First.

Last season, Colorado finished 1-8 in Pac-12 play. This year, the Buffs went 8-1 in Pac-12 play.

This past August, in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, the Buffs were pegged as the 11th-best team in the Pac-12 conference. This past week, the Buffs were ranked as the ninth-best team … in the entire nation.

With a 27-22 victory over No. 21 Utah, the Buffs completed a regular season journey absolutely no one saw coming. The statistical “best since” accolades are cascading through the record books like an avalanche:

— First ten-win season since 2001, and first eight-win conference season in school history (the Buffs only played seven conference games in the Big Eight, and went 7-1 three times in Big 12 conference play);

— First six-game winning streak since 1996, and first back-to-back wins over ranked teams since 2002;

— First undefeated home slate since 1994, going 6-0 at home for just the sixth time in school history.

Et cetera … et cetera … et cetera.

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Here are YouTube highlights from the Utah game … 

Here is The Rise: Episode 5 … The Arizona, Washington State, and Utah games … 

 

Game Thirteen … 

December 2nd – Pac-12 Title Game     No. 4 Washington 41, No. 8 Colorado 10

An injured Sefo Liufau completed as many passes to Washington defenders as to his own teammates, with three third quarter interceptions allowing No. 4 Washington to turn a 14-7 halftime lead into a 41-10 rout in the Pac-12 championship game in Santa Clara, California.

The Huskies dominated the line of scrimmage, rushing for 265 yards while holding the ball for 38:34 of game clock. The Colorado offense, averaging 469.9 yards of total offense per game, was held to 163 total yards … with only 45 yards of total offense in the second half.

Sefo Liufau went just 3-for-13 for 16 yards, with three third quarter interceptions setting up 13 Washington points. Liufau left early in the first quarter with an ankle injury, but returned to start the second half. “I didn’t do a good job of preparing us and being able to get us quality drives,” Liufau said. “We really left our defense and everyone else out to dry tonight.”

Steven Montez, who played most of the first half after Liufau left the game, led the Buffs on their only touchdown drive of the night, going 5-for-12 for 60 yards. Phillip Lindsay contributed 53 yards on 19 carries, scoring CU’s lone touchdown on a three yard run in the first quarter.

“We hurt. We lost and we lost to a good team,” CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “We made some mistakes that gave them a chance to pull away from us.”

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Essay for the GameDawg Pounded

Well, at least it wasn’t 70-3.

In 2005, the last time Colorado played for a conference championship, the Buffs traveled to Houston to take on No. 2 Texas. The result was a 70-3 annihilation by Vince Young and the Longhorns, in what proved to be Gary Barnett’s last game as head coach at Colorado.

The 2005 title game loss helped to hurl the program into a ten-year abyss of horrible seasons, with the Buffs emerging just this fall to reclaim their place on the national stage.

So, will the 41-10 defeat at the hands of No. 4 Washington in the Pac-12 championship game similarly sentence the CU program to another horrific decade?

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Here is the YouTube video of the game … 

Game Fourteen … 

December 29th – San Antonio              No. 13 Oklahoma State 38, No. 8 Colorado 8

No. 13 Oklahoma State went for 527 yards of total offense in dominating No. 11 Colorado in the 2016 Alamo Bowl, 38-8. Cowboy quarterback Marcus Rudolph passed for 314 yards and three touchdowns as Oklahoma State gave the Buffs two lopsided losses to close out an otherwise successful 10-4 season.

Sefo Liufau threw for 195 yards and scored CU’s lone touchdown, a consolation six yard run in the fourth quarter after OSU had built a 31-0 lead. Phillip Lindsay led the Buffs in rushing and receiving, with 14 carries for 63 yards to go with six receptions for 103 yards.

The Buff offense struggled throughout the night, with neither Sefo Liufau nor Steven Montez able to consistently move the ball. Head coach Mike MacIntyre said he saw in Liufau “a bummed up quarterback on an ankle that couldn’t throw as accurately as he would like”, while in Montez, he also inaccuracy: “He wasn’t where he usually is. I don’t know why, so we put Sefo back in and tried to go.”

The loss left the Buffs with a 10-4 final record, ending the season on a two-game losing streak. The final two games, ending with a combined score of 79-18, left a sour taste in the mouths of the Buffs, but a renewed dedication to return and defend their Pac-12 South title in 2017. “Everything is kind of new for a lot of us,” said junior running back Phillip Lindsay. “Now we kind of got our feet wet, been in the Pac-12 championship, the Alamo Bowl. Now it’s about going back to the drawing board. Now we know how to get there and it’s about finishing. It comes down to finishing.”

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Essay for the Game … Remembering the Alamo Bowl

Buffs fans are going to want to forget the results of CU’s first bowl game since 2007.

They are going to want to forget the 38-8 humbling defeat at the hands of No. 13 Oklahoma State.

… To forget the 527 yards surrendered by the defense … Forget the sputtering Buff offensive attack … Forget that the Buffs finished the season with two losses by a combined score of 79-18.

It says here, however, that the Buffs, and by extension their fans, should remember what transpired in the Alamo Bowl.

The Buffs played the 2016 season with a chip on their collective shoulder. No one believed Coach MacIntyre when he said in August that the Buffs would compete for the Pac-12 championship.

Colorado was picked to finish last – again – in every preseason Pac-12 magazine and poll. The hashtag #TheRiseIsComing was catchy, but Buff fans wanted to see the uptick in the coaching staff and recruiting translate into victories on the field before they would believe the hype.

When the victories started coming, #TheRiseIsComing morphed into #TheRiseisReal, with the Buffs becoming bowl eligible eight games into the season, then guaranteeing a winning season in game nine. Next, a berth in the Pac-12 title game became a possibility, then a reality. There was even discussion, as November turned into December, of the Buffs sneaking into the College Football Playoffs.

Then, as ESPN put it, in its game recap of the Alamo Bowl … “Colorado’s best season in more than a decade — dubbed ‘The Rise’ — ended with a thud: consecutive losses in the Pac-12 title game and the program’s first bowl appearance since 2007”. 

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Here is the YouTube video of the game … 

 

Essay for the Season … Thanks, Sefo

He was right there, not more than 20 feet away.

The scene: the San Antonio airport … Friday night, the day after the Alamo Bowl, around 6:15 p.m.

Two Delta flights were preparing for boarding. My flight was heading out of gate B-4, heading for Salt Lake City, the first leg on my trip back to Bozeman.

The flight heading out of gate B-3 was heading to Seattle.

In the waiting area, there were more than a few Colorado coats and sweatshirts to be seen. There were perhaps some “Shirts of Shame” being worn the day after CU had lost to No. 13 Oklahoma State, 38-8, in the Alamo Bowl, but there was still plenty of Buff Nation pride on display as well (as for me, I was wearing my “Pac-12 South Champions” sweatshirt, thank you very much!).

And he was right there, not more than 20 feet away.

The main reason the black-and-gold faithful were there in the San Antonio airport that night.

The main reason the Buffs had snapped a ten-year drought of losing campaigns. The main reason why #TheRise was more than just a slogan in the 2016 season.

He was right there, waiting for his ticket group to be called. Just another traveler, sitting around, anxious to board and get on their way home.

Sefo Liufau.

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Here is The Rise: Episode 6 … Recapping the post-season, along with highlights from the entire 2016 season … 

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3 Replies to “The 2016 Season – A Look Back”

  1. Hey Stu, Thanks for putting the highlights of the 2016 season together. It was great to relive those special moments during 2016. What a special team that was. Too bad they fell flat on their faces in the Pac-12 Championship and the Alamo Bowl.

  2. That was a fun movie

    But the ending was so dang nab it sad.

    It set the tone for the next 3 years.

    Buffs.

    Note: No note

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