CU’s (2024) Run for the Roses

January 1, 2025

The scene … Late afternoon in Pasadena, California. The sun is about to set over the San Gabriel Mountains, and ESPN takes to the air to broadcast the Granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl.

CU alumnus Chris Fowler is there for the play-by-play, along side analyst Kirk Herbstreit. 

Cue Chris … 

“Welcome to Pasadena, and the 111th playing of the oldest and most famous bowl game of them all. Today’s matchup will pit No. 9 Colorado against No. 12 Michigan. This will be the 21st appearance for the Wolverines, but the first for the Buffs. 

“Next fall, the College Football Playoff will expand to 12 teams, with the Rose Bowl included as part of the playoff rotation. For today, though, with neither the Buffs nor the Wolverines qualifying for the playoffs, the Rose Bowl will have one last Big Ten/Pac-12 showdown. The CU/Michigan matchup also comes on the 30th anniversary of one of college football’s most iconic plays – the 64-yard touchdown pass from Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook to take down Michigan in the Big House in 1994. 

Kirk … 

“And what a showdown it will be. Michigan lost to Ohio State in the regular season finale, losing out at a chance at the Big Ten championship and a playoff berth. Colorado, meanwhile, shook off an early non-conference road loss at Nebraska, and a tough road loss at Utah in the regular season finale before taking down Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game and earn its first-ever invitation to the Rose Bowl.

“The Buffs are led by the record-setting senior tandem of Brandon Lewis and Brenden Rice. Lewis was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player-of-the-Year, while Rice was named first-team All-Pac-12 in leading the conference in receptions and touchdowns. The Brandon-to-Brenden combination was good for 15 touchdown passes this fall, breaking the team record of 13 set by Sefo Liufau and Nelson Spruce during the 2014 season. 

“The Colorado defense is led by senior cornerback Christian Gonzalez, who opted to return for his senior season after suffering an ankle injury late last fall. Gonzalez would have been a high draft pick this past spring, but said he wanted to return to Boulder and help the Buffs earn their first Rose Bowl berth.

“There are those that say the Buffs don’t deserve to be here, and that their 11-2 record is suspect. USC and UCLA have been down since firings of Clay Helton at USC in 2021 and Chip Kelly at UCLA in 2023. Arizona State continues to struggle from the sanctions imposed by the NCAA after the failed Herm Edwards experiment, and Utah hasn’t been the same since Kyle Whittingham retired two seasons ago. Still, the Buffs dominated the Pac-12 South, and were in the national playoff conversation until they were upset in a snowstorm in Utah Thanksgiving weekend. The 42-10 domination of Oregon, though, in the Pac-12 title game, righted the ship, and the Buffs now get to enjoy New Year’s Day in Pasadena.  

Chris …

“While this is the first Rose Bowl appearance by Colorado, it is not the Buffs’ first opportunity to play in this stadium. In fact, after defeating UCLA in 2002, in CU’s first game in the Pasadena, the Buffs lost six straight on the road to UCLA before finally breaking through with a win here in 2023. 

“This will be the first time the Buffs will get to wear their home black-and-gold in this venerable stadium, so Buff fans are hopeful that this appearance will work out better for Colorado … 

Dare to dream.

The Buffs looked decent – even good – for the first 29 minutes of their 44-20 mauling at the hands of UCLA. Colorado raced out to a 20-7 lead, a lead which could have even been greater if not for some failed red zone efforts. Still, the Buffs more than held their own against the favored Bruins … until they completely fell apart.

It would hurt more if we hadn’t seen this dance before … way too many times in the past 15 seasons.

Will it ever change?

Not anytime in the near future, I’m afraid.

First, let’s dispel the notion that Karl Dorrell is going anywhere.

In a Zoom meeting with Buff Club members before the Oregon State game, CU athletic director Rick George was pretty clear about his support for Dorrell:

  • “I have 100% confidence in Karl. He is absolutely the right coach for our program”;
  • When asked to described what he liked about Dorrell: “Stability … work ethic … character … drive to be successful … He knows football … I am certain that he will get this fixed”;
  • “Let’s get behind Karl … I am confident he will take us where we need to go”.

Now, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be changes in the coaching staff come December. At the same Zoom meeting, George said: “We are going to make the fixes we need to make” … “We will do that at the appropriate time” …

Everyone’s favorite scapegoat is offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini. While the former Buff wide receiver has his supporters, you can’t have an offense ranked in the 120s (out of 130 teams) in virtually every major offensive category and expect to keep your job.

But … Who is CU going to get that’s better?

First, if you fire him, you’ll have to pay Chiaverini for the third year of his three-year contract, which will set CU back $650,000 for the 2022 season. When you consider that the assistant coach salary pool for this season was $3.455 million, the idea of paying Chiaverini and a new offensive coordinator in 2022 becomes problematic. Put another way, CU, facing an $18 million deficit from the COVID year, will have to come up with an assistant coach pool of dollars in excess of $4 million … just to have an offensive coordinator on par with the likes of Darrin Chiaverini.

Bottom line: Unless some donors come up with some pretty big checks, George and Dorrell will be faced with trying to find a new and dynamic offensive coordinator with even fewer dollars to offer. As Rick George put it during his zoom meeting with donors this past week: “It’s about money – that’s the reality” (See the Essay from the Oregon game: “Brother, Can You Spare … A Hundred Million?“).

But there’s an even bigger problem.

While the CU message boards jump on every name coach that gets fired as being a “good fit” for Colorado, the reality is that Colorado, as much as we would like to believe otherwise, is not seen as a great destination, either by players or coaches. Young and aspiring coaches, like the players they are recruiting, know only Colorado as a last place program. They are not impressed by shiny old trophies and grainy film of yesteryear.

Plus – and this is a significant factor – there is the question of whether a new offensive coordinator will have any long term job security. This is not to say that the new coach wouldn’t believe that they could succeed, but there is now a legitimate question as to whether Karl Dorrell will be around long enough to make that happen. If Dorrell is perceived as being on the hot seat, and is viewed as a coach who may not be in Boulder past 2022, what hot offensive coordinator candidate would want to hitch their wagon to Dorrell’s star?

I don’t have any answers, and I doubt any of the loudest posters on the message boards have any great answers either … short of spending millions of dollars CU doesn’t have to buy better coaches.

All the Buff Nation can do right now is wait … and hope.

Hope that the good young players on the team won’t defect and leave for greener pastures through the Transfer Portal next month.

Hope that Karl Dorrell will be able to find a new offensive coordinator which will galvanize and inspire the offensive players CU has on its roster.

Hope that the players (and fans) will overlook the fact that CU will face a 2022 schedule with only one or two games in which the Buffs would currently be favored.

Hope that the first half of the UCLA game is what the 2022 season will look like … we’ve seen way too much of the second half of the UCLA game.

If you squinted your eyes during the first 29 minutes of the UCLA game in the Rose Bowl, you could see a future with Brendon Lewis leading the Buffs to an actual Rose Bowl appearance.

Not likely, based upon the current state of the program.

But it’s nice to have that dream …

—–

7 Replies to “CU’s (2024) Run for the Roses”

  1. KevMc,

    You make a good point raising some sort of upperclassman syndrome. I’m not sure that it is necessarily a CU thing, rather I think that the overall physical toll especially in the down positions is just leading more guys to retire from football earlier. For many, once they can tell that they do not have a chance at the next level or are not projected to start, the fire is just burning out earlier. If they are decent in school and early enroll, most kids can mostly graduate in 3 years, since most stay for summer school/summer conditioning anyways.

    IMO, the only programs that this has minimal effect on are the 6-8 teams in or almost the college football playoff each year, plus Iowa for some reason. These teams still have turnover with guys bolting to the NFL, but I think the guys on those teams stay because: (a) they know that they have legitimate shots at rings, whether a NC or conference championship; (b) one or two of the guys playing in front of them may be headed to the NFL early; and (c) if they slide in and play well, their NFL dream is still alive and well.

    In the last 5-7 years, Izzy Antwine is the only transfer that I recall leaving CU and onto the NFL. He was going closer to home. Jared Mangrum is having a decent season as the #1 RB at South Florida but they are 2-8. I hope CU holds onto Clayton.

  2. Stuart,

    I like the dream. I’m a bit more optimistic, not necessarily because the Buffs are improving in leaps and bounds; but the Pac-12 is really falling apart. I think other than Oregon, recruiting league wide is down and it is providing some parity, at least at some position groups.

    It would be nice to win 1 of the next 2 games, and we definitely need to play competitive against Utah, if that is an awesome 1st half, three quarters in the game, or just a closer score. Unless, Utah is sleepwalking, I doubt there is an upset brewing–but Embo did do it once. Injuries have just decimated the defense. We need more depth and experience. I agree that Herm is gone from ASU; and Kelly may be done at UCLA.

    The thing with KD and the coordinators is CU cannot keep changing coaches w/ systems every few years, unless they are going to something completely different, like option football.

    It looks like the defense is set. KD has his guy for better or worse. I’m a little disappointed with Wilson, as it did not seem to improve positionally (even in the early going at UCLA, it seems on some plays guys are just lost out there, and out of position) over the year, as it did under Summers. However, Wilson gets year 2 and probably 3 to get that system running at its peak and iron things out. One thing with the defense over these last few games is that there are a ton of young players getting thrown in the fire.

    The offense does seem to be getting better and should be much more consistent next year with Lewis’s experience, unless the Oline takes another step back. I’d love to see the Oline take a step forward and see what other wrinkles that they can run out of this system. The system is what it is, but I suppose over the past 5 games it has been service-able, the exception is Cal. IMO, the offense still needs to improve if CU is going to win games on the road, but at Oregon and at UCLA, even in those huge losses showed some glimmer. Not great, but maybe trending towards good.

    I’d say for both system, whatever system offense or defense the Buffs are now running, keep it and move it from version 2.0-2.5; and hopefully we get to a version 3.0. One thing that I notice with teams that improve, whether that is Ore St. KY, Miss, Miss St. is that they adjust systems, then benefit in years 2-3… as they simply perfect execution of whatever it is that they are running.

  3. After your dream, everything is real!
    The reality of the pain is palatable .
    The palatably comes with “training”
    Mice are like that

    Are we mice?

    Go Mice

    Note: CU Football has a special place in my life. But that is all. Just special

  4. I feel your pain, Stuart. Thanks, as always, for your posts. Regardless of the painful last many, many years, your web site is still where I turn to for your stories and accompanying comments.
    Without big time donors stepping up… although I don’t know who or where they might be… the vision I have of the CU football program is like DiCaprio’s final scene in The Titanic… slowly sinking further below the surface into darkness. College football is becoming more and more of a business and, without donor dollars… not to mention “buy-in” from the university admin and academia… I don’t see the Buffs going anywhere. I used to feel that “if they can just be a Top 25 team most years” that I’d be happy. I haven’t deluded myself with much beyond that. Unfortunately, even that seems like a fantasy without a fairy godmother/father donor.
    Another point… in Howell’s video recap of last night’s game… he mentioned a significant number of juniors on the team who will most likely not be here next year. He mentioned making room for incoming recruits. Why is it that we’re perennially such a young team these days? Senior heavy teams are often those who achieve the most success. My buddy jokes about Soylent Green as to where a lot of CU’s upper classmen go. Is it a player development issue? Poor recruiting in general? Big Man On Campus syndrome? (Even some of the players this year have hinted that not all of their teammates have “bought in”). Lots of questions. I don’t have answers either, Stu.

  5. Make no mistake NCAA football and MBB are basically professional teams/leagues that don’t pay their players. Just like the Pros..your team’s fortune hinges greatly on the financial commitment of ownership/school. We are the A’s/Rays of the college football world, but that’s why we play the games b/c the Rays/A’s of the world can go toe-toe w/the Red Sox/Yankees of the world in recent years. One thing is certain though…you cannot just ‘do everything’ those that are flush do…you need to do more or different (again see Rays/A’s example).

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