A Pleasant Stroll Down Memory Lane – 1986; 1991; 1996; 2001 and, for fun, 2016

The 2021 season is now within our sights, and, with any luck, it will feel like a normal season.

As we slip inside of 100 days before the opener against Northern Colorado, let’s spend some quality time this summer with some great Buff teams of the past. The 2021 season will be the 35th anniversary the 1986 season (with the greatest CU game in the past 50 years), the 30th anniversary of the 1991 season (Big Eight three-peat); the 25th anniversary of the 1996 season (the first season of the Big 12); and the 20th anniversary of the 2001 season (62-36, anyone?). Oh, and it’s already the fifth anniversary of the Buffs unexpected run to the Pac-12 South title in 2016.

Over the next few months, we’ll take a look back at the 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2016 seasons, posting the week-by-week results (if you want to read ahead, the CU at the Game Archives are always there for you). I look forward to your reading your comments, and hearing your stories …

Let’s start with the preseason outlook for each season …

1986 Season – “A Game For the Ages” 

From Preseason 1986 … “Great Expectations in Boulder” … The schedule for Colorado was the same in 1986 as it had been in 1985, with the same four non-conference opponents – Colorado State, Oregon, Ohio State and Arizona. In 1985, the Buffs had used a 3-1 non-conference record as a springboard for the first winning season for the program since 1978. “We’re going to try and duplicate what we did a year ago,” said McCartney. “In order to do that, it’s paramount to win any close games we get in, particularly against our non-conference opponents. We won most of those games a year ago, so figure on that being our goal to aim at going into the season.”

The schedule, as noted, had the same 11 opponents from 1985, which included several games against teams ranked in the preseason polls. In the national polls, Oklahoma opened the season as the nation’s No. 1 team, with Nebraska ranked 8th. The only other 1986 opponent appearing in the preseason poll was Ohio State, coming in at No. 9.

While it was true that Colorado would face three top ten teams over the course of the 1986 season, there was optimism aplenty that the Buffs would be able to improve on their 7-5 record from 1985.

There was much to be anticipated as the 1986 season kicked off.

Great Expectations.

We should have known better …

Continue reading 1986 preseason preview here

1991 Season – “Kissing Your Sister”

From Preseason 1991 … Conference Realignment … “CU Out of the Limelight” … In 1990, the Colorado Buffaloes had faced the nation’s most difficult schedule, with six of their 13 opponents playing on New Year’s Day. The same could not be said for the 1991 schedule. Colorado’s preseason opponents for 1991 included Wyoming (9-4 in 1990); Baylor (6-4-1); Minnesota (6-5) and Stanford (5-6). Decent teams all, but not the caliber of the slate which included Tennessee, Illinois, Washington, and Texas the year before.

The dilution of the schedule was welcome, though, as the 1991 Buffs would have to overcome a tremendous loss of talent. No fewer than nine Buffs from the 1990 team were taken in the NFL draft, including two first-rounder picks (Mike Pritchard and Alfred Williams) and two second-rounders (Eric Bieniemy and Kanavis McGhee).

Head coach Bill McCartney, though, remained optimistic. “This team has big shoes to fill, because we’ve graduated several celebrated players” said McCartney, “but I wouldn’t classify it as a rebuilding year. We have to answer that challenge by being hungry, disciplined, and by displaying a great work ethic.”

… “I look for our team to be hungry, aggressive and enthusiastic,” said their head coach. “I expect our team to fiercely defend our title in the Big Eight.”

For McCartney to put his young team in a position to defend, a non-conference slate of mid-level teams had to be overcome. Stanford and Baylor were being given some pre-season votes in the polls, and Wyoming had strung together a nine-game winning streak the previous year. “I think our schedule is very challenging,” said McCartney, going on to add, “I see the Big Eight as being improved from top to bottom. There won’t be any easy games, for anyone, the way the conference is shaping up.”

Whether McCartney’s words were to be prophetic or merely pre-season coach-speak would be tested soon enough. The defending co-national champions would open the season with three straight home games, commencing with a night game against Wyoming on September 7th.

Continue reading 1991 preseason preview here

1996 Season – “Ooooh, So Close”

From Preseason, 1996 … “Mission: Possible” … The August 16, 1996, edition of the Buffalo Sports News had quarterback Koy Detmer and linebacker Matt Russell on its cover. Modeling the Buffs’ new uniforms, Detmer and Russell were posed wearing uniform numbers 19 and 96. The headline read: “Is this the Year?” It was a question which was being asked often about the 1996 Buffs, and not just in Boulder.

Nebraska was the two-time defending national champion, but the consensus of the preseason prognosticators was that Colorado had the talent to win it all. Sixteen starters returned from the 10-2 1995 squad, and Koy Detmer would be back after missing most of 1995.

If the Buffs could just figure out a way to get past Nebraska, the National Championship was theirs for the taking.

If the Buffs could get to the Nebraska game, that is.

In the 1996 season, Colorado was scheduled to play six teams which had finished ranked in the final 1995 Associated Press poll. Michigan, Texas, and Kansas State would travel to Boulder, while the Buffs would hit the road to face Texas A&M and Kansas before facing Nebraska the last game of the season. Perhaps Lindy’s magazine preseason forecast was the most accurate. Lindy’s had CU No. 1 in talent, No. 100 in schedule, resulting in a preseason forecast of a No. 10 ranking.

In the Associated Press poll, Colorado started the season where it left off in 1995, ranked No. 5. Three voters tabbed the Buffs for No. 1. Nebraska was the majority’s pick for the national championship, but there was no true consensus. No fewer than six teams received No. 1 votes in the first poll.

Colorado head coach Rick Neuheisel gave title to the season’s quest as Mission: Possible (a play on the old Mission: Impossible series, which had been made into a feature film in 1996).

1996 promised to be a wide open season, and the University of Colorado was being tabbed that summer to be a player on the national stage.

Continue reading 1996 preseason preview here

2001 Season – “Seems Like Old Times”

From Preseason 2001: “CU ranked 27th despite 3-8 record in 2000” … Coming off of a 3-8 record in 2000, Colorado had to dig deep to find cause for justifiable optimism.

The Buffs tried to put a good spin on the 2000 debacle, pointing out how Colorado had faced the fourth toughest schedule in the nation during the year, including seven bowl teams.  The apologists went on to point out how Colorado had actually led in five of its eight losses, and six of the eight losses were by eight points or less.  A bounce here and a bounce there, the argument went, and who knows how the season may have turned out?

Still, 3-8 was 3-8.

The Buffs’ 2000 record was the worst in 16 years, and the 2001 schedule did not promise any easy wins.

The season opener was against Fresno State in the inaugural Jim Thorpe Classic.  The Bulldogs were predicted to win the Western Athletic Conference.  Up next were the Rams of Colorado State, winners of the previous two Rocky Mountain Showdowns.  In addition to carrying the burden of losing two straight to their in-state rivals, the Buffs knew that the Rams were coming into the game as defending Mountain West Conference champions, with predictions for similar success in 2001.

The remaining non-conference foes, San Jose State and Washington State, were not receiving much national attention, but had the potential to be dangerous.

If Colorado could survive the non-conference slate, the Big 12 was not doing CU any favors, again putting the Buffs in harms way.  After opening the conference campaign against Kansas, the Buffs had to face Kansas State, Texas A&M, and Texas in succession.  All three of those teams figured to be ranked in the national polls.

The good news for the Buffs was that almost everyone who played for Colorado in 2000 returned in 2001.  Only seven seniors who had lettered in 2000 were lost.  At the same time, 16 players made their first career start during the 3-8 campaign (tying for third most in the last 17 seasons), and ten true freshmen saw action in 2000, the most in CU history since at least the early 1950’s.

Continue reading 2001 preseason preview here

2016 Season – “Welcome to The Fight”

From Preseason 2016: “Lingering Doubts about the 2016 Buffs” … It’s been a good off-season for the University of Colorado football program.

The Buffs hit the ground running in January with the hiring of a Texas Tech assistant coach (and former Buff) Darrin Chiaverini, and that hire has been paying dividends ever since. Chiaverini brought in some quality late additions to the CU Recruiting Class of 2016, and has been a huge reason the Recruiting Class of 2017 is in the top 30 in the nation.

With Darrin Chiaverini on offense and Jim Leavitt on defense leading the charge in both recruiting and cheerleading, the Buff Nation has started to see the world through black-and-gold colored glasses once again.

And it’s not only the Buff faithful who see something more from out of the 2016 Buffs.

Many preseason prognoticators have CU finishing with a 5-7 record this fall, with some giving the Buffs a shot at a .500 record and a bowl game. That may not seem like much, but when you break down the schedule, it really is.

For Colorado to get to a 5-7 overall record (assuming a 2-1 non-conference record), the Buffs need to finish 3-6 in Pac-12 play.

Not that tough a chore? Well, it is when you consider CU that in five seasons in the Pac-12, the Buffs have a grand total of five Pac-12 victories. Colorado is 5-40 in Pac-12 play (let that note sink in for a moment … CU would need to go undefeated in Pac-12 games – for four straight years – just to get above .500 in their stint as a Pac-12 conference member).

Only once have the Buffs managed even two Pac-12 conference wins in a season … and that was five years ago.

Continue reading 2016 preseason preview here

… Coming Next … Game One for the 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2016 seasons … coming this weekend … 


3 Replies to “A Stroll Down Memory Lane”

  1. For me it’s the 1994 team….IMHO the best team we’ve had in my lifetime. CU friends and I still talk about the ‘look’ (huge, glassy eyes) Kordell had the whole game throwing balls into the dirt in Lincoln…still stings after all these years b/c that team was loaded (public enemy #1 at the time, Dalton Simmons, would be welcome today).

    1. Hopefully, I’ll make these reviews an annual summer ritual, and we’ll get to the ’89, ’94, ’99 etc. teams in a few years …

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