CU in ’22: The Worst Season in School History?

It’s finally over.

The November from Hell has come to a close, bringing to a close one of the worst seasons in Colorado history. The Buffs finished the 2022 season with a whimper, falling behind No. 14 Utah 42-0 at halftime, finally falling 63-21. The CU offense went three-and-out seven times in the first half alone, accounting for one first down and 18 total yards at the break.

After upsetting Cal with a 20-13 overtime win in the first game under interim head coach Mike Sanford, the Buffs went south the remainder of the season, Colorado lost the final six games of the season by an average score of 51-16, giving up 54+ points in each of the final three games. Colorado finished the 2022 season with a 1-11 record, joining the 2012 Jon Embree team as the only 11-loss teams in Colorado history.

Awful … just awful. Clearly the 2022 campaign was one of the worst seasons in CU history.

But was it the worst?

It’s all subjective, of course, and while it’s painful to look back at the Buffs’ 2022 campaign, we can at least do it now in the past tense. No more blowout losses to endure this fall. No more Bottom Ten rankings. No more “last in the nation in … ” to rehash week-in and week-out.

The 2022 season is now relegated to history. There are folks like me who will have to keep referencing the facts and figures from the year, and we will all have to endure the preseason magazines next summer. Regardless of who is the new Colorado head coach, and how much optimism there may be around the fresh start for the program, these prognosticators will still start their previews with language along the lines of:

“Coming off one of the most statistically abysmal seasons a Power Five school has ever posted, the Colorado football program in 2022 was not only the worst Power Five conference school in the nation, but one of the worst programs in the entire FBS … “

Like we needed to be reminded.

But, the past now includes the 2022 Buffs. So, it’s now fair, with a bit of relief – and perhaps a bit of whimsy – that we can chart whether the 2022 season was, in fact, the worst season in Colorado football history.

Let’s chart some of the contenders …


Record and Significant Games … 

The only winless season in Colorado football history, the Buffs – who in fact weren’t known as the Buffs until 1934 – went 0-4 in the first season of football in Boulder. The Colorado football team not only didn’t win a game in 1890, the team didn’t even come close.

The first game in school history was played on November 15, 1890, with CU falling to a team from the Denver Athletic Club, 20-0. Not great, but that would be as good as it would get for the “Silver and Gold”. In the next game CU, which played without a head coach for the first three seasons of the program’s existence, fell to Colorado Mines, 103-0 … a score which, as you might have guessed, is the worst defeat in program history.

It didn’t get any better in the final two games, a 44-0 loss to Colorado Springs Athletic Association, and a 50-4 loss in the rematch with Colorado Mines. The four points in the finale were the only points scored by CU that first season, with the final tally being 217-4.

There was no NCAA in 1890 – there wouldn’t be until the 1930s – and CU wouldn’t play in a conference until 1893, so there are no comparable stats for that miserable first year to show just how bad that first team was.

Probably for the best …

Other Pre-NCAA seasons 

1891 … 1-4 … Another miserable season, with the Buffs out-scored by a combined score of 106-30. Colorado did, though, pick up the first win in program history, with a 24-4 win over Colorado Springs Athletic Association in the ’91 finale (So, for those scoring at home, Colorado football didn’t win its first ever game until the ninth game in school history);

1915 … 1-6, 0-5 in Rocky Mountain (Faculty) Athletic Conference play … The final season for legendary coach Fred Folsom, CU’s only victory was a 30-0 win over Wyoming. The Buffs were shutout three times, including a season-ending 46-0 loss to Washington as CU ventured to the Northwest for the first time. The 0-5 conference record marked the last time CU finished winless in conference play until Mike MacIntyre’s Buffs suffered through an 0-9 Pac-12 run in 2014;

1916 … 1-5-1, 1-5 in Rocky Mountain (Faculty) Athletic Conference play … The first season under head coach Bob Evans wasn’t much better than the final season under Fred Folsom the year before. After opening the season with a win over Wyoming, and a tie against the Alumni, the season went south pretty quickly. The Buffs suffered three straight shutout losses by a combined score of 93-0;

Again, the NCAA didn’t exist until 1937, so – mercifully – there are no national statistics to show just how bad these teams were when compared to their peers nationally.


Record and Significant Games … 

1-10, 1-6 in Big Eight play … CU opened its second season under Chuck Fairbanks by falling behind UCLA 56-0 in the opener … at halftime (56-14 final). If anything, the season went downhill from there, with the home opener a 49-7 loss to Lee Corso’s Indiana Hoosiers. That same week, insult was added to injury as Sports Illustrated issued a damning article, condemning CU for cutting sports like gymnastics, wrestling and baseball – sports which have still yet to return to Boulder. After losing to Drake – Drake! – for the second season in a row, the Buffs “participated” in the record-setting 82-42 to Oklahoma. After back-to-back identical 45-7 losses to Missouri and Nebraska, the Buffs salvaged the season with a 17-9 win over Iowa State.

Statistically in 1980

The Buffs were out-scored on the season, 451-160, or an average score of 41-14 … Colorado was ranked 78th in total offense nationally (out of 139 Division I schools), which was actually the best offensive output of the Chuck Fairbanks era (CU was ranked 112th in total offense in 1979; 105 in 1981) … The 160 points on offense, though, was no better than 114th in the country. The defense was porous, with Colorado ranked 138th nationally in yards allowed, and 139th in the country in scoring defense. Oh, and as noted above, there were 139 teams in Division 1-A in 1980, so Colorado was dead last in the nation in scoring defense in 1980, and second-to-last in total defense.


Record and Significant Games … 

1-10, 1-6 in Big Eight play … After posting 2-8-1 and 4-7 records in Bill McCartney’s first two seasons, the Buffs slid backwards in Season Three, matching Chuck Fairbanks’ 1980 team to become CU’s second-ever ten-loss team. The Buffs opened the 1984 campaign with two frustrating losses – 24-21 to Michigan State and 27-20 to Oregon – with the second loss compounded with the near-death injury suffered by tight end Ed Reinhardt, Jr., in Eugene. The heavy-hearted Buffs were blown out the next week by Notre Dame, 55-14, in CU’s first – and still only – trip to South Bend. Saving CU from its first winless season since 1890 was a last-minute 23-21 win over Iowa State.

Statistically in 1984 …

The Buffs were doubled up by their opponents over the course of the season, being out-scored by an average score of 33-16. The offense was ranked 89th in the nation in total offense, but no better than 93rd in scoring. The defense was equally inept, coming in at No. 88 in the country in total defense; 101st in scoring defense. Despite the failings, Bill McCartney, with a 7-25-1 three-year record (one less victory than Karl Dorrell managed in what amounted to two full seasons – 8-15 – and just barely ahead of the 7-26 record posted by Chuck Fairbanks), was nonetheless given a contract extension. The following season, 1985, McCartney switched to the wishbone, posted a 7-5 record, and was off to the races …


Record and Significant Games … 

1-11, 1-8 in Pac-12 play … Jon Embree’s first campaign in 2011 did not go well, with the Buffs finishing with a 3-10 record in CU’s first season in the Pac-12, but in Embree’s second season, the bottom fell out. A 22-17 loss to Colorado State in Denver was an ominous opening, but the real sign of things to come came in the home opener, a 30-28 loss to Sacramento State of the Big Sky Conference. The following week, the Buffs fell behind Fresno State 35-0 … in the first quarter. When the dust settled, the Bulldogs had a 69-14 victory, and CU was a laughingstock. A last-minute win over Washington State kept the Buffs from an 0-12 season, but CU still had its first-ever 11-loss season with routs by scores like 51-17 (Arizona State), 50-6 (USC), 70-14 (Oregon), and 48-0 (Stanford).

Statistically in 2012

There were 124 FBS teams for the 2012 season, and the Buffs were close to the bottom in a number of categories. CU gave up 552 points, while scoring only 214, or an average score of 46-18. Out of the 124 teams, Colorado was 116th in total offense; 117th in scoring offense. The defense, if anything, was worse. Colorado gave up 5,862 total yards, an average of 488.5 yards per game and 7.1 yards per play, surrendering 67 total touchdowns, with those numbers leaving Colorado at 117th in total defense, and 120th in scoring defense. All four of those stats set all time low numbers for the program … until …


Record and Significant Games … 

1-11, 1-8 in Pac-12 play … The third season under Karl Dorrell started poorly, with the Buffs turning a 7-6 halftime deficit against TCU in the opener to a 38-13 thumping. Four more losses, with each opponent scoring over 40 – with the Buffs never scoring over 20 – ended the Dorrell era. Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford opened with a 20-13 overtime win over Cal, but the Buffs finished the season with six more losses, never coming close to a second win. The month of November was especially brutal to the program, with Colorado facing four straight ranked programs. The Buffs limped to the finish, with a 49-10 loss to Oregon, a 55-17 pasting by USC, a 54-7 pasting by Washington, and a 63-21 thumping by Utah.

Statistically in 2022

The year end numbers from the NCAA are still being compiled but safe to say the Buffs are at the bottom of the 131-team FBS. CU came into the Utah game 125th in total offense and 127th in scoring offense. The Buffs may edge up after their 21 second-half points against Utah, but the 185 yards of total offense won’t help. And … the defense … yuck. Colorado was 130th in total defense (495.4 yards/game) and 131st (42.6 points/game – dead last in the country) in scoring defense, and that was before the Utes put up 662 yards and 63 points.

What we do know is that the 2022 team broke all of the (bad) records the 2012 team set on defense. The 2012 team gave up 5,862 total yards … the 2022 team gave up 6,117. The averages per game: 488.5 yards/game in 2012; 509.7 yards/game in 2022. The 2012 team gave up 67 touchdowns; the 2022 team surrendered 70.

So, which team is the worst in school history? 

Let’s eliminate the teams between 1890 and the modern era, because there are not enough stats to compare the teams to other programs nationally, and they all won at least one game.

I think we can eliminate the 1984 team as well. The Buffs went 1-10, and barely beat Iowa State to get their only victory, but there were four one-score losses in there, and the Buffs had to overcome the Ed Reinhardt Jr. injury.

Which leaves … 

1890 … For the purists. This team remains the only winless team in school history. The 0-4 squad was out-scored 217-4, and suffered the worst loss (103-0) in program history. But … it was the first-ever team, they didn’t have a head coach, and they only played four games;

1980 … My personal favorite for years, as it was the team for my freshman year. Down 56-0 at halftime of the first game, the loss to Drake, the infamous 82-42 game … the 1980 1-10 had it all;

2012 … The first 1-11 team in school history. There was the 69-14 loss to Fresno State (down 35-0 in the first quarter), the loss to Sacramento State, together with routs along the way by 51-17 (Arizona State), 50-6 (USC), 70-14 (Oregon), and 48-0 (Stanford); and

2022 … There is recency bias, of course, with the four embarrassing losses to ranked teams in November still fresh wounds. But the numbers speak for themselves. Jon Embree’s teams were awful, and were not competitive … and the 2022 team posted numbers which were even worse.

So … the winner is … 

2022 – The worst season in Colorado history.

Thank God it’s over …


7 Replies to “CU in ’22: The Worst Season in School History?”

  1. I won’t make a judgement on the 2022 season, but would like to thank you for eliminating the 1984 season – and share a few points: except for a few games, we were competitive and there was hope. Five games decided were by less than a touchdown, and three of those on a missed FG or extra points.
    Pre season opponents: Michigan State, Oregon, Notre Dame, and UCLA (’84 Rose Bowl champions) – no push-overs. Ranked teams in the Big Eight were Missouri (top 15), Oklahoma State (#10), Oklahoma (7) and Nebraska (5). Let’s not forget that the Buffs lead into the 4th quarter against the Cornhuskers, 7-0.

  2. 1980 only because we had not been truly terrible for so long at that time.

    2022 was just another poor year of CU football in a string of many. We are used to it by now and I have come to accept it. Certainly that delusional idiot DiStefano is good with it. He has seen the academic ratings and sports decline through his tenure and is good with it. Reminds me of Mussolini in his delusions of grandeur.

  3. 1980 with 2022 a very close second. We lost to Drake and and got steamrolled by OU (the only redeeming thing was I sold beer during that game, this was when you could walk through the stadium with tray of beers and not worry about IDs) and I went home with a wad of cash and smelling of beer. The reason I think it is worse is because Fairbanks was such a terrible coach and worse person. Let’s hope 2023 is Prime Time.

  4. Yeah, 2012 was a worse team than 2022. I wasn’t around for 1980, but the game feels a lot different now– much bigger, faster, and with sports programming so robust that we can understand every bit of the season in excruciating detail — that you’d think this year and 2012 have to sting more.

    With 2012, I felt that nearly the entire season was played in the realm that we were this November– a clear blowout loss before halftime could even be reached, with the Buffs looking unathletic and depleted. While almost every game this year was am embarrassing blowout, many of them were still at least somewhat in question at halftime. The only game I didn’t watch was USC, and the only two I gave up watching entirely were Washington and Utah. 2012 was a lot more difficult to follow. CU’s one win of the season, against WSU, wasn’t televised, so it felt like I didn’t even experience a Buff victory that year– they gave me zero happy memories. The 2012 team also lost to some garbage teams, whereas this year, it seemed like we were playing good to great competition week in and week out. At least the 2022 win was in Folsom, and was genuinely a pretty fun game to watch throughout.

  5. Buffs destroyed by 14th-ranked Utah, 63-21 and get to slink off into obscurity (2022)
    Nebraska destroyed by 14th-ranked Colorado, 62-36 and get to play for a national championship (2001)
    “…I don’t get no respect” – Rodney Dangerfield

    Buffs have to get this coaching search right… they just have to

  6. You sir, are correct. I have to take the players’ remarks that are out there as the silver lining for this season. 1980-my soph year so I got all of Chucky boy. This one hurt more!

  7. I am going to go with 2012. Every single game I felt I was just waiting until they stuck there 2nd teasers in so I could watch a football game. The quality of opponent this year was so much better than 2012. I will say the buffs gave up after USC. I felt they gave up in 2012 after Sac State. 2012, not by much….but by enough….

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