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CU: Heading South

The distance between the University of Colorado campus in Boulder and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs is a scant 84 miles.

But the distance between the two football programs is far greater.

CU had a significant head start in the sport, fielding its first team in 1890. The Air Force Academy, meanwhile, didn’t exist until 1954, and the Falcons didn’t take to the field for the first time until 1956.

Falcon Stadium turns 60 this year; Folsom Field turns 100 in 2024.

Buff fans have enjoyed many of the heights of the game which Falcon fans have not – a national championship; a Heisman trophy winner; first round NFL draft picks (CU has 24; AFA has never had one); and time spent as the No. 1 team in the nation (CU has been No. 1 in the AP poll seven times; AFA spent two weeks in the Top Five in 1985, topping out at No. 4).

But no one would take CU’s recent past – or present, or near future, for that matter – over that of AFA’s.

The Falcons went 10-3 last season, and came into the game against Colorado having won 22 of its last 29 games since the two teams met in Boulder in 2019. The Buffs, meanwhile, went 4-8 last season, and have gone 11-20 since losing to the Falcons, 30-23 in overtime, in the first game of the home-and-home series.

Colorado came into the game against Air Force as a 17.5-point underdog. Not a fun fact that Dave Plati would have dug up, but you had to wonder: When was the last time the Buffs were a three-score underdog to a Group of Five conference team? (perhaps in 2012 against Fresno State, with the Buffs coming off of home loss to Sacramento State in the dark days of the Jon Embree era?). Truly, it was a humbling scenario for a team which believes itself to be a Top 25 national program.

But not nearly as humbling as CU’s start against Air Force in rain in Colorado Springs.

Thirteen times in CU history, the Buffs have opened the season without giving up a turnover in the first game. Never have the Buffs, however, gone two games into the season without a turnover. In falling to TCU, 38-13, in the 2022 opener, the Buffs did manage to emerge turnover-free.

Against the Falcons, the Buffs removed the suspense of opening the season with two turnover-free games quite early, fumbling the ball away on the second play of the game. One play later – just over 30 seconds into the contest – Air Force had a 7-0 lead.

By the time the game had reached the midway point of the first quarter, the stat lines was ugly:

  • Colorado – three possessions; 11 total yards;
  • Air Force – two possessions; 10 total points.

By the end of the first quarter, it was 13-0. On the first play of the second quarter, quarterback J.T. Shrout, making his first start at CU, threw an interception. Four plays later, it was 20-0, and the game was getting out of hand.

If you want to give some credit, give it to the CU defense. While the final stats – 41 points; 443 yards of total offense, with 435 yards coming on the ground – are not good, the defense did steady the ship after the rough beginning, giving the CU offense a chance to get back in the game.

Instead, the inept Colorado offense was, well, inept.

In four possessions to end the first half and open the second half, the Buff offense:

  • Took over at the Air Force 23-yard line after a fumble, but gained zero yards in three plays, settling for a 41-yard field goal by Cole Becker;
  • Took over at the Air Force 13-yard line after a fumbled punt attempt, but fumbled the ball away at the AFA one-yard line;
  • Took over at the Air Force 40-yard line after a punt, but turned the ball over on downs four plays and nine yards later; and
  • Took over at the CU 49-yard line after a 45-yard kickoff return by Nikko Reed, but punted the ball away three plays (and minus-four yards) later.

Four possessions in prime real estate … and the Buffs came away with three total points.

Reminiscent of last year’s offense, or worse, the CU offense during the Jon Embree era.

Mike Sanford was supposed to be the answer, but the Buff offense in 2022 is horrific.

Last season, the Buffs averaged 18.8 points per game (121st nationally) and 257.4/yards per game (129th nationally), and offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini was shown the door.

This season, under Mike Sanford, the Buffs are averaging 11.5 points per game and 255 yards per game.

In its first two games without Mike Sanford as its offensive coordinator, Minnesota is averaging 50 points per game, and 582 yards per game.

Think Gopher fans are having a good laugh at CU’s expense … and salivating at the chance of watching their team maul the hapless Buffs next weekend?

Two games … A grand total of 23 points, with two touchdowns.

There is no relief in sight … nor are there any victories.

“Tough day for us. Obviously, it was a disappointing performance”, said Karl Dorrell, who has gone 4-10 after opening 4-2. “We didn’t play well, we didn’t play to our capabilities. I felt that at times the defense did some really positive things. They got us some turnovers. Offensively we didn’t capitalize on a lot of those plays. We didn’t keep ourselves in the game … We have a tremendous amount of work to do. We’ve got to find some rhythm offensively at some point, we’ve got to get going there”.

How is it possible that the Colorado program could have fallen this far?

There are as many answers to that questions as there are losing seasons in the past two decades … Lack of institutional support; lack of community support; lack of fan support; poor coaching hires; unwillingness to commit to what it takes to be competitive in the new world of college football, be it through recruiting, the transfer portal, or NIL opportunities for players.

As hard as it is for modern day Buff fans to believe, the proud CU program is not used to losing at this magnitude. The Chuck Fairbanks debacle and the early years of the Bill McCartney era resulted in six consecutive losing seasons (1979-1984). Before that, the longest run of consecutive losing seasons in Boulder was three.

Three.

… (Brief pause for dramatic effect) …

Now Colorado will be, in all likelihood, looking for a new head coach for the 2023 season. Karl Dorrell is only 8-12 in his brief stint at Colorado, but, barring some unforeseen drastic improvement, we’re now just running out the clock on the Dorrell era in Boulder as any Buff win in 2022 will be an upset.

Underscoring CU’s plight is the continuity of coaches on the opposite sideline at Falcon Stadium.

Troy Calhoun in his 16th year as head coach at Air Force, but its not just Calhoun. AFA’s offensive coordinator, Mike Thiessen, is also in his 16th year in Colorado Springs, while defensive coordinator Brian Knorr is in his 11th year at Air Force. Oh, and all three men are AFA grads. In fact, there are 10 coaches on the Air Force staff who attended the Air Force Academy.

Then try this on for size … Since Troy Calhoun took over as the head coach at Air Force, Colorado has gone through six coaches: Gary Barnett, Dan Hawkins, Jon Embree, Mike MacIntyre, Mel Tucker, and now Karl Dorrell.

Maybe Coach No. 7 will be lucky.

It’s still early September. The Buffs could turn things around.

But we’re not expecting that, are we?

The Buffs stayed in Boulder Friday night, taking the bus 84 miles south Saturday morning.

Based on the way they played, they might have been better served getting on the bus after the 41-10 loss to Air Force … and kept on heading south.

New Mexico and New Mexico State might be looking for some competition on their level …

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28 Replies to “CU: Heading South”

  1. We are not going to be able to attract an established, successful coach from the FBS level. We have to find some up-and-coming coach from FCS, or an up-and-coming coordinator from the FBS level (like a Mel Tucker).

    1. True, it’s because its institutional. No matter who we hire, he will not be given the talent, support or ability to affect much change. Nobody want to coach Colorado because they see what the admin oversight does to the program. They know they will be alone and more often than not used as a scapegoat in 2-3 years

  2. In my opinion, CU just saw the future for CU football in the way the AFA plays ball, as a team with a unique disciplined offense.
    Since CU cannot get the support of “woke” administration who is more concerned with equity and their political image, instead of realizing sports only cares about one color, green, as in how much can you make for me now. In addition, with no donors like Phil Knight who made Oregon a Corporation (aka nikes bitch), CU will have to be different, like Boulder is different.
    If we adopted an offense that recruited option style players, option style coaches, our recruiting competition is the service academies (minus the academic and size requirements). This might solve some of our recruiting issues/competion, keep other schools from poaching coaches, and limit the transfer portal departures, as we are currently a minor league team who developed 3 defensive starters for “better” programs this year (Gonz, Perry, Blackmon, RiceWR…..), without any compensation (NIL plunder)
    If anything else, its fun to watch AF be a pain in everyone side, dictate their style of game more often than not, and line up and smash people play after play. CU could do the same thing with a unique offense that draws little transfer thieves interest.
    Now go get Calhoun, hed get a 1/2 million raise to leave if he took the KD’s current contract.
    Go Buffs! Lets make football fun again.

    1. Calhoun declined. But I was stumping for Jeff Monken from army during the last game of coaching roulette. I don’t think they talked to him.

      Go Buffs

    2. This was tried by Georgia Tech not too long ago. Very difficult to do without the discipline and mental attributes of a military academy student athlete.

      1. Agreed. My thought w/ Monken was that he’d evolve his system. He’s not been totally triple option guy, I don’t think. And his brother – I think, Todd? – just looked, cousins, not brothers, is at Georgia. They may bounce ideas around. Who knows?

        Anyway, I didn’t think it would happen. Just an interesting idear. To me. Dude did a nice job turning Army around. Although, less so lately?

        Go Buffs

        1. My response was more towards Neil, and I have had the same idea, but reality is you can only go so far with that, and the Academies prove it. Wish I had answers, but the only answer I can come up with is MONEY. That is the way.

          1. Pretty much. And even then, no guarantees. Hell, msu paid $5mill a year for a 5-7 guy. Then newly minted billionaire doubled it. Because he could. And he cares. Too bad trey and Matt, and lots of others, don’t.

            Go Buffs

  3. Btw the worst play of the game was probably Shrout sliding on a fourth down scramble and… Since the spot is where you initiate the slide… Being marked short of the line to gain and thus turning it over on downs.

    Like… How insulting is it to your offensive line that you won’t even try to dive forward for a first down?

    1. That was rough. Situational awareness was low. But? Dude hasn’t played a full game in crazy situations where he can actually be hit, in two years. With a blown knee between them. I bet he won’t do that again.

      Go Buffs

  4. SCOTT FROST FIRED.

    I would unironically hire Scott frost if we somehow can fire KD. At least he only loses by one score and his team puts up points

  5. Well said, Stuart:
    “Buff fans have enjoyed many of the heights of the game which Falcon fans have not – a national championship; a Heisman trophy winner; first round NFL draft picks (CU has 24; AFA has never had one); and time spent as the No. 1 team in the nation (CU has been No. 1 in the AP poll seven times;”
    How times have changed, It’s a new ball game, now.

  6. Here’s the quick summary: It’s the administrations fault! No, it’s the coaches’ fault! No, it’s the players’ fault!

    The reality? A bit of all three.

    But, as we all know by now, in my opinion, turning it around mostly falls to the roster. It’s the roster that I felt would yield a tough season for our Buffs. Bo Guffs is an awesome offensive coordinator, but without a QB to run the show, the offense can’t do much, which is why he turned down the job.

    What I learned from the game: Karl’s not a stubborn idiot – necessarily – in riding w/ Brendon the first game, and then JT the next game. What we have seen are glaring deficiencies in both. Karl, Mike et al have seen that too. They aren’t dumb. They just can’t come out and say it that way. Or they can, but then some people would trash them for speaking badly about their players. Open practices? I would. They have nothing to lose by Brian, Adam et al seeing how bad (or good) they play. They see it every weekend anyway.

    JT has a great arm. Just not that great of an accurate arm. Yet. Did the weather play a role in some of that? Absolutely. But absolutely not all of it. JT’s arm is strong enough to throw a tight ball in wind, and rain. He badly missed a lot of open guys. But? It was his first full game in live action IN TWO YEARS (not to mention, if you’ve ever recovered from a serious injury, testing that still sticks in your mind, especially after a non-contact one). We need to cut him and Brendon some slack. They’re working their asses off, I’m sure.

    The offense? There were a lot of open receivers, all day. The play calls and scheme are fine. Hat tip to Chev, as his probably were too. We know Lindgren’s was (ha! That’ll get some people riled up). This team – like so many over the last 20+ years – just isn’t good enough to overcome their own mistakes. I didn’t count, but weren’t the receivers – at least those getting targets – basically Arias, then Tyson, and Sowell? And Sowell looks like he’ll be a dude, physically. Tyson’s got skills too. What about Bell? Or any of the others? I saw Sneed get one target? I may torture myself and re-watch this one. I didn’t bother recording TCU. But, if they’re running w/ two freshmen more often than not, what’s that say? Those are their best options.

    You want to quibble about play calling? Tight end targets? Not many. But, the one great play, almost intercepted due to a wildly inaccurate pass, stolen by Brady, only to be called back for holding. Foot. Shot. That type of thing happened again, and again, and again. Regardless of the play call. The execution wasn’t there. Five for twenty one, says a lot. And, in turn, five for twenty one makes the running game that much harder. And yet? They still went back to it, with a modicum of success. Just couldn’t finish. Again.

    Now, if this team were loaded w/ juniors and seniors who’d played a year or three, and the execution was still this bad? Then maybe it’s because they quit on their coaches. Yet, we’ve never seen that (ok, maybe in 2012). Every year, the kids seem to play hard, no matter if the beating is a heartbreaker – like OSU, or so many during those three 5 and 7 years, when they were at least competitive – or the last two drubbings. There’s no quit. That speaks to some coaching. The players are fighting for themselves, and their coaches. Their team.

    We knew our offensive line was a work in progress. And guess what? It is! And beyond the first group, you get to, guess what? Dude’s who haven’t played much at the collegiate level yet. And I mean dudes as guys, not DUDES. Would be great if we had some on the lines.

    Defensively? They had their moments. But, tough to keep up the fight when the offense gives them little help. And, nobody wants to hear this, but, wasn’t the defense markedly worse since Nate went down last year? Yes. Yes it was. Dudes matter. And he’s a DUDE for CU, but in the grand scheme? Not all world. Same w/ Gonzalez and Blackmon and Perry. Those guys all in there made a difference on that side of the ball. I do like the new kids on the block. They are talented. Just very young and gaining experience. The D-line? They did some pretty good stuff, here and there. How many plays did they have to defend?

    And, unlike the TCU game, where we all knew it was over early in the third quarter, even after Fontenot’s fumble – we can quibble about it having been a TD, or targeting, or whatever – but even after that, it felt – at least to me – like the Buffs still had a chance. They were fighting. Then, it just got out of hand. Again. I’m waiting for Karl to bust out w/ the Groundhog day reference people around here have. He’s close.

    My biggest concern is Karl may not do himself enough favors to get to 2023. I honestly hope he does. Is Owen the answer? Maybe. As long as he doesn’t get broken in half. Drew? Maybe. But if he were, he wouldn’t be an OR for third string QB, with a freshman after being in the program for 18 months. It’s tough to win without a QB in the current way football is played. Our Buffs don’t seem to have one, right now.

    I just want to see improvement each game. And, there was some from game one to game two. Is Minnesota going to bash our heads in? Probably. Spread may be north of 20 to open. Who cares?

    Go out and get better.

    To Jenda’s point about coaching being the difference w/ App State, Marshall, etc.? App State has been a giant slayer for a long time. They have a program humming along over there (and their coaches routinely get plucked to better gigs I think, but I don’t pay that much attention to who, when or how they do at their next gigs). Do they match up in talent to those big guys? Nope. But they outmatch them in execution. And I’m pretty sure A&M players didn’t take them seriously. Yes, coaching plays a role, but the kids still gotta go do it. And, I’d bet their roster isn’t littered with freshmen and sophomore starters. They’ve built a program. Marshall’s been solid for a while as well, similar MO.

    So again, I say, hang in there Buff Nation. You want new coaches? Fine. Go find some who want the job who can make a difference. Rick and Lance have tried, and whiffed. And for the Tucker fans? I’m still thinking he’s way over rated. We’ll see. He got $9mill/yr b/c lil Mat Ishbia has a race w/ Dan Gilbert about supporting their alma mater. Not because he’s a great coach, necessarily. And, he was never going to stay in Boulder long. But, as I always say, I’d rather have a great hire move on quickly after making a big impact, vs. a deadbeat. I don’t think Karl’s a deadbeat. A great hire? I don’t think so. But, he knows football, he cares about his players, and I think he is improving the roster, albeit slowly. He’s like 90% of the other coaches out there who don’t have 10-20 NFL dudes on their roster every year. He does what he can with what he has. Did he have to tear it down to the studs? Maybe not. But that’s the path he took. I hope he can build it back up. And, I want to give him 2023 to find out. At that point, they’ll have like 90 juniors and seniors, all of whom will have experience to go along w/ their natural talent. And probably a QB in Owen McCown.

    Oh, and if you want to check in with Todd, his email is officeofthepresident@cu.edu and I think Phil’s is officeofthechancellor@cu.edu

    Ultimately, if Karl’s gone, I think Rick and Lance need a fresh start in a new spot, too. Clean slate.
    And, the administration needs to get vocal about supporting football. And for cripes sake, build out a recruiting organization. For high school, and transfers. And yeah, CU has some rules that make getting talented transfers more difficult. So what? A lot of schools do, too. Or, have the admin consider some modifications, but I think that’s a crutch, more than anything.

    Go Buffs

    1. Clearly the a&m coach failed. Not by a little but by a lot.

      He had the players all of them

      Failure of coaching.

      Coaches lose games

      The other coach had em up and runing

      way lesser players

      coaches win games.

      Buffs.

      Note: HCKD and staff lost that game.

      1. That same A&M team – well, coaches, and most of the same players – almost lost to my Buffs last year. Their season turned out ok. If I’m not mistaken, they beat that team from Alabama.

        But yeah, coaching does matter. Just not as much as those playing.

        Go Buffs

        1. bad buff coaching last year cost that game
          Bad coaching this year cost a&M this year.
          Coaches can lose games

          Lost a couple of them in the nfl cause of coaching.

          Well you say coaching does matter my my my

  7. Here is a bit of a different take on things. It will never happen, but it amuses me to think about it.
    So, in the English Premier League, at the end of the season, the bottom 2 teams are dropped from their tier to the next lower tier and the top 2 teams from the lower tier move up to the higher tier.
    Now, link the PAC-12 and the Mountain West to the same formula. At the end of this season Colorado drops to the Mountain West, and Fresno State moves up to the PAC-12. Next year Colorado plays Fresno State’s schedule and Fresno State plays Colorado’s schedule. Here is the kick in the pants for the CU administration. Fresno State gets the PAC-12 money CU would have received, and the Buffs get Mountain West money. If an embarrassing football team doesn’t doesn’t bother the high ups, maybe the loss of money would have an effect. Alas, we can only have fun with words.

    1. You’re not the first person to bring up the relegation idea. It’s not without merit. I think the sport needs to consider options of leveling the playing field. All the talent sits in like five programs. It was hilarious hearing Saban, again, before the TX game this week and his “concerns” on how NIL might swing the balance of power to an uneven playing field. Sure thing, coach.

      And, on that note, is Sark a great coach suddenly? Or, does TX have some dudes on that roster, and a pretty damn good freshman QB (redshirt)? I think the latter. And Saban’s kids probably overlooked them a bit, and their O-line is leading w/ a lot of new faces apparently. I’m pretty sure if Sark came to Boulder, this roster wouldn’t have played ‘Bama that closely. And, come to think of it, I wonder if that’s why he turned the job down?

      Go Buffs

        1. Your reading comprehension needs work. I said Sark’s a great recruiter. And he is. I do wish he’d have accepted the job at CU. I understand why he didn’t. And no, I don’t think he would have had CU almost beating Alabama in his second year. He’s got a way better roster at TX – and had a way better roster when he took the job, too.

          I do think he may also be a better coach than Karl. Certainly offensively. Maybe or maybe not on running an entire program. Jury’s out, but they’re leaning in Sark’s favor, at this early point of their deliberations. And there’s little doubt he’s a better recruiter than Karl. And, I think that’s actually been one of Karl’s bright spots. As I’ve said, over and over. Too bad there aren’t many more, at this point though.

          Go Buffs

  8. “ How is it possible that the Colorado program could have fallen this far?”

    One very important and overlooked fact from the highly successful Bill McCartney era… Coach McCartney would have been just another forgotten era in CU coaching staffs if it weren’t for President Gordon Gee who unwaveringly backed the football program.

    As long as CU’s current administration doesn’t care about the program, we won’t compete.

    Rick George pulled the plug (rightfully) on Mike MacIntyre and found CU a home-run coaching hire. But when Michigan State came with the big $ and an administration that backs the Spartan program, we couldn’t compete.

    CU’s current administration does not care.

    Want to see this program change? Make sure that CU President Todd Saliman and all if the CU Regents understand that you DO back the football program and expect them to do the same.

    Write, email, fax them. Be heard, Buff Nation! Because 18 years of mediocrity since Barnett was forced out sure ain’t satisfying.

  9. The clock may indeed run out on KD this season but who REALLY wants the job? As stated, there isn’t a lot of institutional support for football at CU and society isn’t as keen on the violent aspects of the game and it’s ramifications later in life. I do believe however that it is QB play that is the key to fixing the season. KD had Steven Montez for 2020 and that was huge in a 4-2 result.
    Shrout is far more capable than the AFA game results showed and we might be a vastly improved team by November if the players haven’t already checked out…

  10. The Buffs may not had to have hired an offensive coordinator in the past that had been fired somewhere else. Now it seems like the only thing they will be able to find going forward. Making things even harder to understand is KD’s experience with O.
    So why the hell is fall practice closed? Looks like now it wasn’t to tip off any opposition. It was hide things from the fans and everyone else.
    .

  11. I loved attending Boulder and living there. It feels like we should be able to attract a good coach that would want to live there. I thought Tucker was the answer but it turned out he didn’t really want to be there. I can’t think of a way out of this without a good known coach choosing Boulder. Dorrell isn’t the answer.

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