A September to Remember

In case you missed it, CU’s move to the Pac-12 has been an unmitigated disaster.

Poor administrative choices, poor coaching hires, the loss of the Texas recruiting base, the failure to adapt to the new world of Name, Image and Likeness and Transfer Portal.

Pick your poison. Pick your rationale. Pick your excuse.

But the numbers don’t lie.

After all-time winning records as members of the Big Seven and Big Eight – and posting a 60-60 record as a member of the Big 12 – the CU program fell off a cliff after joining the Pac-12.

CU’s all-time record in Pac-12 play coming into the 2023 season?


Make it 27-78 after CU fell to 0-2 in Pac-12 play this season after falling to the No. 8 team in the country for the second consecutive week. CU rallied from a 41-14 third quarter deficit to make it a game, but at the end of the day, it was the 17th consecutive loss to the USC Trojans, with the Buffs falling 48-41.

Yes, the Buffs are 0-2 in conference play to start their last season as a member of the Pac-12, but the 2023 campaign doesn’t have the feel of most of the other seasons Colorado has played in the past decade.

Other than the anomaly of the 2016 season, when the Colorado went 8-1 in Pac-12 play (10-4 overall), the Buffs have never won more than three conference games in a season. There have ben four seasons as members of the Pac-12 with 10 or more total losses, after previously posting only three ten-loss seasons in the history of the program.

It’s ancient history now, but before joining the Pac-12, the Buffs hadn’t finished last alone at the bottom of a conference since 1915. Look it up … Never as a member of the member of the Mountain States Conference did Colorado finish in the basement … Never as a member of the Big Seven … Never as a member of the Big Eight … Never as a member of the Big 12 … did CU finish last alone in conference play.

As a member of the Pac-12, the Buffs set up shop at the bottom of the conference, venturing out of the hole only on rare occasions.

And the Buffs have now gone over two decades without a conference championship. That too is inconsistent with CU’s history. Only one decade prior – the 1950s, when Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma Sooners dominated the Big Seven – had Colorado failed to at least one title.

The 2010s? The one chance at a title in 2016, but nothing close to contention in any other year as a member of the Pac-12 … and a title isn’t likely coming to Boulder this year, either.

And now the Buffs are leaving the conference. Gone will be the opportunities to show that Colorado can play on equal footing with the likes of the University of Spoiled Children and Nike University.

The memorable 2016 win at Autzen against Oregon notwithstanding, the Buffs have gone 0-fer everything against the Trojans and Ducks in Pac-12 play. Colorado had been 0-5 all-time against USC prior to moving to the Pac-12, and have notoriously gone winless against the Trojans as conference rivals.

And the Buffs have been on the short end of many lopsided losses in the series. The first four games between the Buffs and Trojans were high-scoring affairs … at least for the Trojans.

  • In 2011, it was 42-17, with USC quarterback Matt Barkley throwing for a school-record six touchdowns;
  • In 2012, it was 50-6, with USC quarterback Matt Barkley again throwing for six touchdowns;
  • In 2013, it was 47-29, with USC quarterback Cody Kessler leading the rout;
  • In 2014, it was 56-28, with USC quarterback Cody Kessler throwing for a new school record – seven touchdowns.

Last season, Caleb Williams accounted for five touchdowns, throwing for three touchdowns and rushing for two more as Williams added to his Heisman trophy stats in a 55-17 mauling of Colorado in what turned out to be the Buffs’ final trip to the Coliseum as a member of the Pac-12.

A quick glance at stats from the 2023 game would give the appearance that the last game in the series was much like the others. Williams completed 30-of-40 passes for 403 yards and a career-best six touchdowns, the most touchdown passes in a game for a USC quarterback since … Cody Kessler threw for seven touchdowns against Colorado in 2014.

At the end of the day, the Buffs lost – again – to the Trojans. And while the history books will show that Colorado in the 2023 game CU lost to USC for the 17th time without a win, it won’t show that many of the sellout crowd of 54,032 were still around for the finish … and applauding the effort the Buffs made in turning a 41-14 rout in the making to a 48-41 final.

While Coach Prime flatly said he didn’t believe in moral victories, there was much to be taken from the Buffs posting 41 points and 564 yards of offense against the No. 8 team in the nation. The Buffs had a punt blocked and threw an interceptions, with both mistakes giving USC’s offense less than 25 yards to cover in two of their first half touchdown drives. There were CU’s seven penalties and the missed field goal. There was CU’s mismanaged final drive which resulted in a touchdown, but took over four minutes of precious clock time to post, realistically ending the Buffs’ chances at an upset.

And yet the Buffs were this close to pulling off an amazing comeback.

“It’s tremendous belief-wise, but we got to believe no matter what,” Coach Prime said after the game. “If you can’t see what’s coming with CU football, you’ve lost your mind. You’re just a flat out hater. If you can’t see what’s going on and what’s going to transpire over the next several months. Something’s wrong with you.”

It’s been an amazing month for the Colorado football program.

Check that.

It’s been an amazing ten months for the Colorado football program.

Jostling with the likes of UMass, New Mexico State and Northwestern for the title of the worst FBS team of the 2022 season, the Colorado program won the lottery in getting Deion Sanders to agree to becoming CU’s head coach.

While Buff fans were ecstatic about the hire, we didn’t know at the time that we had won the lottery, found the Fountain of Youth, and finally gotten the girl … all at the same time.

The 2023 schedule was much discussed this past off-season. The consensus was that CU’s September was a “murderer’s row” from which the Buffs, even with the roster overhaul, would not be able to overcome. Games against three ranked teams – with two on the road – plus two rivalry games? No wonder the pundits had CU getting through September with a 1-4 record, and Vegas put the over/under for CU wins for the season at 3.5.

Instead, the Buffs have, by almost any measure, over-achieved.

  • CU’s first win over a Top 20 team on the road for the first time since 2002?
  • CU’s third consecutive win over Nebraska … the first time the Buffs have beaten the Cornhuskers three straight times since the 1950s?
  • CU’s sixth consecutive win over Colorado State … erasing a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime?; and
  • CU making a game of it against USC. The Trojans had 34 points at halftime, and were up 41-14 in the third … and had to hang on for dear life to beat the Buffs.

“Wonderful game,” Coach Prime said despite the loss. “They played their hearts out. I addressed the team and told them I love each of them, coaches included, because they were resilient. They did not give up and they had multiple, multiple opportunities to give up. They fought to the end. We sustained injuries, meaning the next man up came in and did their thing.”

The 2023 season could still unravel. After the second half effort against USC, Colorado fans will expect the Buffs to take out Arizona State and Stanford and push CU’s record to 5-2 heading into its bye week. Buff fans will expect a winning season and a bowl bid, which is quite the upgrade from what we thought was realistic a month ago.

Expectations have been ratcheted up several notches, and that’s not a bad thing.

“I’m really proud of, not only the young men, the coaches, the fan base, the student body, but all of you”, said Coach Prime. “I’m truly proud of the way we represented Boulder today. I really am. Let’s go.”

It’s been a September to remember.

And this could just be only the beginning of something truly special …


11 Replies to “A September to Remember”

  1. Wow what a September, now if we close the rest of the season out okay, CU will be ready for a full breakout next year. After 5 games, it is like we gained a little in each game: (a) beat at Top-20/CFP finalist on the road; (b) sent the Corn packing handily; (c) won a game/refused to lose a game, CU probably had no business winning; (d) lost to Ore handily, but did not just throw in the towel; and (e) almost won the SC game, we lost but left the stadium feeling like winners.

    Ton of the credit obviously goes to Prime, however we need to keep Rick George in our thoughts too:

    1. RG made the deal with Mike Mac to get the facilities built, and CU could compete in the facilities arms race;
    2. RG got burned by Midnight Mel and he moved on, but it turned out that we dodged a huge bullet. Maybe RG sensed something there…;
    3. RG had the worst time to fill a coaching position, went for Sark and had to pull KD out of hat. He gave us one-shortened season with a glimmer. RG did not put CU in an impossible financial situation for his next hire;
    4. RG went all in for Prime but also got the new president on board, which updated all those recruiting and academic rules that hurt CU for so many years. IMO, they went over Phil D’s head (he did open mouth and insert foot too) for the changes to happen. RG and Prime came up with the vision, and sold it/bowled over our intransigent administration–they forced the University to go all in;
    5. Back to the financial situation, when CU made the change, they could bring in Prime’s coaches and pay them;
    6. For once when conference re-alignment was on the table, CU was a seller not a panic buyer coming in at a reduced rate as little brother. They made the right move early, and that will pay off;
    7. RG has been a 100% supporter with all the changes–including not taking their eye off of NIL.

    Going back to MAC, CU needed some outside breaks and it looks like we got them:

    1. Just having a shot at Prime, and making it a reality is huge;
    2. The crazy transfer portal situation + no initial counters was an anomaly in terms of quickly turning over a team–specifically one with 3 bowl games in 20 years coming off a 1 win season. We may never see that again. Also, when CU gets down no more slumped shoulders on the sideline;
    3. The PAC12 implosion reminds me of when coach MAC came in: all the SW conference (Texas schools) were basically on probation, then SMU got the death penalty. That changed the recruiting calculus a ton out of Texas. I’m sure Ore, UW, SC and UCLA will get their share of recruits, but CU is still positioned to do well out-West too;
    4. Jumping into a conference that really wants CU and made that clear is a huge bump. CU is not settling rather expanding their horizons. Have football success and CU can be the cherry on top of the B12–that conference flagship. The reduced travel for all other sports helps too; and
    5. CU needed some special circumstances to become the media darling of college football, and they did it.

    In response to some of the comments/articles:

    1. I think the defense is coming around. It just takes time for a new install. Defense 2.0-2.5 is maybe one season away–i.e. Oct 1 next year. We have new players popping up every week. CK is making in game adjustments. Bringing in a few more transfers and having some guys in year 2, could make the defensive front look much different next year. Gap control has got incrementally better each week. Throw out the Corn game, their offense is putrid.

    2. Last in scoring defense . . . not all that worried. Look at who CU played–three loaded offensive teams, 2 on the road. Except for the pick-6, CSU’s QB did a Phillip Rivers impression. However, CU did adjust in crunch-time. CSU had 10 days to prepare and Sanford had them ready to play. Those crossing routes were no flukes. If the QB is not on, those are some tough throws. CU is getting turnovers and not quitting. Finally, hurry-up offenses work both ways good and bad, unless the offense is humming each quarter, CU’s defense will be out of the field a ton.

    3. ST’s has not been great. On that blocked punt IMO it was probably on the punter . . . way too many steps even on a roll-out. IMO, the punter made a bad read and compounded it going into the rush the I think froze a bit. Maybe he forgot the play?? It would have helped if CU flipped the field with a couple 1st downs. The missed FGs, are just misses. Mata’s leg strength is ??, as is how quickly he elevates that ball. Feeley is on and off, really needing more practice and consistency. The one he missed/looked blocked against CSU was just a cold shank off the back of his foot. Those guys have to iron it out in practice.

    4. A bunch has been made about clock management on the 4th quarter drive… If that 9 yard pass, goes for 10, clock stops as chains move instead of timeout. IMO, CU had to still run the ball a some, just to keep the MLB honest and Dline splits manageable. Bottom line is that they scored, and had an onside kick attempt. Who is to say, SC does not get the ball back with more time, gets a 1st down and the game is over anyways. Still a great comeback.

    5. Oline might be coming along. Overall, injuries have hurt this team, but they happen to each team. CU played 5 physical games. Hope to see the run game keep progressing. Hank and Dylan are showing something. If another guy steps up, this may fix itself especially when TH is back.

    Keep up the improvement. Go Buffs!!

  2. An article in the Athletic stated that CU almost beat SC without their two best players and they both happen to be Travis Hunter. Good line and not too far off. Of course 1 A/B are Travis and Sheduer. But it was a good learning experience that the team saw they could compete with a SC without Travis and Shiloh for that matter. Great things to come. IMHO.

  3. So Stuart you had me thinking you were down on the season at the end of the article! But then turned it around just like I think you were trying to show the buffs are in the article. I am not sure where this season will go as I see 3 very winnable games ASU, Arizona, Stanford. We have beaten who we should beat, so I think we have a very good shot of beating these teams. UCLA, Utah (sans Cam Rising) look like we could make it a game. OSU is not Oregon, WSU I am not sure of.
    I need to watch the game again but I am wondering if the defense and D coordinator are starting to settle in. I recently watched something about how complex the defense is. It may take this team most of the year to settle in.

  4. The good the bad and the ugly:

    The ugly, special teams, a couple of good plays here and there (whole season) but an “F” yesterday.

    The bad, CU is last in the PAC12 in scoring defense. But… CU has played the top two teams in the PAC12 in points scored USC 53.6 P/G and the ducks 51.3 P/G, so that’s out of the way. Can the Buffs’ defense keep up with WSU’s offense?

    The good, the last 20 minutes against USC. The last 2mins of the 4th plus the double OT against CSU, OK, maybe the last 5 mins of the 4th against CSU, plus the OTs. Most of the game against the corn was good, I say those TOs were from pressure as much as the chuckster’s mistakes. And, most of TCU game, with their best at the end.

    CU has played three ranked teams and two bitter rivals in their first five games, talk about a gauntlet to start the Prime era. Seriously, not one cupcake or easy game!

    The next two should be a good measure of the second half of the season. CU needs to have the type of game we expected against CSU, but didn’t get; one where everything comes together for the whole team for the whole game. Do that and the rest of the season starts looking really promising…

    Thanks to Prime & the Staff AND the Players it already does.

    The game against the ducks was bad, but the other four games against two ranked opponents and two rivals averaged 41.25 P/G, not bad considering no gimmies.

    Oregon State is looking good, but they hung 55 points on UC Davis, to boost their 35.8 P/G. And, UCLA’s 32 P/G includes beating up on NC Central with 59 points, so there’s that… But I said the same about the ducks Portland State game.

    UCLA plays WSU and Oregon State next so we’ll get a better look at them and with CU’s next two games we’ll start to see how the middle of the PAC12 is going to shake out. Oregon State ends with UW & the ducks, one may be chasing a NC, the other pissed that they failed to make it to the NC, Yikes!

    CU needs and “October to Remember”, one with three wins and with a bowl game assured, that would set up November nicely.

  5. Before the season began most of us probably had the ASU and Stanford games as Ws. I can this team take care of business? t should be an interesting test of character.

  6. My mentality was get through September 2-3. The fact that we exceeded that is amazing. Sure after starting 3-0 the mind then can run wild and we have been brought back to reality. But this reality is so much better than the reality of the past 15 years sans 2016 and is certainly better than the reality in Lincoln right now. At this point the hope is a bowl / winning record, then make a run for the 12 team playoff as members of the big 12.

  7. I have Arizona State, Stanford and Arizona as the teams that I need to see the Buffs beat. That would give us a Bowl game in December and conclude a most remarkable season. I believe that Travis Hunter will be available for the UCLA game on October 28. Maybe we can snatch that game also.

  8. When it comes to finishing games and not giving up, coach Prime has the Buffs balling! You could count the big play mistakes the Buffs were making and it was either one big busted play for a USC score; or, it was one big busted play for a USC first down on 3rd and long, and then a big busted play for a score. But it was about 8 or 9 bad plays by the Buffs that led to USC’s 6 TDs, otherwise the Buffs were playing some good ball on defense. They got USC into 3rd and long a few times and couldn’t get off the field, big play mistakes that led to a score or first down.

    It’s incredible that the Buffs could mount that kind of come back against a team of USC’s talent. I also don’t think as a team USC is better than Oregon. Oh, I think USC may have some better players and should be better overall, but they don’t have the mercenary, kill attitude that Oregon has. USC wants to get out front score wise and then coast to a win, the ducks keep driving for the win and don’t let up.

    Almost half way through the season and Prime is delivering on his promises, can’t wait to see the next two games.

    1. Yeah. Uo and uw definitely look like the treats to beat in the pac this year. Wazzu and osu ain’t chumps either. And heck, the cardinal were up two field goals to zip against uw, and the az game was entertaining too. And ut will be a different ten once they get their qb back.

      Pac 12 is tough. Like usual. Gonna miss it.

      Go Buffs

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