CU’s 2023 Schedule: A Path of Opportunity … or a Gauntlet?

When CU’s 2022 schedule was announced a little over a year ago, CU fans put on their black-and-gold tinted glasses and tried to squint their way into seeing six wins and a bowl bid for the Buffs.

The non-conference slate was tricky, but there were some potential wins out there. The home opener was against TCU. The Horned Frogs were coming off of a 5-7 season, and had fired their coach. TCU hadn’t settled on a quarterback, and was picked to finish seventh in the Big 12. The first road game, against Air Force, would be tough, but it was CU’s only non-Power Five conference game, so it was a must win.

There were some other opportunities in the first part of the season, but Buff fans understood that if Colorado was to be going bowling in the third season under Karl Dorrell, that the wins had to come early, as the Buffs’ November schedule – Oregon; at USC; at Washington; Utah – would be difficult.

As it turned out, the Buffs stayed with the Horned Frogs for the first half of the season opener. Little did we know at the time that trailing TCU 7-6 at the break in the first game would be the high water mark of the season.

After that … Well, you know the rest.

The 2023 Pac-12 conference schedules were released this week. The Buff Nation, infused with optimism since Coach Prime was hired, is actually looking forward to the upcoming season.

With good reason?

We already knew that the Buffs would be facing six teams in 2023 which won at least nine games in 2022 (five won 10 games or more, with UCLA finishing 9-4). Under normal circumstances, even with a decent roster, that would be tough. But that schedule, with a team coming off of a 1-11 season? A team which finished in the bottom ten nationally in total offense, scoring offense, total defense and scoring defense … and pretty much every other meaningful statistic?

Yuck.

How can the Buffs, even with a turnover of half of the roster, compete?

It won’t be easy.

The opponents CU will be facing this fall have been in place for years, but the order of the schedule … we didn’t know that until this week.

Is CU’s 2023 schedule a path of opportunity … or a gauntlet to overcome?

The 2023 non-conference schedule has been known for years

  • Colorado and TCU signed a contract for a home-and-home series for the 2022-23 seasons back in March of 2015.
  • Colorado and Nebraska signed a contract for a pair of home-and-home series for the 2018-19 and 2023-24 seasons back in February of 2013.
  • Colorado and Colorado State signed a contract for a home-and-home series for the 2023-24 seasons in August of 2018.

The 2023 conference schedule has been known for even longer

The Pac-12 has been on a eight-year rotation of games since its inception in 2011. For the 2023 and 2024 season rotation of opponents (with CU missing Cal and Washington from the North Division) has been known for over a decade.  It’s the same conference schedule the Buffs had for the 2015 and 2016 seasons (the 2024 campaign, of course, will have to be modified, with USC and UCLA moving on to the Big Ten).

So, we’ve known for some time who the Buffs would be playing in the 2023 season. We’ve also known which six games would be at home, and which of the six games would be on the road.

What we didn’t know was the order of the Pac-12 games … until this week.

Colorado will open its 2023 season on the road against national championship game runner-up TCU before returning home to face rivals Nebraska and Colorado State.

Then, it’s …

  • at Oregon
  • USC
  • at Arizona State
  • Stanford (Friday)
  • Bye week
  • at UCLA
  • Oregon State
  • Arizona
  • at Washington State (Friday)
  • at Utah

Where to start? 

Is opening Pac-12 play against two top ten teams a blessing or a curse?

The conspiracy theorist in me would go with the idea that the Pac-12 athletic directors, who voted on the schedule, had it in for Colorado and Coach Prime. CU’s flamboyant new head coach and his Buffs needed to be put in their place, and what better way to do that than to have the Buffs, already facing a TCU team on the road which will be likely be ranked in the Top 15 in the preseason polls, have to face two more Top 10-15 teams to open Pac-12 play? Even if the Buffs can get past their rivals Nebraska and CSU (no guaranteed victories in a rivalry game), the best Colorado can hope for is a 2-3 September … and a deserved trip back to the fringes of the college football spotlight.

In all likelihood, though, the reason the CU schedule was front-loaded with marquee games was to maximize the number of eyeballs the Pac-12 can get on the Buffs while Coach Prime and his new team remain relevant in Year One.

USC v. Utah and Oregon v. Washington are going to be national games whenever they are played, but CU v. Oregon – in Eugene? – and CU v. USC – a team the Buffs have never beaten? If those games were scheduled for November, there’s a better than even chance that they would not be must-see TV. Colorado has all of one win v. Oregon since joining the Pac-12, and CU has never beaten USC in its history. Even the optimism accompanying Coach Prime’s debut doesn’t change that reality.

Was it the Pac-12’s idea that it was better to get Coach Prime in primetime before his first year’s record goes south?

Perhaps.

It’s the weather, stupid

It was already known that Colorado would be playing both Arizona State and Washington State on the road during the 2023 season. It was also already known that temperatures in Tempe are so extreme that the Sun Devils never play before sundown in September, and that weather in the Paulose in November can be dicey.

So what did the Pac-12 give Colorado and Coach Prime?

A November game in Tempe, when the temperatures have moderated, and an October game in Pullman, before the bad weather sets in?

Nope.

CU travels to Tempe on October 7th, when the average temperature is 92-degrees.

CU travels to Pullman on November 17th, when the average temperature is 42-degrees.

Oh, and did I mention that the CU game at Washington State is already scheduled to be a night game … a Friday night game?

Coach Prime has told anyone who would listen that he never has played a game in snow. Not as a collegian; not as a professional.

Think there were some Pac-12 athletic directors who pictured Coach Prime on national television on a Friday night in November, wearing a parka on the sidelines in Pullman, covered in snow?

Nah, of course not.

Bye weeks 

The Pac-12 did do a better job of spreading out the bye weeks for conference teams this year, with six of the 12 teams getting bye weeks before playing one another. USC gets two bye weeks, including one before the Pac-12 championship game … so if the Trojans make it to the title game, you can be sure some eyebrows will be raised about USC being given a huge advantage of two weeks to prepare for a chance at a title in its last season in the Pac-12.

(Side note … USC also gets a bye week in mid-September, owing to having a Week Zero game against San Jose State. There was talk about CU playing a Week Zero game against Arizona State, but that was nixed by the Football Oversight Committee, which didn’t see the Pac-12’s request for a waiver wasn’t merited. The USC game against San Jose State, set for August 26th, has actually been on the books since April, as USC needed a replacement game when BYU canceled the game when the Cougars joined the Big 12).

CU gets a bye week before traveling to Pasadena to play UCLA, with the Bruins getting a home game against the Buffs sandwiched between road games against Stanford and Arizona. No real advantage or disadvantage either way.

The only team which gets a bye week before facing the Buffs is Stanford. The Cardinal gets a bye week before travelling to Boulder to face the Buffs on Friday, October 13th.

The problem here is that Colorado has a road game against Arizona State before returning home to face Stanford. So … CU gets six days to prepare for Stanford; Stanford gets 13 days to prepare for Colorado. Outside of CSU, the game which the Buffs are most likely to be favored to win will be the home game against the Cardinal … and Stanford gets extra time to prepare.

The bottom line … 

When you have a 1-11 team, a team which was not only one of the worst Power Five teams in the nation, but one of the worst teams in FBS football, any schedule would be considered difficult.

Throw in a Pac-12 conference schedule with a bevy of returning talent at the quarterback position, and a half dozen teams which believe they can produce double-digit wins in 2023, and there is simply no room to hide.

The Colorado football program did post one of the best turnarounds in modern history in 1985, with the Buffs rebounding from a 1-10 season in 1984 to post a 7-5 record in 1985.  The 1985 Buffs, though, had a much easier go of it, with a schedule which included CSU (3-8 in 1984); Oregon (6-5); Kansas (5-6); Missouri (3-7-1); Kansas State (3-7-1); and Iowa State (2-7-2). (I plan on doing a retrospective Essay on the 1984-85 turnaround in February after Signing Day II).

For CU to go bowling in Year One under Coach Prime, the Buffs will need more than few breaks. They will need to have a coaching staff which can keep the confidence of the team up, even when things aren’t going well. A 1-4 start is not out of the question – can the Buffs keep their eyes on the prize with a slow start?

Thing is, if the Buffs can upset any of the three ranked opponents in September – TCU, Oregon, or USC – the confidence of the team, and the enthusiasm of the fan base, will go through the roof. The Buffs will be able to approach the second half of the season with a belief that they can compete with every team on the roster.

CU’s schedule will be a gauntlet through some of the best teams in the nation … but it’s also a schedule which provides an opportunity for Colorado to be one of the best stories of the 2023 college football season.

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9 Replies to “CU’s 2023 Schedule: A Path of Opportunity … or a Gauntlet?”

  1. This is all speculation, but why would the Pac12 want to promote USC and hurt CU? If USC makes it to the Pac12 championship, you just know the announcers will beat like a drum how USC will be playing in the B10 in 2024. It absolutely will not be positive coverage for the Pac12 conference.

    From where I sit, the Pac12 is on the rise with a lot of exciting transfer portal wins, a lot of talk of all the top-level QBs, and a lot of ranked football teams. There is a lot of good right now. Hopefully that translates into a good TV deal.

    1. “…why would the Pac12 want to promote USC and hurt CU?”
      Because the P12 continues to have poor leadership. This would not have happened in the SEC (largely because no team would EVER be tempted to leave the SEC).

    2. “…why would the Pac12 want to promote USC and hurt CU?”

      One factor, considering USC is going to be featured on a lot of networks that don’t begin with “PAC.” Certainly, they will want to bolster the USC switch to Big10 – to enhance future interest/coverage in that conference. Just follow the money.

      What these networks don’t seem to understand is: as you say, LoCo, I also believe the PAC-12 is on the rise…..and, Jason you also have a strong point. Another consideration could be that TV coverage in our time zones begins when people in the east are 2 hours in to stage 4 Land of Nod….that’s a lot (LOT) of people….so – again – follow the money.

  2. Stuart, your assessment in the end that any schedule with as many ranked teams would be difficult is true. And, last year CU had a gauntlet at the end, this year’s is more at the beginning, so they swapped it basically. Really, I don’t mind USC & OU early, give the team and Coach Prime a chance to catch them by surprise.

    Of course with games against TCU & the corn cobs, maybe much will be out, but there’s still a chance for more surprises early on for Coach Prime with a team that’ll be 100% new to all comers. New coaches, new players and new game plans & ETC!

    The early on games makes it harder for those two teams to know CU v. CU knowing them.

    Bring on those two early, and I like UCLA after a buy and Stanford as the team that gets the short week, they’re not a top of the conference team anymore; this is not a bad schedule.

    Considering the TO in players, almost all of the starters will be new and improved so there’s room for a run of wins after those two games too.

    My question is: “Where will CU’s O-line (AND D-line) be compared to the rest by then?” CP has put together some good talent with more coming, so where CU stands in the trenches will limit or give them their opportunities.

    That fast offense the new OC brings with him, and fast play from better talent may be just what the doctor ordered, especially at altitude. UofA won’t feel the altitude as much, but the sea level schools will.

    So, considering there were never going to be any cup cakes this season, the Buffs got an OK schedule in my book. But I’m no football guru, like those pundits.

    1. MJB
      Look out.
      It’s only January
      Yur and early victim
      The bug
      The love bug
      The loveBuff bug
      Go home
      Get in bed
      Rest
      Relax
      deep breaths
      internal body cleansers
      Sleep
      Long
      Wake up
      start anew.
      keep and eye out for the bug
      Don’t let it get you this time of year
      it is much milder and forthcoming later in the year.

      Bless you and I pray for you.

      Buffs

      Note: I need to be careful myself during this time frame. Seriously

  3. Hey
    If you dont have your Black, gold and rose tinted glasses on what good is it? Given up instead? even with Prime? USC and Oregon are already in the loss column? let a lone a depleted TCU? who was exposed and squished like a bug in the NC game.
    OK maybe USC who has done a better job than even Prime in snatching high level players and now with some on D.
    Speaking of D do ya think we might finally get some well timed. disguised and well schemed blitz packages to disrupt all those anointed god like QBs?
    Do ya think Lewis is going to to do the Sonny Dykes deja vue?
    The Buffs have been cursed with outright crappy brain dead coaching for so long has fate and RG finally allowed the pendulum to swing entirely in the opposite direction?

  4. That was fun
    I would like them to win every game
    but I really want to see :
    a smooth operating high powered offense
    a aggressive hard stopping defense.

    That’s it. All I want to see. (Wins?/Losses? not the priority )

    The rest will take care of itself

    Prime Gauntlet

    Note: Did you get season tickets or were you shut out?

    1. A quick check on the CU website … there are 60,302 accounts in the Buff Club registry.
      My priority number … 792.
      So, yes, I got my season tickets.

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