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Hope is Not a Strategy

I have written often on the topic of “hope” over the roller coaster ride we have been on as the Buff Nation over the past 18 months.

It wasn’t all that long ago that hope was in short supply for CU fans. On October 2, 2022, Karl Dorrell was fired, with the CU program in the middle of the worst season in its history. My Essay, “Five Hours of Hope“, chronicled the brief period of time that fateful Sunday afternoon, the few hours of optimism between the confirmation of the Dorrell dismissal and the press conference several hours later, when then Chancellor Phil DiStefano took the wind right back out of our sails.

At the press conference formally announcing the dismissal of Karl Dorrell, DiStefano was asked about altering CU’s transfer policies, with the Transfer Portal largely being seen as a way out for CU talent, but a bar for getting players in. Instead of giving Buff fans hope for the future, DiStefano responded:

“I don’t think it is a matter of altering any of the rules and policies. I believe that you can have excellent academics and excellent student-athletes coming together. They are not mutually exclusive.

“On the transfer piece, it is just based upon the degrees we offer. And the way that faculty own the curriculum, they own the degrees so when a student wants to transfer, for example, we do not have physical education here, and we do not have general education, and to be honest, that’s not going to change.

“What we must do is go and recruit those student athletes coming from junior colleges who can play for us and can transfer in the credits. It may take a little bit more work, but I have confidence in our coaches to be able to do that. I mean we have brought in transfers and that has worked. And I think we will continue to bring in transfers, it is just the transfers must have the transfer credits that will transfer.” 

With it sounding like CU’s next head coach would be unable to compete at the Power Five level due to the university’s transfer policies, hope was in short supply.

A scant two months later, CU’s transfer policies – and hope for the future – took a turn for the better, when the Buff Nation was surprised by the hiring of Coach Prime.

My Essay for that week was entitled, “Restoring Hope at Colorado“:

The past week has been a whirlwind, with CU receiving more positive national attention in seven days than it had in the past two decades. Buff fans are taking their CU gear out of the closet. Ticket sales are going through the roof; CU merchandise sales are setting records; national pundits are talking about the CU program … and not about their 2022 woes, but about their prospects for the future.

The fog over the program had been lifted … along with the transfer ban. Coach Prime not only used the Transfer Portal, he rewrote the manual on how to fast track changes to a roster.

The 2023 season was a mixed bag for Buff fans. No one really expected CU to race out to a 3-0 record and a national ranking. No one could have fully anticipated the Coach Prime phenomenon, bringing in tens of millions of new fans, bringing College Game Day back to Boulder for the first time in a quarter century, and selling out crowds both at home and on the road.

Then again … no one really expected CU, after its blazing start, to stumble to the finish with a 1-8 record in Pac-12. No one foresaw CU blowing leads against Stanford and Arizona, potential victories which could have righted the ship and kept the haters at bay.

Now, as the 2024 season creeps ever closer, hope has been replaced by expectation. Coach Prime has two first-round NFL draft picks leading his team, with more four-star players on the CU roster than at any time since the 1990s. With a move to the Big 12, and a schedule filled with games you can see the Buffs winning … and games you can see the Buffs losing … the time has come for Coach Prime and the Buffs to fulfill their promise.

As legendary Green Bay Packer head coach Vince Lombardi put it:

Hope is Not a Strategy.

There are those who believe that this will be an exceptional year for Colorado. Fox analyst Joel Klatt, himself a former Buff, is one of the optimists.

“I think the play on the field is going to start to catch up with some of the expectations,” Klatt said. “I think that Colorado, if they’re able to protect Shedeur Sanders… I think that Colorado can win eight games, I think they can double their win total from a year ago.”

He then went on to say even nine wins is a possibility, as well as pointing out that two-way star Travis Hunter is perhaps the best player in college football.

Klatt then started dreaming really big, mentioning the 12-team playoff that begins this year.

“There’s a chance Colorado is competing to go to the Big 12 Championship game. If they were to get into that game they’d be 60 minutes from the college football playoff. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, ” Klatt said.

Klatt, though, is in the minority. There are any number of national pundits who can’t wait for Coach Prime – and Colorado – to fail.

One of the leading critics is SEC mouthpiece Paul Finebaum. The ESPN commentator joined ‘McElroy and Cubelic in the Morning’ and discussed the “Prime Effect” in Boulder. He touched on why the honeymoon phase might be over.

“First of all, he is a celebrity but he’s not a celebrity as a coach. To me, Deion, it’s all about what he did previously and I think that’s why I give him a lot of credit for calling himself Coach Prime. Because that puts the emphasis on being a coach,” Finebaum said about Sanders’ nickname. “But listen, he is an industry-created coaching celebrity. What happened last year was generational, but it was mostly forced and created, and it was really in many ways illegitimate.”

… “He really never beat anyone of consequence, but that didn’t stop us from talking about it,” Finebaum said. “By the way, I’m guilty. I was on those shows as you were. But it felt surreal and I’ll never forget being asked, I think Steven A. Smith asked me in the second week of the season “hey, do you think they’re a playoff team?” I had a hard time answering with a straight face, because I think he had just been out there and he believed in it. But that was never real.”

While Finebaum, an SEC homer who literally wrote the book, “My Conference Can Beat Your Conference”, may be excused for having no love for CU and Coach Prime, but even Phil Lindsay, a forever Buff if there ever was one, has his concerns about the program going forward under Deion Sanders.

“This may be (Sanders’) last opportunity with this much attention,” Lindsay said. “If he strikes gold on this opportunity this year with the players that he has in here, his son (Shedeur Sanders) being a first round draft pick, Travis Hunter being a first round draft pick, it can be very special. But it’s not going to come down to those players; it’s going to come down to the coaching.”

… “We criticized Sean Payton last year for some of the things he did on the coaching side of it,” Lindsay said. “And there should have been a lot of criticism for Coach Prime and what he brought to the table as a coach in certain situations. That has to get better. And then it’s the unknown of your offensive and defensive coordinators. Are they the right fits for the job?”.

The 2024 season is a crossroads season for college football, with the new conference realignment, the new College Football playoff, the House settlement, and the deepening gap between the sport’s have’s and have not’s.

It is also very much a crossroads season for the CU football program. If Coach Prime can’t win with a first-round NFL draft pick at the game’s most crucial position … will he ever be able to field a winning team?

The pieces are in place for the Buffs to make a splash. In this summer’s Lindy’s preseason magazine, seven Buffs made Lindy’s All-Big 12 teams, including three first-teamers (QB Shedeur Sanders, CB Travis Hunter, and DL BJ Green). That’s a total which stacks up quite favorably in the 16-team Big 12, with only Kansas State and Oklahoma State having more players honored (with eight players each from those two teams).

Last season, playing in the last year of the Pac-12 – and only 12 teams – CU, in the first year under Coach Prime, had only two players make the Lindy’s All-Pac 12 team (and one of those was punter Mark Vassett).

CU may have gotten a bad draw from the Big 12 in terms of scheduling for 2024, with the Buffs facing all five of the teams which are generally considered to be Top 25 caliber (Utah, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Kansas and Arizona).

But the time is now for Coach Prime to make a prophet out of Joel Klatt, and find a way to eight (or more) wins.

Hope is no longer a strategy.


8 Replies to “Hope is Not a Strategy”

  1. I hope this team gets us to ten wins. I’m pretty sure they’ll get us to six or eight wins. I think the roster has again been upgraded. The question is more about the depth, but it seems they’re deeper in the trenches, running backs, and linebackers now, too.

    We’ll have a good sense of how they’ll look in a few months.

    Go Buffs

  2. I’m sure I’m in the minority, but I think they will be good. Quite good. I think they have assembled the talent to challenge for the Big 12. It’s funny how everyone dismisses Prime’s record in the SWAC.

    Sure some decisions from last season can be questioned, but the team fought to the end. They only got blown out twice and if they had half an offensive line Shedeur would have been even better than he was. When you watch some of the film guys were open on play after play that he simply couldn’t get to because he didn’t have time to get through his progressions. Also, Prime recognized the deficiencies in the play calling (maybe a little late) but he still had the guts to demote the offensive coordinator and he had the class not to call him out publicly while also helping him find his next spot.

    I think they have upgraded the talent significantly over last season which last season was a huge improvement over the one win team that Klatt called the worst in the country.

    So how good can they be? I don’t think anyone knows. But the pundits don’t follow the program. They just listen to each other and it becomes circular logic. Klatt listed off facts and Colin Cowherd had nothing. Klatt is no idiot and while he lives CU, he is smart enough to know bulljunk when he sees it. Tell me a position that is worse than last season. TE? Okay, you got me. Name another?

    We’re going to be good. And I’m as excited as I was at the beginning of 2001 when I told anyone who would listen that CU was going to dominate. First few games that year were rough, but it turned out great. There will be a couple of stumbles this year too, but we’re going to be just fine. And Matt Rhule can shut the freak up. It’s going to be awesome watching our boys whoop them and their freshman QB. Seriously, they have a freshman QB and they are talking smack about us?

  3. I think I may be one of the biggest optimists in this community. Heck, I was predicting an easy bowl season that last year of Dorrell. I was distraught after Stuart’s essay after DiStefano’s comments and excited and hopeful after Prime’s hire and the changes to our transfer policy (though to be frank I am not sure I really understand how they had such a huge impact, which they clearly have). I was riding high after the first 3 wins. Beating the team that competed at the national championship the year before, kicking the Huskers in the groin one more time, and then outlasting CSU were all memories I am going to keep for the rest of my life. The flailing for the rest of the season was troubling, the loss against Stanford soul crushing, watching Sheduer get hit in 1 second against UCLA on e dry froggin play….. brutal. Ups and downs, so many wide swings…. I think I may just be exhausted after the last 18 months. Is there reason for optimism? I think so. We have more previous power 5 starters on our o and d lines. The receiving corp has reloaded, the db’s look so solid that we may struggle to find a place for Woods. And of course we have Sheduer and Travis. But do I have concerns? Ya, I do. The o line pro football focus scores for our projected starters is no better than what we had last year… heard that right. Now say what you want about pro football focus but it does seem to identify talent and they are saying that the o line we have this year is basically the same talent as last years……. The d line seems improved, but the linebackers remain a complete mystery. On the offensive side we have a completely new running back room (please don’t mention Charlie. I like the kid, he works hard and rocks a porn mustache with the best of them but he is not elite talent). Frankly, I don’t think we will know how good this team is until the end of the season. Who would have predicted the collapse vs Stanford? The utter collapse of the o line? The complete unwillingness to run the ball at all last year and the strange inability to change when it became a problem? Not me. I think Coach Prime is still learning how to be a big program coach. He talked about building a team from the outside in last year. This year he has clearly focused on the lines. Last year he said chemistry does not matter. This year he has made changes around the program to build chemistry (no phones in the dining hall, leadership retreat, etc). Last year he had a mix of college and pro coaches, this year he is running almost all pro coaches. So he is adapting, he is trying new things. He does not have a firm playbook and I think he is realizing that what worked at Jackson State is probably not going to work at CU 100%. I love that. But I think we are in for some growing pains. Some big swings as he figures it out.

    So after all of that (kinda a mini therapy session for me, thanks for letting me talk) I am going to say I am cautiously optimistic. Hope is NOT our strategy. Sanders has brought in a new offensive line and o line coach. He has brought in a run first o coordinator and an up and coming nfl d coach as a first time coordinator. He wants to run this program like it’s the pros. That is the strategy. We do hope it works…..

    1. For me the entire team is a mystery when you have so many guys here for the first time. You mentioned what I think is a bigger mystery in the offensive coaching paralysis half way into the season. With his public appearance being that of a low energy guy (just slow movin?) and his penchant for scripting plays makes me worry about his flexibility and reactions to changing game situations. After he became the OC it didnt appear to me he made even any slight adjustments.
      My “hope” is, and thats all a fan has in his pocket, that he just threw his hands up before the season was over and wanted to be distanced from the carnage. Hoping that in his plodding ways he builds an offense from the ground up before the next season starts that will be a hell of a lot more efficient.
      As you also mentioned I guess the less mystery is the D backfield. I am optimistic (hoping?) that the DC, being a DB guy. will succeed. Safeties have the best “seat” on the field for a view of how plays are developing. Also hoping they give the cobb’s nepo baby 5 star QB a rude introduction to D1 football.
      Hope you are wrong about the O line. If you arent the whole season will be a rerun on O. If Seaton is the real deal, Brown is the monster everyone thinks he is and just a couple of the newbies can obstruct a little better than last year we might make that elusive bowl.
      Not worried about the RBs. The O line is the key here anyway. The Broncos of yore proved you can take any no name and make them a thousand yard rusher with the right blocking scheme…also see AF. Unless a guy is a freak like Dorsett or Sanders RBs are a dime a dozen. Just give em a little space.
      cue ex and current RB outrage

  4. Good article. 8 wins would be great. I feel the minimum expectation bar is 6 wins and bowl eligibility. Anything less would be a massive disappointment. 6 certainly feels like a reasonable expectation from a few perspectives: two game improvement over 2023, better transfers in, balanced against a still tough schedule with good teams and coaches. IMO, In looking at the schedule, probable wins appear to be: NDSU, CSU, Baylor, and Cincinnati. Probable losses: Utah, OSU, KSU. That leaves 5 road games: Neb, UCF, TTech, KU, and AZ. Seems like Buffs should win a couple of those starting with the Huskers. That would take it to 6-6. Back then to 8 being gr8: one home upset and one more on the road would get us there. Looking forward to the season! Go Buffs!

  5. Buffs make a bowl in 2024… and the playoff in 2025.

    Coach Prime will not quit until he achieves something really meaningful at Colorado; trophies, rings

  6. hope is not a strategy
    but without it there is no motivation
    Of course any hope that I might have wont do a damn thing for the team on the field.
    Now that Prime has written the book on the portal, with new coaches and players any speculation about how they are going to do is, at some point, spinning your wheels.
    2 and a half months to go for reality

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