My first year as a student at the University of Colorado was 2012. I remember being excited for college, meeting new people, and, most importantly, Division I football. That season, CU went 1-11 under the regime of then-head coach Jon Embree. The average margin of defeat was 34 points. Students had no faith in the team, and would be gone midway through the 2nd quarter, which was usually when the blowouts started. Worst of all, it didn’t appear that the team had any belief that they would be able to step on the field and compete with their opponents.
The Buffaloes were a college football doormat.
In 2014, Colorado took No. 16 UCLA to double overtime, No. 24 University of Utah to the final three minutes of the game, and stood tough with both No. 8 University of Arizona and No. 17 Arizona State University. In a year when the Pac-12 had experienced quarterbacks, the best defensive lineman in the country, and the toughest division in college football (Pac-12 South), Colorado became a team that could put a scare in their opponents.
The Buffaloes went to double overtime twice, set numerous offensive records, and boasted one of the nation’s best wide receivers in junior Nelson Spruce. All of this was done in the best division in the Football Bowl Subdivision with a true sophomore quarterback and walk-ons playing in the defensive secondary. The fans began to believe again, staying until the end for most games and even performing what I’ll call ‘The Folsom Shift’ in overtime against UCLA. The average margin of defeat was 14 points.
Doormat no more.
Even though the offseason will raise questions about Colorado’s quarterback situation and Nelson Spruce’s NFL aspirations, the Buffaloes are poised to make a splash in 2015. While the junior Biletnikoff award semifinalist says he still needs to think about the opportunity to play in the league, he has stated that he plans on being back next year. If he returns, the Buffs bring back wide receivers Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo, and Spruce to work with Sefo Liufau, who will have had another offseason to grow and develop.
It won’t just be Liufau developing in the offseason either. The third youngest team in the FBS (and youngest team in the power five conferences) will have taken another full year to work and grow, all while bringing in increasingly better recruiting classes. ESPN 300 lineman Timothy Lynott has already committed to the program, and MacIntyre left Boulder to start recruiting immediately following the Buffs loss to Utah last Saturday. Assuming Spruce stays, Colorado will return their starting quarterback, top three receivers (top three in TD receptions), top three running backs, and three of their starting five lineman.
And that’s just the offense.
Defensively, the Buffaloes were depleted this year. In fact, depleted would be a nice way of describing what happened to the starting D in 2014. This team was obliterated by injuries, going as far as having to start walk-ons against Oregon. Sophomore Tedric Thompson, junior Marques Mosley, and sophomore Chidobe Awuzie all missed substantial time with injuries, which forced MacIntyre’s hand, putting scout team players in the starting secondary. Factor in that sophomore linebacker Addison Gillam battled illness all year (which saw him lose 20 pounds over the course of the year) and you have a defense playing far and above the call of duty for most of the year. Those guys will all be returning next year, anchoring a defense that only had four seniors in the starting 11. On both sides of the ball, the Buffaloes return more players than they lose. Analysis will tell you that that bodes well for the future.
Now, don’t confuse my optimism with an ignorance of what transpired this year. The losses against Cal, UCLA, Utah, Washington, and Oregon State were inexcusable. The fact that five games this season were so winnable, and yet all lost in such similar fashion, is nothing short of embarrassing. Colorado could have been 7-5 as easily as they were 2-10. That would’ve meant bowl eligibility, and a visible turnaround of the program.
Yet while the straight numbers show a decline in victories in 2014 from 2013 (two from four), I will take this years’ team over that of 2013 ten times out of ten. The 2014 Golden Buffaloes showed fight, tenacity, and above all, a belief that they could play to the level of their opponents.
Next year will be the real test, the year in which fans and media alike judge if the Mike MacIntyre era at Colorado will be remembered as a success. If the past is any indication of the future, then everyone around CU should have hope. In Mac’s second year at San Jose State, the Spartans went 5-7, losing five games by less than ten points and winning each game by an average of five. Year three brought an 11-2 season, a top 25 ranking, and a bowl victory.
Am I saying that domination is in the cards for the Buffaloes next year? No. But if MacIntyre, his players, and Athletic Director Rick George have proven anything in their time here, it’s that they are committed to making Colorado the program it was in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
Next season will be my last in the student section of Folsom Field. I have seen blowouts, close wins, and heartbreaking losses in my three years here. But next year, I have hope for the future, and a really good feeling that next season, I’ll potentially see something I’ve never seen in Boulder: multiple Pac-12 wins and a Colorado football team that will announce their return to college football.
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Andrew Haubner at email@example.com.