Entering this season, no one really knew what to expect.
Coach MacIntyre had successfully transformed a poisonous culture that had seeped into the pours of the program for nearly a decade. At least, for the most part he had. One major component remained that lurked deepest, this program didn’t know how to win. Losing, like winning, is a habit. Colorado football had learned it well over the previous few regimes. Molds had to be broken, habits had to be re-taught. The process isn’t easy, and Coach isn’t there, yet.
The opener was a quick reminder of just how far we had to go. CSU, long considered “Little Brother”, treated us as such, physically dominating the 2nd half and easily dispatching the Buffs 31-17. CSU has now won two of the last three match-ups in this in-state rivalry, a trend that Colorado can’t allow to continue if they want to take further steps back to relevancy.
The Buffs then traveled across the country to face UMass, a new face in the D1-A ranks who had, to put it kindly, struggled with the upgrade in competition. The journey marked the longest in the history of the program while staying on the Mainland, and the sluggish start showed it. The Buffs trailed deep into the 3rd quarter before turning on the burners and holding on for dear life late, escaping 41-38. Despite the ugly result, there was reason for optimism here. Colorado was just 2-31 in its previous 33 road outings, and thus, regardless of opponent, its a step in the right direction to come away with victory. Additionally, with the Buffs down 11 in the third quarter, it would have been easy to quit, the teams in recent years certainly would have. The Buffs showed their improved mental toughness by scratching out a victory.
Buff Nation was shocked to find themselves just 14 point underdogs against ranked Arizona State in Week 3. Many Buffs fans were wondering just how much money they could make on such an outlandish number. Why the negativity? Consider that the Buffs hadn’t kept a game vs. a ranked opponent within 14 points since November 19, 2009, when they lost @ #12 Oklahoma St. Since then, the Buffs had been a combined 0-12 vs. ranked opponents, with losses by 26, 33, 28, 41, 43, 25, 44, 56, 48, 41, 22, and 18 points. The Buffs quickly found themselves trailing 17-0 early in the 2nd quarter, and once again, the writing appeared to be the wall. Yet, once again, the Buffs proved to be resilient. They quickly closed the gap to 17-14, and once again found themselves with the ball, until they didn’t. Michael Adkins coughed it up in a crucial loss of momentum, allowing ASU to score to close the half 24-14. ASU then opened up the third quarter outpacing the Buffs with two quick touchdowns and found themselves up 38-17 heading into the 4th quarter. The Buffs scored to put the pressure on ASU, but once again turned the ball over late to put the dream away. The final score of 38-24 proved Vegas right once again, and the Buffs proved they were ready to be more competitive against elite competition, as the Buffs out-gained the Sun Devils by over 100 total yards. Unfortunately, CU was unable to force any turnovers and made three such mistakes themselves.
Then, Hawaii came to town, another rebuilding club that had given two Pac-12 opponents fits earlier in the season before bowing out late. Vegas deemed the Buffs seven point favorites, and they quickly took control of the game. The offense was clicking early and the defense dominant, as the Buffs put together their best half of the season, leading 21-6 at the break. The offense sputtered in the 2nd half, unable to break the glass wall constructed at the half, but the defense held strong and never let Hawaii get within striking distance as the Buffs found their second victory of the season 21-12.
Now sitting at 2-2, the Buffs find themselves in a precarious position. With their failure to take out CSU, Colorado essentially eliminated themselves from bowl contention, and may have lost the necessary momentum to take the next step in Pac-12 play. Its a safe bet that Colorado will not be a favorite in any of its 8 remaining conference games, which of course opens up the possibility that we’ll find ourselves win-less in Pac-12 play. This would be an unacceptable step backwards for the program, as even in our worst years over the past decade, we’ve never gone through a conference season without a win.
There’s been a ton of discussion surrounding this team finding ways to be more competitive, but at some point, they need to find ways to win. The competitiveness is important, especially against the better opponents, but a losing culture isn’t fixed by competing, its fixed by finding ways to win. You can’t move up the ladder in this conference by “competing” with Oregon St, Cal, and Arizona, at some point you need to win a few of those games. That must be the goal for the rest of the season. One win avoids disaster, two wins should be the goal. Two wins marks improvement, especially in this year’s Pac-12, which is widely regarded as the premier conference in the country. If the Buffs can bridge the gap between them and the rest of the league, that would post notice of their vast improvement.
Recruits are watching, improvement gets the ball rolling. Wins bring recruits, and recruits bring wins. This is the cycle that keeps on giving, but you’ve got to find the entrance to the ride. Colorado meets the height requirement, but do they have the guts?
We’ll find out soon enough.