It would be tough to paint a picture of where Colorado football is, without telling you where we’ve been. Without perspective, nothing is truly seen. In fact, to explain it succinctly, I present you with this combination of photos of Yao Ming (bet you didn’t think you’d open up this blog and get some Yao in your life, you’re welcome).
Fair warning: the jokes are over, and this next part is not for the faint of heart.
Obviously, Buffs fans are in tune with the fact that this program has been painstakingly awful for the past decade or so, but are we really in tune with just how low we’ve fallen compared to the rest of the country, on a macro level?
You’re about to find out.
Your Colorado Buffaloes currently own the longest bowl drought among Power 5 conference members, one day longer than Indiana. What that means is that Coach MacIntyre is in the middle of trying to dig your beloved Buffaloes out of the biggest drought of relevance of any program currently affiliated with a major conference. We haven’t been among the worst, we’re engineering the caboose of this here train.
The 2012-13 Buffaloes (for those of you that had successfully erased this abomination from your memory, I apologize) racked up a -30.5 scoring margin. Now, clearly, that’s abysmal, but exactly how embarrassed should you be?
The answer: Very.
It is the 4th worst scoring margin recorded since we last witnessed a season curtain with more wins than losses (2004), behind 2005-06 Temple (-35.5), 2007-08 Washington State (-38.0) and 2011-12 New Mexico (-32.1). With Washington State’s appearance on that list, that makes 2012-13 Colorado the 2nd worst Power 5 conference team to step on the field in more than a decade.
What that means for MacIntyre is that he’s not climbing some sledding hill in northeast Ohio, he’s climbing Mount McKinley, and doing so with a time limit.
In 2013-14, we reduced that average scoring margin to -20.1, in 2014-15 furthermore to -10.5, and currently in 2015-16 our average scoring margin sits at +3.3. But, but, we played Nicholls State! Fine, take them out, and the scoring margin becomes -2.86, still a considerable improvement over years past.
In Pac-12 conference play, we’ve moved from being outscored to the tune of a -30.67 scoring margin in 2012-13 to -19.33 in 2013-14 and down to -13.78 last year. Currently, the Buffs have backtracked to -16.33 in conference this year, but there remains time.
MacIntyre doesn’t just have to recover from one of the worst teams in recent memory, he also has to brainstorm a game plan to reverse a losing mentality that has seeped into the program’s roots over the course of nearly a decade of ineptitude.
Just how bad has this Colorado run been historically?
Here’s a list of the other Power 5 programs who have been similarly parched in the win column for a period of at least five years within the past two decades.
Kansas 2009-current (4-48) 7.69%
Duke 1995-2011 (15-121) 11.03%
Baylor 1996-2009 (14-98) 12.50%
Washington 2004-2009 (6-37) 13.95%
Vanderbilt 1995-2011 (20-116) 14.71%
Washington State 2007-2012 (8-46) 14.81%
Colorado 2008-current (10-50) 16.67%
Indiana 2002-current (19-85) 18.27%
Iowa State 2006-current (17-59) 22.36%
Kentucky 2000-current (26-88) 22.81%
Only three programs have had a run of misery more significant than Colorado in both years and winning percentage, Baylor, Duke, and Vanderbilt.
The combination of these factors make it apparent that Coach MacIntyre has himself quite a rebuild. Yes, the process has been slow, slower than we’d like. Yes, there’s significant frustration with the progress, as there should be among a fanbase as proud as this one. Which is why sometimes a little perspective is needed before a rash decision is made. Not all construction projects are the same, and nearly all don’t require the amount of patience that the one up in Boulder will require.
The expectations this year were higher, no doubt. We were so close last year that the natural progression would be to expect more wins. What we forget is that progress is not always linear. Hitting a plateau doesn’t necessarily mean improvement stops forever, it just means there’s farther to reach before you get there.
The fanbase has leaned on nearly every positive sign in hopes that it would be the right one to push us over the edge. The most recent wave of optimism surrounded the team’s level of returning experience, a luxury the past few teams have not been afforded.
That statement remains true, but what many left out, was that this club was noticeably devoid of senior leadership. There’s obviously something to be said for returning experience in general, but with many of that experience still developing, it hasn’t quite taken on an immediate impact the way many expected. Looking around the Pac-12, many of the league’s most successful programs are stocked full of senior leadership, a distinction not many cared to explore prior to the season.
Here’s the current Pac-12 standings with the number of current seniors starting for those programs in parentheses.
- Stanford: 4-0 (14)
- California: 2-1 (13)
- Washington St: 2-1 (8)
- Oregon: 2-2 (11)
- Washington: 1-2 (8)
- Oregon State: 0-3 (6)
- Utah: 4-0 (11)
- Arizona St: 2-2 (13)
- Arizona: 2-2 (7)
- USC: 1-2 (9)
- UCLA: 1-2 (7)
- Colorado: 0-3 (5)
The correlation is pretty clear. The two teams still searching for a conference win have the smallest number of senior starters in the conference, and of the teams .500 or better, just Washington State and Arizona have less than double digit senior starters. Obviously this is a small sample size, but it is what we have to work with and that works both ways. Arizona has beaten Oregon State and the Buffs to date, and I think we’d all agree Washington State is unlikely to finish .500 or better in league play.
The results are similar when you compare the standing to the number of total seniors on the two-deep of each roster as well. Included are the starters for the team’s kicker, punter, kick returner, and punt returner, but not their backups because they are rarely utilized unlike the offensive and defensive units.
- Stanford: 4-0 (23)
- California: 2-1 (20)
- Washington St: 2-1 (12)
- Oregon: 2-2 (12)
- Washington: 1-2 (10)
- Oregon State: 0-3 (8)
- Utah: 4-0 (14)
- Arizona St: 2-2 (15)
- Arizona: 2-2 (13)
- USC: 1-2 (13)
- UCLA: 1-2 (10)
- Colorado: 0-3 (9)
Again, the only two teams without ten or more seniors on the roster (Colorado and Oregon State) are still searching for a conference win, while every team in the league with multiple conference wins have 12+ seniors. Only USC (13) has a losing conference record among teams with 12+ seniors.
Ideally, I would have loved to compare this against previous years as well, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to find copies of depth charts for most of the teams going farther back than this year.
So where do you place the blame for a program inexplicably having only 9 seniors among its two deep? The answer is simple, recruiting. It is well documented that the Buffs have struggled to bring in Pac-12 level talent since the 2008 Dan Hawkins class that brought in significant talent and brought quite a bit of buzz to the program on Signing Day. However, less often talked about is the reality that there are two distinct things you must have success in when it comes to recruiting: Talent, which we’ve discussed, and Retention, which is often overlooked but is a huge reason for the Buffs demise in the past decade. Let’s take a look.
The 5 starters all reside from the 2011 (Nelson Spruce and Stephane Nembot) and 2012 recruiting classes (Kenneth Crawley and Justin Solis). The 2011 class was the transition class from Dan Hawkins to Jon Embree, and the 2012 class was all on Jon Embree. The 2011 class actually had the 2nd largest percentage of players exhaust their eligibility (the retention piece) at Colorado in the last ten years (52.17%), but only Spruce, Nembot, and Alex Kelley still remain with the program this year, so that number is not of much use in the current year. Here’s where the issues begin.
The 2012 class actually ranked as the 2nd best in the past decade per Rivals average RR rating (the talent piece) at 5.524 average RR. The issue, of course, is that talent is not very useful to a program if it doesn’t actually play football there. The 2012 class was huge, with 29 total commitments, and thus the program would rely on it heavily to rebuild its depth chart for the coming years. Mission failed. 13 of the 28 signees that year were gone by their third year in the program, and at this point, it appears that just 11 of the 28 (39.29%) will have contributed anything of significance at Colorado. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that two additional projected starters (Jeromy Irwin and Josh Tupou) are not available for this season and additional prospects such as Marques Mosley, Clay Norgard, Dejon Wilson and Yuri Wright have not been able to find ways to help the team on the field.
MacIntyre is trying to win football games with his upperclassmen coming from historically the two worst classes in the past ten years in terms of contribution percentage. Both of those classes belong to Jon Embree, and that’s how long he took this program. That’s reality. That’s the battle.
Fast forward to Coach MacIntyre’s current recruiting class, which possesses an average RR rating of 5.530, which would rank 2nd among all of the signed classes in the past decade, bringing up another complication with a potential coaching change. You’d be trading in statistically our best class since 2008 for another “transition” class, which historically has produced minimal talent. In fact, in the past ten classes, the three with the lowest average RR rating were all transition classes:
- Embree to MacIntyre in 2013: 5.443
- Hawkins to Embree in 2011: 5.439
- Barnett to Hawkins in 2006: 5.336
Similarly, the two classes who have exhausted their eligibility (2006 and 2011) currently rank as the bottom two in percentage of significant contribution, with 2012 likely to take over as the worst overall at the conclusion of that classes eligibility.
Simply put, transition classes have historically resulted in poorly ranked commits that in turn do not produce on the field at Colorado. Introducing another one of those classes into a fragile rebuild is not a wise judgement call in my estimation.
When considering the removal of MacIntyre could also result in the loss of Jim Leavitt, who in his short stint at Colorado has dramatically improved recruiting efforts in Florida and Georgia, not too mention seen significant improvement in the production of the defense.
In fact, Coach Mac has improved his recruiting in each year he’s been on campus, a feat that neither of his predecessors accomplished before their short stints in Boulder expired.
His transition class in 2013 brought in an average RR rating of 5.443 as mentioned previously, the 2014 class came in at 5.452, last years group posted a 5.494, and halfway through this recruiting cycle our incoming kids have an average RR rating of 5.530. The Hawkins recruiting wagon fell off its wheels following that huge class in 2008, tallying falling average RR ratings in 2009, 2010, and 2011 before being replaced.
Another piece of the puzzle causing a delay in improvement may be the schedule. With the Pac-12 unbalanced schedule, half of the teams play 4 conference home games per year while the others play 5. As you’d expect, there’s a notable advantage to the teams playing 5 games at home every year. 8 of the other 11 league members have better records in league play during their seasons playing 5 home games. Colorado, unfortunately, is in the midst of a conference season in which they receive just 4 conference games at Folsom Field. Among the other issues would be the strength of the South division. Last year marked the first time a division had 5 teams with records above .500 since the Pac moved to 12 teams in 2011, and the potential is there for that to occur again this year. For a building program, that spells disaster. At worst, the Pac-12 South is currently the 2nd best division in football, a reality that makes Colorado winning football games more difficult.
All in all, the cards are still stacked against us at the moment, but with patience, that same deck can be our ally down the line. Next season, the Buffs enjoy a five game conference home slate. In 2017, Stanford and Oregon slide off the schedule. If MacIntyre can’t make things happen at that point, with his seniors, then a change becomes warranted. But not now, not when we’ve made tangible improvement in many facets both on and off the field, and set the groundwork for future success. Not unless you can promise me a candidate we know is a step up, and I don’t think you can.