Friday, December 30, 2016

Colorado Buffaloes End Year On Bottom End in Tale of Two Seasons

The Colorado Buffaloes finally made it to a bowl game after 3287 days, and the rust of nine years certainly showed. The Buffs were manhandled in every facet of the game by Oklahoma State and left the Alamo Bowl field with a 38-8 thrashing by the Cowboys.

Looking back on the game, the result was not really surprising. The  Buffs have certainly moved up in the world of college football, but they are not really a Top 10 caliber team just yet. That time is coming, but today is not that day.

They are most certainly a team in the lower part of the Top 25, and that is heads and shoulders higher than they have been in more than a decade. Over the past 10 or so years (before this season), even marginal teams have put a hurting on the Buffaloes. This year Colorado put a hurting on the poor and marginal teams.

Against teams that did not end up in pre-bowl Top 25, Colorado went 9-0 this year. The Buffs outscored those teams 362-154. That's an average of around 40-17.

Against teams that did end up in the pre-bowl Top 25, the Buffaloes won only one of five games. They were outscored by those teams 150-73. That's an average of 30-14.

It was a tale of two seasons for the Colorado Buffaloes. Against the unranked teams, it was the best of times. Against the ranked teams, however, it continues to be tough sledding.

Some will argue who to fault for the numerical discrepancies, but it's a team game. The offense scored almost 4 touchdowns less against the good teams. The defense gave up an extra 13 points each game.

This writer would point out that turnovers by the offense and special teams led to extra points given up by the Buffs. And some would add that poor execution by the offense often kept the D on the field for extended periods, leading to fatigue. Others might point out that the higher scores given up by the Buffs were after the D gave in to the futility of their task when the offense or special teams quickly destroyed good defensive work.

Football is a game of momentum and passion. Once a unit feels that their work is futile, adrenaline falls and they become a step slower. Sometimes that is all that is needed to give up a big play. And with each big play, the sense of futility gets stronger.

The goal of these Buffaloes going into spring ball should be to maintain their dominance of the lesser teams, and learn how to play well against the Top 25. This is not just on the players, but more pointedly to the coaches.

Colorado's turnaround this year was wholly unexpected by the rest of the country and Pac-12. The Buffs had been so bad for so long that nobody expected their play to be so good. As Pac-12 South champions this year, they better realize that every team in the conference will be gunning for them next season. They better be ready.

The Buffs know now that they can go bowling every year by beating the bad and marginal teams on their schedule. If they want to win championships and bowl games, however, they need to take the next step.

The offensive coordinators and play callers need to realize that good defensive teams and coordinators will shut them down if they are too predictable in their play calling. And they need to be able to adjust their play calling when the opposing defense is doing something specific (like stacking the box) to slow them down. The play-calling cannot rely only on what they WANT to do. The Buffs are not that good yet. They need to attack what the defense is doing, and you don't attack a stacked box by running up the middle.

Another year of working with strength guru Drew Wilson will help immensely. The Buffs did the pushing around this year in the majority of their games, and next year should be even better.

MacIntyre should continue to hone his staff so that all those coach of the year awards he earned will lead to even better days ahead for the Buffaloes.

2016 was an excellent step for Colorado. Beating the teams you should beat is the mark of a good football team. Bowls will be the result as long as they continue to do just that.

Fans are hoping the year has really stoked the hunger to excel for the team. They ended the season with two lopsided losses. They should not want it to happen again and be willing to work hard enough to ensure that it doesn't.

The guess here is that the culture has effectively changed, and that The Rise will continue next year. Go Buffs!

 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

It's Been 3287 Days Since the Colorado Buffaloes Last Played in a Bowl Game

Before today, the last time the CU Buffs played in a bowl game was way back on December 30, 2007. The Independence Bowl opponent that day was Alabama. Yes, that Alabama. 

In 2007, both the Buffs and the Crimson Tide had what their fans called disappointing seasons. Each team entered the Independence Bowl following 6-6 seasons.

The Buffs started poorly, throwing an interception on their first offensive play. Alabama raced out to a 27-0 lead by early in the 2nd quarter before Colorado got their act together and made a game out of it. Unfortunately for the Buffs, the lead was too big to overcome and they lost by a final of 30-24.

Coincidentally, the Crimson Tide had played  in the Independence Bowl the year before as well, where they lost to Oklahoma State, Colorado's opponent in today's Alamo Bowl.

After the game, Buffs fans were excited by how Colorado came back and looking forward to a bright future. Alas, twas not to be. The Buffs never won more than 5 games in a season over the next eight years, until breaking through in a big way this year to win 10 games.

We all know what happened to Alabama after barely holding on to beat the Buffs back in 2007... they have gone on to win FOUR national championships and are heavy favorites to win their 5th under Nick Saban this season.

"A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens most eloquently stated the differences in the two programs since that time.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
 All that changed this year as the Buffs put together a breakthrough year under National Coach of the Year Mike MacIntyre. They may not be back in Alabama's class just yet, but this year no team in the country (not including the NFL) appears to be in the same class as the Tide. The Buffs have made their way back to the Top 10 for the first time since the 2001 season.

The future looks very bright for the Colorado Buffaloes. The culture has changed for the better. The stands are full again. The university  has world class facilities. Top recruits are hoping to come to Boulder. And football is fun again at Colorado.

The young men who made it happen should be in our good graces for as long as they live. The seniors going out this year came to Boulder at the worst time in the long and storied history of Colorado football. But they came determined to revive the program, and they achieved that goal against all odds.

The Buffaloes were picked to finish LAST in the Pac-12 South this year. Can't really blame the prognosticators, though, since that's where CU had been every year since joining the Pac-12. But the remarkable young men talked openly that their goal was to win the Pac-12 Championship. 

Fans and media alike chuckled at the thought, and hoped that the Buffs would finally make it to a bowl game... ANY bowl game. But for the players, that goal was not high enough. They wanted to play in the Pac-12 title game and then they went out and EARNED it. It wasn't USC or UCLA or Utah or Arizona State representing the Pac-12 South, it was these Buffs.

 And we couldn't be prouder. Go Buffs! Beat them Cowboys!




Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Defensive Coordinator Extraodinaire Jim Leavitt Takes DC Job Under Oregon's New Head Coach Willie Taggart

The biggest fear of Colorado Buffs fans came to fruition today when it was announced that defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt had accepted a four year deal for the same position with the Oregon Ducks program.

The departure of Leavitt leaves Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre searching for a new defensive coordinator two weeks before Colorado's first bowl game in a decade.

Oregon fired Mark Helfrich following a 4-8 season, less than two years after playing for the national championship following the 2014 season. His replacement, Willie Taggart was hired by Oregon last week. Taggartt's first hire for his staff was Jim Leavitt.

Taggart was hired by Oregon after leading South Florida to a 10-2 record, the best in their history. Their football history is not long, however. They started their football program in the late 1990's under... Jim Leavitt.

Leavitt led the Bulls for four years at the Division I-AA level before the moved to the Division I level. By 2007, Leavitt led the Bulls into the polls, which topped at #2 in the country. It was the quickest any team had ever moved into a Top 10 ranked position following entrance into the top football level.

Leavitt was fired in 2010 after he was accused of striking a player. The school was later forced to pay Leavitt $2.75 Million for wrongful termination.

Leavitt was hired by Jim Harbaugh as linebackers coach for he San Francisco 49ers in 2011. During his time there, Leavitt coached two all pro linebackers and their stout defense led the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Leavitt and the other assistant coaches were released by the 49ers after Harbaugh left to coach at his alma mater, Michigan.

Jim Leavitt was hired by the University of Colorado in February of 2015. When he arrived, the Buffs were one of the worst defensive teams in the country. 

In two seasons, he coached a remarkable turnaround that brought Colorado into the AP Top 10, aided substantially by a defense that was one of the best in the country this past season.

His efforts were nationally praised, and he was a finalist for the Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in the FBS. Although he lost out on the award, his work rebuilding a downtrodden defense caught the eyes of head coaches around the country.

Since he was only earning slightly more than $500,000 from Colorado, Leavitt was a prime target for schools willing to pay more. Early reports indicate that Leavitt's salary will more than double in Eugene, and may come close to tripling it by the end of his contract.

One of Taggart's closest friends is Jim Harbaugh (Taggart was best man at his wedding). Harbaugh is also a trusted advisor as a coach who went to the Super Bowl and is now the highest paid collegiate football coach.

Leavitt and Harbaugh both have proven themselves at the highest levels of football. Their work together, and Harbaugh's friendship with Taggart most certainly led to Leavitt's hiring. 

Another possible impetus was that there was widespread suspicion that Mike MacIntyre was not the one who went after Leavitt in the first place, and that his hire at Colorado was at the strong urging of Athletic Director Rick George. 

Many fans also spoke openly during Leavitt's tenure in Boulder that there was obvious friction between Mac and Leavitt. And it was pointed out many times that MacIntyre rarely, if ever, praised the work done by Leavitt.

Leavitt was loved in Boulder by fans. Many, including this writer, gave him much of the credit for Colorado's turnaround. It was well deserved praise, but none of it seemed to come from Mac. 

As a manager for several decades, I can tell you that everyone wants to be appreciated by the person they are working for and with. Praise and honest appreciation are worth even more than money in many cases. They may have not been enough this time to keep a guy like Leavitt at Colorado, considering the size of the pay increase he will be getting. But leaving Boulder for more money AND appreciation was an easy choice.

Good luck to Jim Leavitt. He is an outstanding coach, and Oregon can expect great things from him in the future. I will miss watching him prowl the sidelines and the phenomenal defensive efforts he inspired. 

And I will continue to follow him on twitter:

@CoachJimLeavitt