Much as Rome wasn't built in a day, the college football program that has struggled for nearly a decade does not return to prominence instantly. Alas, the new reality of college football is that with the millions of dollars invested in a winning product, patience is unprecedentedly short.
Few programs face as monumental a rebuilding project as the Colorado Buffaloes, but the good news is first-year head coach Mike MacIntyre is an architect with a proven blueprint for success.
MacIntyre transformed the seemingly unsalvageable San Jose State football program into an 11-game winner in short order. While the more competitive nature of the Pac-12 Conference makes MacIntyre's similar reclamation project at CU more difficult, the same tenets that made him successful before are very much relevant in restoring the Buffs to glory.
Phase One: Start on the recruiting trail
Whether a member of the Big 12 or Pac-12 Conference, CU has always had to go into enemy territory to establish recruiting pipelines.
MacIntyre's time at SJSU gives him inroads to California, which he has already tapped. CU's 2013 recruiting class featured 12 prospects from the Golden State. Coincidentally, MacIntyre kept on board Jon Embree pledge and 3-star wide receiver prospect Bryce Bobo from Covina (Calif.) Charter Oak—the same school that produced SJSU standout linebacker Keith Smith.
Unearthing gems in California must continue to be a cornerstone of CU's recruiting game plan, but throwing a fence around the Rocky Mountains is of equal importance. Because Colorado does not have the deepest recruiting pool, every touted local prospect MacIntyre and Co. can bring to Boulder is crucial.
The 2014 class already has two noteworthy in-state wins in offensive lineman Isaac Miller and defensive back Evan White.
Phase Two: Trust the process
One doesn't build on top of a dilapidated structure. The old has to be torn down to start over with a solid foundation, which is essentially MacIntyre's task. CU isn't so much a rebuilding project as it is a complete redo.
MacIntyre's first SJSU team finished 1-12, similar to the Buffs' historically bad 1-11 mark last year. MacIntyre and company may have missed the necessary bottoming-out CU had to endure in order to start building, but that doesn't mean this is a bowl contender by any means.
CU faces 10 teams it lost to in 2012, and the one opponent it did beat is no longer on the docket.
The coaching staff needs the young Buffs to buy in to the overall mission in a season of struggles. Players with the right mindset can even turn the bad times into motivation, which star SJSU quarterback David Fales said at July's Mountain West media day fueled the Spartans' success last year.
The upcoming season will continue to test the Buffaloes. How they respond determines the outlook for the campaigns beyond.
Phase Three: Build on small victories
After three years in which the Spartans lost every road game they played, they scored a breakthrough on Oct. 1, 2011 against Colorado State—coincidentally, the opponent against which CU opens on Sunday.
MacIntyre emphasized the significance of such a win in his postgame press conference that night:
We hadn’t won in a while and we had to get one. I thought once we got one, games like this in the past we would lose because we hadn’t won one. They didn’t feel like they could do it and now they know they can. I just think that confidence level was there. What a great football game to watch.
SJSU won three more games en route to a 5-7 finish, which carried over into the next year's 11-2 record.
Every small victory is meaningful for a program that has been bereft of even those in recent years. Opening the new era 1-0 with a win in Sunday's Rocky Mountain Showdown is one such victory.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kensing45.
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