Crisis of Faith: Colorado Buffaloes

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Crisis of Faith: Colorado Buffaloes

Crisis of Faith

I needed inspiration.

I was driving up the Boulder Turnpike, heading up from DIA to the Colorado/Nebraska game the day after Thanksgiving. The Buffs were 3-8, a fourth straight losing season already guaranteed. The Colorado football program, mired in the second worst stretch in school history, was a big underdog to the 8-3 Cornhuskers.

And that wasn’t the worst of it …

The Buffs had announced the day before that Dan Hawkins, the only coach in the 120-year history of the program to post four consecutive losing seasons, would be back for a fifth year.

Speculation had been rampant the previous few weeks that Hawkins would be fired after the Nebraska game. A 16-32 overall record, little or no improvement over the course of the season, a school record road losing streak, and alienation of fans had all seemingly doomed Hawkins to facing a Big 12 opponent for the final time. Instead, the Buff Nation was informed that Colorado would be coached by Dan Hawkins in 2010.

I was driving up the Turnpike, wondering to myself, “What am I doing here?” I had spent hundreds of dollars on plane tickets to see the Buffs in Toledo, Austin, and Boulder, after spending hundreds more on season tickets. I had spent thousands of dollars on a Buffs’ website and hundreds of hours working on it. For what? An administration that was short-sighted and cash-strapped? A program ranked in the 100s in any number of statistical categories, including rushing offense and total offense? A team that gave no indication that 2010 would be anything but a fifth straight losing season?

At least with a new coach, there would have been renewed optimism in Colorado football. There would be heightened national interest in the program as the new coach and staff took over, new hope for the 2010 recruiting class, and fresh hope that the program would soon be returning to its winning ways.

Now? Nothing. More excuses; more platitudes. Nine months with little to anticipate. Nine more months of being in the backwater of college football.

I pulled off the Turnpike at the overlook, hoping to find answers. It was a beautiful day. The predicted high was in the 60’. Just a few clouds in the sky. The snow-capped front range in the background. Boulder, Colorado, my home for seven years in the 1980s, in the foreground.

Surely the view would help restore my faith in being a Buff fan.

Nope.

Nice view, but no answers.

The game against Nebraska didn’t help much, either. Colorado played well at times, but played—as the Buffs have done many times over the past four years—just well enough to lose. The final score was 28-20, and the final offensive numbers, 403 yards, were inflated by a last-minute 80-yard drive with the game already resolved. It was somehow appropriate that the final play of the season, a 56-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Hansen to Scotty McKnight, was the longest scoring play from scrimmage for Colorado for all of 2009. It looked good in the stats—but it meant nothing to the outcome.

So, What’s a Fan of the Colorado Buffaloes To Do?

After 30 seasons of following Colorado football, it’s not like I’m going anywhere. I am a lifetime member of the Buff Nation. I will dutifully follow the 2010 recruiting cycle, hoping against hope that the present coaching staff will be able to lure some players who are being recruited by other BCS schools (let’s face it—it’s just not the same beating out New Mexico and Wyoming for a prospect). I will file daily reports during spring practice, anxiously noting depth chart changes. I will gear up for the preseason magazines, Big 12 media days, and fall camp. I will be in Mile High Stadium on Sept. 4 when Ralphie makes her run.

But why?

In case you are suffering from a similar malaise, here are a few reasons to keep the faith over the next eight months...

The Buffs’ offense grew up during the second half of 2009. Colorado only averaged 314.3 yards per game on offense for the season. In the last four games, though, the average was 370.7—and that was against four teams that went to bowl games in 2009. Tyler Hansen threw for eight touchdowns in those four games, and wide receiver Markques Simas had three 100-yard receiving games (going for 92 in the fourth game). Once Hansen’s redshirt was torn off in mid-season (again!), he played with more confidence as the calendar turned to November.

There were only a few senior starters. On offense, tight end Riar Geer will be lost, as will fullback Jake Behrens. After that? No senior player who saw much playing time. On defense, the linebacking crew must be re-established after the loss of seniors Jeff Smart, Shaun Mohler, and Marcus Burton. The secondary loses Benjamin Burney and Cha’pelle Brown. Still, if there is a unit for the Buffs that's shown some semblance of depth and consistency in the Dan Hawkins era, it has been the linebackers under Brian Cabral. The secondary, meanwhile, has grown from a liability to a strength.

The non-conference schedule is not as hard as it appears. Work with me, here. This a statement of relativity. Let’s go back to mid-September, 2009. Two of Buffs’ 2010 non-conference opponents were ranked: California (3-0) at No. 6; Georgia (2-1) at No. 21. The other two non-conference opponents also had winning records—Hawaii was 2-1; Colorado State 3-0. All four seemed destined for bowls, if not league titles. Fast forward to the end of 2009. Hawaii finished the season 6-7, including a six game mid-season losing streak. Colorado State lost its final nine games to finish 3-9. Georgia finished 8-5, 4-4 in the SEC, while Cal imploded mid-season, getting thumped by Oregon and USC by a combined score of 72-6 to fall out of the rankings, capping off an 8-5 season with two losses, including a 42-10 whitewash by Washington and a bowl loss to Utah.

The schedule overall does not include a dominant team. Every team Colorado plays in 2010—Big 12 and non-confernce—will come into the campaign having suffered at least four losses in 2009. No big deal? How’s this for a Dave Plati special: When was the last time Colorado came into a season without an opponent on the schedule who had three or fewer losses the previous year? Try NEVER. Okay, I only checked back to 1948, when Colorado joined the Big Six to form the Big Seven, but I’d be willing to bet that 2010 may be the first season in the 120 seasons of Colorado football that every opponent on the calendar has at least four losses. Every game on the schedule—at least on paper—is winnable.

The 2010 recruiting class. Got your attention, didn’t I? No, I’m not talking about the two- and three-star prospects the Buffs are in the hunt for this January (Colorado in competition for players this year with schools like New Mexico, New Hampshire, and UNLV...New Hampshire? ) No. I’m talking about players on the 2009 roster who did not play, or were limited by injury. Remember Maxwell Tuioti-Marinier? A starter by his second game of his freshman season, MTM has been injured for most of his career but will be available to play for the Buffs in 2010? How’s about Nick Kasa? The all-everything defensive lineman who spurned Florida to play for the Buffs. Kasa played in four games as a true freshman before suffering season-ending injuries (and contracting mono). Kasa will be back to bolster the young d-line in 2010. Then there are wide receivers Toney Clemons and Kendrick Celestine. Clemons sat out 2009 after transferring from Michigan; Celestine has worked his way back onto the team after leaving the team in 2008 (Celestine was granted a scholarship on Christmas Eve, after his fall grades were posted). There are others, of course, who could make an impact in 2010 who wore the uniform in 2009 but did not play—offensive linemen Gus Handler and Jack Harris; wide receivers Jarrod Darden and Terdema Ussery; quarterback Clark Evans; punter/placekicker Zach Grossnickle...you get the idea. Even without a top 50 recruiting class in 2010, the Buffs will be stronger and deeper than they were this season.

What goes around comes around. College football factories in Austin, Gainesville, Birmingham, etc., aside, in college football there are cycles. Colorado has a long history of success, but there have been pockets of mediocrity. Buff fans are going through a low ebb—and, let’s be honest, it may be a few years before we come out of it—but Colorado will rise up again. Winning the national championship in 1990, just six years after posting a 1-10 record in 1984, made the title all the sweeter. Enduring the losing seasons now will make wins in the future all the more delicious.

Boulder is still Boulder. Georgia has a beautiful campus; Texas A&M has wonderful traditions; Washington’s Husky Stadium has great views; Ohio State, Texas, Nebraska, and UCLA have monuments to college football to call home. I’ve been to many other college football stadia, but I still love Folsom Field. Colorado has many handicaps when it comes to playing college football—small base of support in an area dominated by the Broncos, a love/hate relationship with the town and faculty, financial woes. But watch a televised game from Boulder. Without exception, the commentators, broadcasters who travel the country and have seen it all, always marvel at the beauty of Boulder and the Buffs’ stadium.

I’ll be there in September, and every September as long as I am able.

Keeping the faith.

I hope you’ll hang in there with me...

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