Head coach Mike MacIntyre describes “the Four Fs” on which the Colorado Buffaloes are built: “Foundation, family, future and football.”
Add a fifth F for the Buffaloes: faith.
Sefo Liufau and Chidobe Awuzie both sported crucifixes at the Pac-12 Conference’s Media Days this July in Hollywood.
“The crosses symbolize a lot for us,” Awuzie said. “Football is just one thing of our lives…Our faith is one of those things that’s bigger than football.”
Indeed, faith has been bigger than the game for members of this Colorado football team. Take defensive end Derek McCartney, whose grandfather Bill McCartney coached the Buffs from the depths of a 1-win season to a national championship in short order.
McCartney credited faith for leading him into blood donation for the Be The Match program. He also praised the culture of faith he said is prevalent in the Colorado locker room.
Faith leads young men to take on challenges much greater than winning on a fall Saturday. Faith also helped the Buffs do some more of that, as well.
It took another kind of faith for the current CU upperclassmen to envision the success the Buffs are currently enjoying on the football field.
“We were so down when we got here,” MacIntyre said of the seven losing seasons preceding his arrival in 2013.
That streak extended to 10 seasons a year ago, but the belief and commitment of the current group of upperclassmen are reversing the Buffs’ fortunes.
“We have one of the biggest junior-senior class in the history of the program, so we’ve been able” MacIntyre noted. “It’s been building the culture, the depth, developing our players and giving them the culture to believe they can be successful.”
It’s no longer just a belief.
The Buffs are 4-1, their only loss on the road against No. 4-ranked Michigan. They entered the Associated Press Top 25 Poll this week at No. 21, the program’s first ranking since 2005. With a win at USC Saturday, Colorado would remain alone in first place in the Pac-12 South.
For MacIntyre, this isn’t a new process. He was unique fit for the Colorado opening, coming off a 2012 season in which San Jose State won 11 games and finished ranked in the Top 25.
San Jose State was a program languishing in the depths of FBS before MacIntyre’s arrival. Gary Andersen was at Utah State, witnessing the turnaround firsthand as an opponent in the now-defunct WAC.
Andersen again shares a conference with MacIntyre, this time as head coach of Oregon State. Andersen’s intimately familiar with the Colorado program’s turnaround, last week losing to the Buffs, 47-6.
“I have tremendous respect for him, going back to the days when we were in the WAC together,” Andersen said. “There are similarities [between San Jose State and Colorado] in that, he’s a good recruiter. You give a good recruiter, and put them in a position to have success, and you’re patient, eventually you’ll have success.”
Among the similarities Andersen specifically cited: quarterback play. MacIntyre believed in David Fales, an under-recruited prospect who previously had plans to be a walk-on at Nevada.
Fales re-wrote the SJSU record book before landing in the NFL.
Quarterback play’s helped define the Colorado turnaround, first with Liufau’s inspired play since returning from a foot injury that sidelined him throughout the offseason; then, with back-up Steven Montez thriving the last few weeks.
Liufau and Montez have been two of the most effective quarterbacks in the Pac-12, and certainly two of its most explosive dual-threats. USC’s Clay Helton sees the Buffs next and has to game-plan for defending either one.
Trojans cornerback Adoree’ Jackson sang Colorado’s praises for “handling its business.” Helton described an offense that’s among the most explosive in the league.
This isn’t the Colorado of the previous decade.
“For Colorado and Coach Mac, it’s awesome to see it happen,” Andersen said of the revival. “How many times were people ready to say, ‘This isn’t going to work.'”
Andersen described the process as “players rallying around themselves,” which, in turn, becomes a team rallying around the coaching staff. The Buffs are doing that.
“Instill a mindset that we can do it,” Liufau described as Colorado’s most crucial element for success. “My freshman year, everyone was kind of scared to play teams. Then my sophomore and junior years, we saw we can compete with these teams. Now we know we can beat these teams, and it’s just a matter of going out there and proving it.”
Belief MacIntyre could instill that belief was not unfounded from his time at San Jose State. Likewise, Colorado had a unique blueprint proving faith can pay off on the field.
“We know it’s a process,” Awuzie said. “We’re not going to disrespect all the years that they put. There were like five years before 1990 [Colorado’s national championship season] they weren’t that good, when the first Coach Mac [McCartney] came. Then they started [winning] around their fourth year.”
McCartney’s fourth year, 1985, brought Colorado its first of nine bowl games over 10 years. The fourth year for MacIntyre should end the Buffs’ nine-year bowl drought — and perhaps produce more.
Thanks to the chaos of the Pac-12 South, Colorado is the only team with control of its destiny at this very early juncture in the season. A win Saturday eliminates USC from the race, for all intents and purposes, while 3-of-4 divisional games thereafter are played at Folsom Field.
The road from Boulder to Santa Clara, location of the Pac-12 Championship Game, is surprisingly direct.
Such a run would add a new chapter to a rich legacy, dormant for some time now.
“I’m very aware of our tradition: Butkus Award winners, Heisman Trophy winners, a national championship,” Awuzie said. “Every day when we walk into the stadium, we walk past the greats on the left and the trophies on the right.”
Faith in their abilities have made these Buffs capable of making their own, similar mark that future Colorado players will look toward.