Few head coaches took on rebuilding projects as massive as Mike MacIntyre faced at Colorado. The one-time national power hadn’t just fallen off under Dan Hawkins and Jon Embree; Colorado became arguably the worst Power Five conference program.
The collective strength of the Pac-12 South — where counterparts Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA all got one-year head starts by hiring Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham and Jim Mora in 2012 — compounds MacIntyre’s efforts to return CU to respectability.
Make no mistake: The Buffs are not contending for the Pac-12 South in 2015. They can, however, upset a few teams en route to the program’s first bowl game since 2007.
Despite its 2-10 record a year ago, Colorado came a few plays away from reaching bowl eligibility. Losses to UCLA, Cal, Oregon State and Utah all hinged on just a handful of snaps; in the case of the UCLA contest, the snap that didn’t happen ultimately cost the Buffs.
“Our personal challenge is for our young men to trust each other
in the fourth quarter,” MacIntyre said at Pac-12 media days, referring to those close calls. “We were ahead of a lot of games at halftime. The year before that wasn’t the
case, and against very good football teams, highly ranked football teams with excellent players and excellent coaches.
“Our job is to finish the fourth quarter and trust each other in that heat of battle,
and just execute your job. Those are the things we’ve been talking about.”
Returning one of the most veteran lineups in the nation means those players looking to apply MacIntyre and Co.’s lesson will have experienced it a season ago. Only UCLA returns more starters among Pac-12 teams.
Colorado is at the disadvantage of having to win seven games to reach a bowl game, however. CU opens at Hawaii and plays four nonconference games. The positive: All four are winnable.
The negative: The Buffs don’t have a bye week amid the treacherous Pac-12 schedule.
Running the table in the nonconference is vital to Colorado’s bowl game chances. That means avoiding a slip-up at Hawaii in Week 1, where Washington and Oregon State very nearly lost a year ago.
That 4-0 mark in the nonconference would have the Buffs more than halfway to bowl eligibility, and they’ll need it. Pinpointing three Pac-12 wins on CU’s schedule is not easy.
The three most beatable opponents — Oregon State, Washington State and Utah — are all road games. Assuming Colorado can steal two of those three, it must then notch a home upset against either Arizona, Oregon, USC or Stanford.
Colorado may still be a year away from bowling, so I say SELL. However, the Buffs will knock someone from Pac-12 South title contention — Arizona and USC, considering yourselves warned.
Boulder will also have its most positive takeaway from a football season in a decade, despite missing the postseason.