2011 saw the return of some esteemed Alumni to take over the Colorado Buffaloes. Jon Embree (as a first time Head Coach) and Eric Bieniemy (as a first time Offensive Coordinator) were expected to return the Buffs to their roots. They brought back the concept of the ‘Brick Game.’ They emphasized the great history of the program, including a focus on the slogan, “The pride and tradition of the Colorado Buffaloes will not be entrusted to the timid or the weak,” which harkened back to the days of Bill McCartney and the National Championship squad.
Unfortunately, they inherited a roster recruited by Dan Hawkins. That certainly wasn’t the only issue in 2011, but it was a glaring one. Yes, there were some future NFL players on that team plus Rodney Stewart. But the offense was a mess under Bieniemy, and the defense couldn’t keep guys healthy. The only defensive back that played in all 13 games (we played at Hawaii that year) was true freshman Greg Henderson (now in the CFL). That team played 13 weeks straight, and it desperately needed a week off. The offense was almost as beat up as the defense, with 11 players getting meaningful snaps along the offensive line (and three others logging 1 snap each), Paul Richardson suffering one of his many knee injuries, and Stewart missing time in four contests due to a variety of ankle and knee injuries.
Besides Paul Richardson’s huge game against Cal (a rare out-of-conference, in-conference loss, due to the game being on the schedule before we moved to the Pac-12), and Stewart’s fantastic career, there were only a few things worth remembering from 2011. And that brings us to Espinoza Island.
We already talked about how many DB injuries we sustained, but looking back on the season, it really is amazing. Yes, at safety Ray Polk and Anthony Perkins each gave us 11 games and Anthony Perkins gave us 9, but everyone was injured. At various points in the year we were down to guys like true freshman DD Goodson, senior running back Brian Lockridge, and finally, senior wide receiver Jason Espinoza. Espinoza became just the third Buff ever, and first since the early 1960s to have recorded both a 100-yard receiving game (as a sophomore WR), and at least one interception in his career. He picked off two that season. That led the team in interceptions.
I keep coming back to that, because it encapsulated the season in so many ways. It truly isn’t that noteworthy, but it perfectly represents the year that was 2011 for the Colorado Buffaloes Football Team. Yes, they did finally get their first Pac-12 win against future Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles (who threw one of Espinoza’s two interceptions; Andrew Luck threw the other, because lol). They also broke an even longer streak by winning their first game outside of Colorado since ‘07 (24 games!?!) to keep Utah out of the Pac-12 Conference Championship game in the last game of the season. It did nothing, however, to develop a rivalry between the Buffs and the Utes.
And so, I leave you with the only thing I choose to remember about that season: