We’re celebrating a decade of The Ralphie Report, with a look back at the Colorado Buffaloes over the years. Today we’re covering the 2014-2015 athletic seasons. Buffaloes football, led by Coach MacIntyre and Sefo Liufau in their second year, had a rough time at 2-10. But the season for Buffs Basketball and Askia Booker and Josh Scott felt worse, if only because we expected more than a 16-18 record and a two-round appearance in the CBI.
OK. With that sacrificial paragraph of pedestrian, keyword-riddled franken-prose laid at the altar of the Google search engine, we can properly begin.
Hi! I’m Ash Jackson.
You might remember me from such Ralphie Reports as:
- The switch from the Big-XII to the Pac-12, some eight? years ago now.
- My own struggle to cover dismal CU Football: (Yes, Sam, the football did not make it fun. It was fun pretty much because of Bob, Jon, and David here at TRR)
- My College Football Hist-o-graphs; a series of articles with pretty graphs and questionable analysis.
- My painfully out-dated pop-culture references.*
*and playing punctuation bingo inside my own articles.
But that’s all in the distant past, (especially the pop-culture references, woof). We’re here to talk about the recent past!
2014, to be exact.
In many ways, 2014 was a hard year for CU Athletics. Even the CU Skiing team, a nigh-Perennial Championship Machine, missed winning a National Championship in 2014.
Sure, sure, CU Men’s Cross-Country won another National Championship in 2014, but for them it’s a bit like taking candy from a baby and then running away really quickly. They do it all the time. I’m saying they’re candy-takers. But…you know…fast ones. Most importantly: they’re winners. Our winners.
Anyways, for the marquee sports of football and men’s basketball, it was a particularly difficult year. But, in many ways, was a year that laid the groundwork for better things to come.
Following the rules of our retrospective, this segment will span from April to April, to capture the Summer buildup to Football in the Fall of 2014, and Basketball from the Fall of 2014, to…
I’d like you to indulge me for a moment. I’d like to break the rules briefly, and begin discussing 2014 on an unconventional date: January 1st, 2014. Crazy-town, I know…But I have a reason.
That’s because, you see: in the wee, cold hours of the morning on New Years Day 2014, I had a wee, warm baby boy delivered; and promptly plopped in my arms. Now, more than just a manifestation of my still-bursting fatherly pride; I share this because my having my first-born son that year is actually a half-way decent metaphor for CU Sports that season.
No, really! Stay with me, here.
It was all a lot of hard work and growing up on everyone’s part, which laid the groundwork for better things to come. You wouldn’t trade it for anything. And in all that hard work and growing up can be seen glimpses of the greatness to come in future years.
We return to our story…
It’s April. And we’re still reeling from the loss of Spencer Dinwiddie to the NBA draft, and Ukraine and Crimea to Russia. I’m reeling from lack of sleep from having a four-month-old baby.
It’s the obvious choice for everyone to make; and we ourselves would have made the same choice if in their purple shoes.
- Dinwiddie benefits most from entering the draft that year; especially after recuperating from his ACL injury in January.
- Russia gets to host the
Invasion of the CrimeaSochi Olympics.
Dads and/or kiddos can be loads of fun.
In all three cases, it’s the right choice for them to make. But we were still left asking the question, “Well, now what do we do?”
In all three cases, it also confirms all of our stereotyped preconceptions:
- Russia engages in Machiavellian, chess-like geo-politics: , and, roving packs of stray dogs control most of their major cities.
- Being an involved parent is tiring. And coffee is highly addictive.
- Basketball is a hard sport without your star player on the roster; or, as Sam astutely pointed out yesterday: without your system-critical position player.
Many figured that Xavier Johnson would step into Dinwiddie’s vacated role in 2014. Well; he doesn’t. But we’ll get to that.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
Women’s Lacrosse played their inaugural season at CU in 2014, joining the MPSF in their inaugural year, and making it to that conference’s semi-finals on their way to an 11-8 record.
Later that Spring; the CU Men’s Lacrosse team won the RMLC Conference Championship, on their way to winning the MCLA National Championship. They defeated Arizona State 13-12 in the final.
That 2014 conference championship began a three-year streak of conference championships over the RMLC, and was amid their own 10-year streak of playoff appearances.
But, as much fun as it was to learn that Lacrosse is, in fact, a real thing; and was not just something that Phil and the Onondaga tribe made up to trick us; there was a bigger, more gnarly, and contentious topic to discuss all summer:
The First* College Football Playoff
*First, only if you ignore the sixty-some years of college football playoffs being played by the NAIA, Division I-AA, Canadian Rules, Saskatchewan Rules, 7-on-7, 5-on-5, Division II, and Division III, college football programs.
Oh. Oo you’re saying the CFP selection committee will be a less transparent and less rational system than the old BCS it’s trying to replace? Cool, cool. And all it’s going to do is add more revenue to the top 5% of D-I football programs?
Great. Good talk. Moving on.
It’s Coach Mac’s second season, and Sefo’s, too. Boy is it a rough one, 2-10 kind of rough. But, I think this was the “bottom-ing out” season we were all expecting to happen early in Coach Mac’s tenure. Right?
In many ways, this season nearly went just as “well” as the 4-win seasons that bracket our 2014 Buffs. Only one win was against an
Division I-AA FCS team, two losses were in double-overtime; so this very well could have been another 4-8 season. But in the grand scheme of things; this was a team that couldn’t yet play all four quarters of football.
On offense, it was mostly Sefo and SPRUUUUUCE, with Nelson Spruce getting the Buffaloes’ share of the nascent Pro-ish-style-Passing game.
Sure, all the names you now recognize were on the roster and playing; you had Philip Lindsay rushing and returning punts; and Bryce Bobo and not-yet-Big-Play-Shay scoring a few touchdowns (though CU’s longest play that season was a 75 yard pass to Shay against Arizona).
Your soon-to-be familiar names on defense; you had Chidobe Awuzie and Ryan Moeller, plus you had Tedric Thompson with the teams only 3 interceptions (no team fumble recoveries all season). But most of these guys were still just wee baby buffaloes, with lots of growing up to do. (you’d thought I’d forgotten the metaphor, huh?). Heck, even Sefo was still a Sophomore.
The football team in 2014 had heart and worked hard; it’ll just be a couple years until all that pays off. But, if your main offensive weapon is powered by just two guys, it is… shall we say… vulnerable.
To open the season, we led CSU at the half; but couldn’t score again in the second half and couldn’t stop the Rams as we blew our lead. In defense of our guys; CSU’s passing attack that year was 2nd best in the nation. But it still hurt.
Falling behind in the second half of games turned out to be a theme of the season, as opponents out-scored our Buffs in the second half and overtime by 90 points: 233-143.
Our last win of the season came in September (oof), against visiting Hawai’i. Even then we couldn’t score any points in the second half. But this win represented the glimmers of hope that the team might gel in a couple years. Capable Offense (for a half, at least), and our Defense held the Much like the first time your infant child looks you in the eye and says your name. You don’t know it yet; and in many ways you can’t know it yet; but great things are coming.
Our double-overtime-loss on the road to Cal was our season, emotionally, in microcosm. Jack was right. An amazing 500 yards of offense for the Buffs; and it still wasn’t enough. It was painful, but it showed the team could slug it out and keep slugging.
In hindsight, I see in these two weeks of football in the fall of 2014, the roots of our upcoming 10-win season and Pac-12 Division title. But in the moment, it’s still just a 2-2 football team.
By the end of October, with the football team logging a 2-6 record, we were already looking to the Basketball season with hope. As you’ll recall (or as you’ll see), that was also the wrong place to look.
There’s little need to detail the rest of the season.
To say the Pac-12 South was a tough place for our baby buffaloes to find their hooves is an understatement. The conference finished up with 5 ranked teams with 9 or more wins in the South; and National-Championship-bound Oregon in the North.
Arizona “represented” the Pac-12 South in the championship game, and Oregon duly demolished them 51-14. And the First* College Football Playoff happened. The Oregon Ducks did their best impersonation of themselves; and appeared in the National Championship game.
We don’t know this yet, but in future years the College Football Playoff will yet prove to be as bad a selection process as the BCS ever was; just as exclusionary to non-Power 5 conferences, and only too happy to admit teams to the Final Four that never even won their Division, much less their Conference.
Let’s step onto a frigid soccer pitch briefly. By 2014, CU Women’s soccer had set pretty high expectations; having gone 3 rounds into the NCAA tournament the year prior. So, by those standards, 2014 was a pretty good year. The team logged a 13-6-1 regular-season record, and went two rounds deep into the November NCAA tournament, which again was hosted in Boulder that year.
In most good years; the story of CU Women’s soccer is a story of quality goalkeeping and effective offense. Most years show the Buffs scoring twice as many goals as their opponents, for roughly equal shots-on-goal. In the net, that meant keeper Kate Scheele. But, on offense in 2014, it was the Brie Hooks show. The forward was again one of the team’s top scorers, as she would be each year she played at CU.
That first-round tournament game in Boulder? Yeah; it was 16 degrees for that game. Have a look:
(That’s #20 Hooks with the assist to midfielder Pappalardo for the goal in the first highlight in the video).
The Buffs beat BYU 2-0 in the frigid temperatures, but lost in the second round to UNC. But we’ve yet to advance past the second round in the NCAA tournament since 2013.
The first four years of Linda Lappe’s Buffs basketball were strong. Each of those years, those teams had an overall record over .500, won at least 18 games, made either the NCAA Tournament, or the WNIT Quarterfinals.
So why should this year be any different? What’s that you say? A -5 turnover ratio is bad? How bad? Oh dear. Several winnable games through the season would be lost due to turnovers.
The team was actually quite good; Jamee Swann, Jen Reese, Lexy Kresl; all had good seasons; and they and the team had better shooting percentages across the board than the two years prior (Team Shooting: FG’s 43%, Threes 38%, Frees 75%). They just couldn’t keep possession; and like so many Buffs teams, they beat themselves.
In the Pac-12 Tournament; the Buffs managed to beat the top seed in the tournament, #8 Oregon State, on their way to the semi-finals of the conference tournament. Alas, it wasn’t enough to sneak into the WNIT. It’s not all bad, though; they did beat CSU.
Holy Buffaloes, at least somebody beat CSU. Spoiler Alert!
So, to rewind a bit more; by the end of October, the football team is skidding through the conference schedule at 2-6, and we were already looking to the Basketball season with hope.
In fact, after three consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament, our expectations for Men’s Basketball were high; perhaps the highest in awhile. It was Tad Boyle’s fifth season coaching the Buffs; he had his own recruits firmly in place, and everyone figured that now was the time for a proper run in the tournament.
It wasn’t just our own high expectations, influenced by our gold-tinted glasses: before the season, CU was expected to take 3rd in the Pac-12.
The season quickly developed into being the Askia and Josh Scott and friends club. Both ‘Ski’ and ‘J40’ averaged . And we were as inconsistent as you’d expect a two-legged stool to be. Sometimes things are fine, and sometimes you lose by twenty points to Wyoming. And Arizona. And Utah. Twice.
That loss to Wyoming was just the third game in the season; and the season kept going the wrong direction. We blew plenty of leads in the final minutes of games, and managed to lose to CSU twice in a fall.
By the end of the regular season, the Buffs had suffered double-digit losses in eight regular season games; with four of those losses of twenty points or more.
Again, in a 16-18 season, it isn’t all terrible. One particular bright spot was the Buffs triple-overtime win against USC 98-94, where Askia scored a career high 43 points in the game, in front of his home-town LA crowd no less.
Too often, though; these Buffs ran hot or cold. Or hurt: as J40 and ‘Ski’ were through much of January and February of this season. Most games, this team looked in dire need of a third consistent, strong, contributor.
Instead of a run at the NCAA tournament, or even the NIT, the Buffs dribbled around the CBI for a couple rounds before bouncing out against Seattle. And who did Seattle lose to? That year’s CBI champion, and this year’s NCAA Tournament bracket-wrecking favorite: Loyola-Chicago.
Can he actually get this metaphor back on track?
Yes. The broader story of CU athletics over the last ten years covers the gamut; from unmitigated success to unmitigated disaster. It’s a story of our marquee sports jabbing elbows with the bigger programs as those other teams rise to unequaled prominence (Alabama, Loyola), or sink into newfound oblivion (Nebraska, Nebraska, Nebraska).
It’s a story of our non-marquee sports teams quietly winning consecutive Conference and National Championships, and being entirely fantastic, if not entirely televised.
It’s a story of our basketball team rising up when we can snag a star player; and doing their best when we can’t. It’s a story of yet another long, cold, dark night of CU football, and its proud (and hopefully sustained) return to competitiveness and relevance, if not prominence.
2014 in particular was full of pain and hard work for our fellow Buffs and student athletes, as they worked their butts off, and did a lot of growing up; and learning, among other things, how to get up after you fall down. Much like my son’s first year; it wasn’t easy, but he, I, and they all did the best we could.
My son Arthur is four now, and among many other glorious things, he can sing most of the CU fight song. That is, on the rare occasion he’s inclined to stay in one place for more than a few moments. I know he carries more greatness, and I thank you for indulging me in sharing it with you.
The hard work and hard lessons for our Buffs in the 2014 seasons laid the foundations for current and future success. Much of it didn’t pay off the next year, or even the year after. But eventually it did pay off; or it will.
And I’m sure The Ralphie Report will be there when it does.