The 9th part of this 10-year anniversary series brings us to 2015.
The Colorado Buffaloes started 2015 with a 28-20 loss to Hawaii. You were probably thinking here we go again. After suffering through the Dan Hawkins and Jon Embree years, it was beginning to look like Mike MacIntyre wasn’t the guy to turn CU’s football program around. In just his third season in Boulder, rumors were already circling that MacIntyre’s job security was in jeopardy. A 1-17 record in Pac-12 play will have that effect.
Following that loss to Hawaii, the Buffs rattled off wins against UMass (48-14), Colorado State (27-24 in OT) and Nicholls State (48-0). Despite the 3-1 start to September, conference play loomed. Picked to finish dead last in the 2015 Pac-12 preseason media poll, the Buffs lived up to expectations, finishing 1-8 in league play, the only win coming at Oregon State. Colorado finished the season 4-9, it’s 10th straight losing season and third under MacIntyre.
But something was different about the 2015 season.
Maybe it was the 114 plays totaling 554 yards and 34 first downs in a 38-34 loss at 24th ranked UCLA on Halloween.
Or possibly the four-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter to give Colorado — a 16-point underdog — a 7-3 lead against USC on Friday, November 13th. That touchdown marked the first time the Buffs held a lead in a game against USC since 2011. The Buffs would end up falling to the Trojans 27-24 despite losing their starting signal caller Sefo Liufau to a Lisfranc injury in the 2nd quarter.
Even with Liufau gone for the season, the Buffs managed to keep it close against their Pac-12 South rivals in the season finale, losing to Utah 20-14.
”I don’t know if ‘frustrating’ is even a word we can use anymore,” CU head coach Mike MacIntyre told CUBuffs.com following the Utah loss. “It seemed like every game was a recurring theme,” senior wide receiver Nelson Spruce added. “Not being able to finish.” Perhaps junior defensive back Tedric Thompson summed it up best. “We’re so close ... so close,” Thompson said. “Everyone says that, and I hate it — but I’m saying it, too. But this team made a lot of strides and we have to have everyone buying it for next year.”
Behind the “Rise is Real” rallying cry, everyone did buy in the following season as the Buffaloes finished 10-4 overall, (8-1 Pac-12) their first winning season since 2005.
- Anthony Kazmierczak
Meanwhile on the hardwood, the Colorado Buffaloes were significantly better than they were before. Perhaps the difference was because of one particular player that graduated in 2015, but really it seemed that the team had a renewed energy with a shakeup in the team’s makeup.
We don’t talk enough about Josh Scott. I recently called George King the most underrated Buff in memory but that was a lie; Scott may be the big man in CU history and we brush over him like he didn’t have 1700+ points and nearly 1,000 rebounds. He was a walking double-double, possibly the most lethal post scorer in the nation, an underrated excellent defender, and a superb person off the court. He started all four years and was a major player in all four. He was that guy who opposing fans would see and ask themselves “How the hell is Josh Scott still in college?”
Of course, Scott couldn’t do it by himself. George King had arguably his best ever season as a redshirt sophomore. He developed into an elite shooter and flashed his defensive potential as he 13.6 points and 4.7 rebounds en route to winning Pac-12 Most Improved Player. Josh Fortune catches a lot of flack around here for his turnovers and inconsistency, but he was a solid player that year as he had shooting and playmaking ability the team desperately needed.
With Scott leading the team, the Buffaloes were their usual inconsistent selves, but they had more highs than lows and that translated into a quality season. They went 21-10 in the regular season with a slew of quality wins — most notably at home against Oregon, then the blackout upset over Arizona — and most of their losses were in tight contests to quality teams. That team could be thought of as the epitome of a Tad Boyle squad: defense and rebounding over everything, not knowing how to play against the zone, upsets in Boulder, struggles on the road. And just like many Boyle teams, they made the NCAA Tournament as an 8-seed and lost in heartbreaking fashion to Connecticut. Even more fittingly, that loss to UCONN was a game in which CU had made a comeback to make it a game, but turnovers doomed them.
So in summary, 2015-16 was a solid year for the Buffs, but there was a lot left on the table. That rings especially true when you realize that Xavier Johnson was supposed to be a secondary star but missed the year with a torn Achilles tendon. Also, Derrick White had transferred to CU from UCCS, but NCAA rules make transfers sit out a year, even if they’re transferring from Division II. If you add Johnson and White to that team, they’re suddenly a great team. Play White at point, maybe Dom Collier at the 2, Johnson on the wing, Scott and Wesley Gordon down low, plus King and Fortune off the bench ... that team has great defensive potential and a ton of well-rounded scoring ability. Jack Barsch has lamented it in the past and I agree with him: that team makes the Sweet Sixteen at least with White and XJ playing. Instead, the Buffs were bounced in the first round and those two players would have to wait another year only to lose in the first round of the NIT.
- Sam Metivier