Colorado Buffaloes head coach Mike MacIntyre may not have been on the proverbial ‘Hot Seat’ entering the 2018 season, but let’s just say it was ‘warm’. After tasting success in 2016, which included the program’s first 10-win season since 2001 and first bowl game in 10 years, the team took a step back the following year. The Buffaloes finished 5-7 overall and 2-7 in league play in 2017. A year after winning the Pac-12 South title, the Buffaloes found themselves dead last in their division.
As a result, 2018 was to be a make-or-break season for MacIntyre, and it couldn’t have started any better. Aside from a narrow 33-28 escape in Lincoln, Neb., which ruined Scott Frost’s Cornhuskers debut, the Buffaloes breezed through their non-conference opponents (Colorado State, Nebraska and New Hampshire). After home wins against UCLA and Arizona State, MacIntyre’s squad was 5-0 overall, 2-0 in the Pac-12, had averaged 37.8 points per game, and were ranked 19th in the country.
Despite their national ranking, a pair of tough mid-October road matchups against USC and Washington tentatively derailed the MacIntyre express. Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, the Buffaloes had never defeated the Trojans or Huskies. These losses were to be expected. Now sitting at 5-2 and no longer ranked, the Buffs headed back to Boulder looking to get back on track against the 1-6 Oregon State Beavers.
Even with talented wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. sidelined with a toe injury, the Buffaloes entered the game as 24 and a half point favorites, and if you watched the first half, they were well on their way to covering that spread. Through the first two quarters, Colorado led 24-3, their points coming from two Steven Montez to K.D. Nixon touchdowns, a Dante Wigley pick six and an Evan Price 21-yard field goal.
The Buffaloes tacked on seven more points on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter when Travon McMillian took a handoff 75-yards for a score. Now up 31-3 early in the third quarter, it looked more than likely that Colorado would cruise to a victory and lock up bowl eligibility for the second time in three years.
What happened next was the stuff that nightmares are made of.
After the ineffective play of quarterback Jack Colletto - who happened to be making his first career start - in the first half, the Beavers replaced him with the experienced Jake Luton to begin the third quarter. Despite dealing with a nagging ankle injury, Luton took a page from Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI and managed to lead the Beavers back from a 28-point deficit. With 29 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Luton connected with Trevon Bradford to tie the game at 34. A pending PAT would’ve given the Beavers a one-point lead. But Buffaloes defensive tackle Terrance Lang blocked Jordan Choukair’s PAT attempt, giving the Buffaloes life. Three plays later, Colorado had a chance to put an end to the Oregon State comeback, but Evan Price’s 53-yard field goal attempt missed badly.
The Beavers received the ball first in overtime and found the end zone on their ninth play when the afore mentioned Colletto rushed for a one-yard touchdown on third-and-goal. Needing seven points to send it to a second extra period, the Buffs reached the Oregon State seven-yard line when Steven Montez connected with Jay MacIntyre for 21-yards. Four unsuccessful plays later, which included a dropped pass by K.D. Nixon on third-and-goal, and the Buffaloes had their third loss of the season. “My best game turned into my worst game,” Nixon, who finished with 13 receptions for 198 yards and two touchdowns, told reporters after the game.
“We were rolling,” MacIntyre said, “and the wheels just rolled right off.”
To make matters worse, the Buffaloes never got back on track the remainder of the 2018 season. They dropped their final four contests against Arizona, Washington State, Utah and California. After a 5-0 start to the season, Colorado lost seven straight games. But it was the Oregon State loss that had the biggest impact. Had the 24 and a half point favored Buffaloes won, they would’ve become bowl eligible before Halloween. Instead, their season spiraled out of control.
MacIntyre didn’t even get to finish the season. He was relieved of his duties the day after Colorado’s November 17th home loss to Pac-12 South rival Utah. Kurt Roper served as interim replacement for the Buffaloes 33-21 season-ending loss in Berkeley, Calif. Less than a month later, Rick George and company brought in Georgia assistant Mel Tucker to lead the program. After matching MacIntyre’s 5-7 record last fall, Tucker abruptly left for Michigan State this February. Two weeks after Tucker jumped ship, former UCLA head man with ties to Boulder, Karl Dorrell, was brought in. Three different head coaches in less than three years, and could it all be because of one game?
What if the Buffaloes had beat the Beavers on October 27, 2018? Could a different result have sparked a better finish to the 2018 campaign? Maybe the Buffaloes beat Arizona and or California to finish 7-5 or 8-4 and earn an invite to the Las Vegas Bowl to take on 10-2 Fresno State? Regardless of which bowl game, would MacIntyre, having led the Buffaloes to the postseason for the second time in three years, still be in Boulder?