So now that the season is complete, it is time to conduct a thorough autopsy. What about year 2 of the Mike MacIntyre Era has changed? What improved? What regressed? Are we in better position than at the end of year 1? Jesus you have a lot of questions. Let's dive in because why not.
Going into this season, I felt like anyone talking about a potential bowl case was completely delusional or possibly concussed (if you were concussed then you likely played for the CU Buffs). I felt like we could see real improvement that was not reflected in the record, and even a regression in that regard would not necessarily be cause for alarm. There were a couple of reasons for this, one that has been discussed ad nauseum around the CU Interent and one that I feel was a bit underdiscussed.
- We had to improve quite a bit just to get to be a crappy football team. That is discussed constantly to the point where you want to punch a message board in the face. "People don't realize just how dead the program was..." Zip it. Everyone realizes that. That is a Very Cold Take. People just differ on how quickly we should expect an improvement.
- We had to get damn lucky just to get to 4 wins last year. I don't feel like this line of reasoning has gotten enough burn. Obviously it was bad for Boulder, but the flood was undeniably good for the final record, as we replaced a very likely loss for a very likely win. We also got the other candidate for worst team in the conference at home, and stayed relatively healthy. So there's your 2 win regression right there.
So what do we know, after the fact? Well, if you can say that this team did not improve in real and tangible ways, then you are either being disingenuous or did not actually watch the games or follow the numbers or have any interest in CU football in general. Regardless of the final record, we turned blowout losses into close losses. That is the most depressing compliment I might have ever written, outside of something like, "She let me break up with her to save face instead of admitting that I caught her sleeping with my much more attractive best friend." But it's true nonetheless. Where specifically were the improvements?
Well, the offense as a whole improved by quite a bit, to the point of being actually quite passable. The offense, basically on its own, kept CU in games all season long. Nelson Spruce morphed from "that guy over there we can compare to another middling white wide receiver" into a genuine, dynamic threat who needs to be accounted for every week. The offensive line, although still flawed, improved by leaps and bounds. Shay Fields proved to be a weapon. The play calling became far more creative, and the proof is in the final scores. On the other side, Kenneth Crawley might've been the most improved player on the team. And... eh... that might've been it really. Derek McCartney and Kenneth Olugbodie also showed marked improvement, and there were other mild improvements, but Crawley was the highlight.
And the disappointments? Well it begins with that "luck" element I mentioned about. The CU defense lost 3 likely vital starters- Ty Henington, Jared Bell, and Samson Kofavalu- to various physical and mental maladies before the season even began, pretty much every other safety at one point or another throughout the season, and last year's most productive player was dealing with health issues of one kind or another pretty much throughout the entire season. That's a tough row for any team to hoe, let alone a team as undermanned as this unit was coming into the season. It's hard to believe that having the aforementioned players in the lineup wouldn't have positively affected the result in several close contests. C'est la vie.
Beyond that- it has to be said- Sefo Liufau's lack of overall improvement has to be of concern. I don't really have a problem with his physical skill set. He's big enough, accurate enough, mobile enough, and has enough arm strength to win Pac 12 football games, although none of those physical traits particularly jump off the page. Overall though- he's physically "enough." But I'm not seeing much progression on the mental side. I saw that final pick 6 coming a mile away, and I don't particularly consider myself some sort of football savant. It was just far too representative of his season as a whole.
Finally, there was still the same weird lack of a defined running back hierarchy as at the beginning of the season, and a lack of development at the tight end position overall. On the other side of the ball, there was a bit of stagnation on the defensive line and linebacker beyond the previously mentioned McCartney and Olugbodie. But I am willing to chalk a lot of that up to depth and injury issues, because... well because I choose to do so.
So where do we go from here? Well, the first thing that can be addressed is the coaching staff, and the previously mentioned deficiencies that go along with all seem to have certain coaches whose duties might need to be addressed in some way, along with Captain Nepotism. To be clear, I do not expect the coaching staff to change in any substantial way for next year, but I wouldn't be completely surprised nor would either decision particularly move my emotional needle. But change absolutely needs to be on the table. So there, I have placed it firmly on the table. /smacks table for effect.
Next, the talent level has to be upgraded, and that will present a certain hurdle. The difference between a 5 star and a 2 or 3 star recruit is often that the 5 star first shaved when he was in junior high, and is therefore just more physically ready to play. And we are not recruiting that level of player. So that means... sigh... patience. More patience. Granted, I'm not much of a recruiting guy any more because I don't think you can learn a whole heap from Hudl videos, but I wouldn't expect a ton of difference makers out of the incoming class. One of the ways I'd like to see a shift in philosophy in recruiting is preferring to evaluate a player in person at a camp. Guys who we're getting to travel to our camps, either in Boulder or at some random-ass DIII college in California or Texas is that guys are just trying to get an offer, any offer. Players with a pocketful of offers from our conference mates probably aren't inclined to go chase one from last place in the Pac 12. Get better at high school relationship building, do better evaluating tape, and at least get a sniff from some higher level recruits on personality alone, instead of waiting for better programs to come sniffing around our recruits when they get shot down by their preferred options
Where we've got to hope for significant improvement is from the existing guys within the program. I'm interested to see if Watanabe can come in and spell Gillam for a few plays, and if Rippy can do basically anything of value on the football field except for run off it. I'd also like to see if some of the surplus defensive ends could play stand up linebacker, which would allow the defense to disguise pressure more often. They've certainly got the build, and Tupou/ Solis/ Lopez certainly have the size to hold down a 3 man front. Not permanently of course, but it certainly would be nice to give offenses to think about at times.
I'd expect that for next year to be a successful season, we'll need to see Henington, Kofavalu, and Bell successfully return, Awuzie to slide into Henderson's spot, and the front 7 especially to come into next fall with significantly more size and power. Baer has to get better, and we have to find a way to create turnovers. HAVE to. Priority number one. Start cheating if you have to, but get the ball away from their hands and into ours. It's time to take our ball and go home.
On the other side of the ball- Sefo. Sefo has to find a way to see the entire field and spread the ball around. There's no doubt in my mind that both Richardson and Spruce's numbers were inflated by Liufao keying onto his number one target. Is he capable of that? I'm not so sure. At times he looks like early Texans David Carr after taking a beating. Is he seeing the pass rush too much? Whatever the case, Lindgren needs to find a way to get the ball out of his hand and into the hands of MULTIPLE receivers.
Shay Fields is ready to make a big step, as is Bryce Bobo. The running backs have to find some separation, or Lindgren needs to find new and unique ways to get them the ball. I've said in the past that this could come by motioning guys into and out the backfield, which would also create uncertainty for the defense and hopefully slow down the rush. Lee, Lindsay, MacIntyre, and Ross would all seem to fit that bill, skillset wise as guys who could go from the slot from the backfield and the other way, and Powell certainly can shift from tailback to fullback simply by taking 2 steps forward.
The bottom line on both side on the ball is, we have a lot of tweener talent. Is he receiver or a running back? Is he an end or a linebacker? A linebacker or a safety? That can be a negativity if we don't have an identity. Or it can BE our identity. That's entirely dependent on the coaches and how willing they are to be creative and take some timely chances, as well as the ability of our players to soak up multiple concepts.
For me, the bottom line is that definitely made significant progress, and the potential is there to make the next step. I'm not ready to proclaim the 2015 CU Buffs a bowl team, but I wouldn't be surprised a bit if we became one. So there you have it! The most Milquetoast of Takes to round out a mostly milquetoast of seasons. What do you think? Let's hear it, in the comments!