Three years ago, Mike MacIntyre came into Boulder to take over a football program nearly destroyed by past mistakes. The initial struggle was very real with very little talent left, let alone enough warm bodies to fill an entire roster during his first season. The competition against Pac-12 conference opponents has defined Mac's growing pains and starting from scratch continues to be an ongoing battle to overcome. The tide is starting to turn for the better and there's much to look forward to this season. Having a more experienced team, no longer one of the youngest teams in FBS, will have a tremendous impact. Even though the ride for MacIntyre has been turbulent, he's not deterred in the slightest. The veteran coach continues to fight to get Colorado back to being an elite program in college football.
For the first time since the Colorado Buffaloes joined the Pac-12 in 2011, MacIntyre and company will be opening the season outside the state of Colorado. Ironically, in that season the Buffs opened on the road against the Hawaii Warriors and will be back on the island to kickoff the 2015 season. Traveling across five time zones and the 1 a.m. eastern time start will be mentally tough.
MacIntyre warns about the Warrior's home field advantage, "They're always hard to play on the rock and they've got a good football team".
Despite Colorado winning last season's game at home 21-12, Hawaii has a new face leading their offense with USC transfer Max Wittek at quarterback. Mac sees the first game of the season as a challenge and isn't downplaying the Warriors' upgrades.
"They're an improved football team no doubt and Coach Chow's a heck of a coach. It's big game for us and our kids will be excited about playing on Thursday night in one of the first college football games of the season, so it will be a big deal."
The schedule for the upcoming season plays into CU's favor with five of the six games following the opener in the state of Colorado. Meetings with Massachusetts, Colorado State (Denver), Nicholls State, Oregon and Arizona could give the Buffs momentum going into the bulk of their conference schedule. They'll need all the help they can get with five of the remaining eight games on the road (Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA, Washington State & Utah). With a total of 13 games the Buffaloes will need seven wins to become bowl eligible. To make that happen, they'll have to break the curse of three conference wins in the past four seasons.
"I know our football team will be better. We'll be more experienced with a sophomore-junior team and that will help us. We'll be in close games again and we'll come out on top in more of those games."
CU is on the brink of turning that corner and renewing faith among the doubters. Growth has been a cornerstone for MacIntyre on and off the field. He's noticed players are starting to buy into the system being instituted. Some standout to the coaches for improving their techniques.
"I think Chidobe Awuzie will take another step, he was improving and got hurt in practice last year. I think he could be an all-conference player. Ahkello Witherspoon has a chance to be a really good corner. Addison Gillam had a rough year last season, with bronchitis and concussions-- It was just kind of a perfect storm for him negatively. He's really back on his feet and looks like the old Addison to me and should take off. Offensively, Sefo (Liufau) set a lot of records, but I think he'll put some more 'W's in there with him and have more success that he deserves."
One player in particular that will help Liufau and the offense is Stephane Nembot. The 6'7, 322 pound offensive lineman leads a class of seniors.
"Everybody has watched him grow up in front of their eyes as a football player. He'll have an excellent year and will be a drafted offensive tackle."
Part of the excitement extends beyond the players to the expected impact of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. He's changed the outlook of how the Buffs new defense will operate and the players are receptive toward his efforts. MacIntyre sees the defense coming along and making strides.
"I'm excited about exactly what I thought I was going to get and I got. Knowing his passion as a hard worker and a super guy. He's been at program's that have been built up, he sees where we are and knows what we need to do."
The most outstanding accomplishments under Mac haven't happened on the field, but rather in the classroom. A record GPA was set by the football team and MacIntyre gives credit to the foundation of a great coaching staff .
"I check classes personally. Our coaches do as well as our graduate assistants. We hold them accountable and responsible. They keep growing as people and there's a lot of distractions in their lives. They're learning to make better choices everyday."
The same philosophy is being applied on the field and it translates into everyday life. The four "F" is a motto that MacIntyre stands by. Foundation, Family, Future and Football might sound simple, but it represents learning by example.
"Most people think when you sign a scholarship at 18, you become a man. No they don't. You're taken through the journey and watch them grow up through that process. We've got a lot more men now and it's exciting."
Another accomplishment for MacIntyre has been more noticeable with his weight loss transformation. One year later and more than 50 pounds lighter, he ran the Bolder Boulder for the first time.
"It was a great experience and I think everyone should do it. My wife and I will be doing it again next year."
Not everything has remained bright for the Buffs and MacIntyre this offseason. Defensive lineman Josh Tupou was suspended for the entire 2015 season after being arrested on suspicion of second-degree assault, two counts of third-degree assault, criminal mischief, trespassing and reckless endangerment. The future for Tupou at CU is undefined at this point with a year of eligibility remaining. An addition setback happened recently when fullback George Frazier was arrested on suspicion of DUI. Boulder police found him asleep behind the wheel with a blood alcohol level of .111, above the legal limit of .08.
MacIntyre quickly responded to Frazier's arrest, "We certainly don't condone George's actions, of which he is taking full responsibility for, nor do we approve of minors in possession."
It's not clear how CU will discipline Frazier, but It's likely he will miss time on the field as well. Regardless of what happens with Tupou and Frazier in the future, MacIntyre will fill in the gaps accordingly.
Expect the Buffs to be a better team with more composure this season. Bowl aspirations are well within reach and would end the nearly decade-long drought of without an appearance. MacIntyre is very hopeful that could happen for the Buffs in 2015 and going forward should be exciting to watch -- Stay tuned.