The Colorado Buffaloes are gearing up for 2015 and a common thread for the upcoming football season at this year's media day was consistent -- a bowl game is in sight. The postseason possibility became the theme, leaving many members of the media to conclude the Buffs are starting to inch out of the Pac-12 basement. Returning talent on the field along with upgrades in coaching personnel will help the Buffaloes get the all important seven wins on the season. It's something Coach Mike MacIntyre addressed right off the bat during his press conference and his players are on the same page as the coaches with the idea of a bowl game.
"Our kids are saying it to me. That’s not something I preach to them, that’s what they say to me. They say it to me and I hear them say it to each other. When they talk and stand up and tell me that they have something to say. I hear them talking to each other and they come to me and ask what’s our schedule for Christmas for a bowl. They haven’t asked me that before. Parents are calling me. They feel that. They have to go do it but until they see it in their minds eye, I can’t make them see it. I can mention it but I can’t make them see it."
A thirteen game schedule kicking off with a trip to Hawaii and no bye weeks means the Buffs must have seven wins; instead of a required six to be bowl eligible. To help accommodate the loaded schedule, Mac has changed the days off during the season to Monday; instead of Sunday.
It's possible the team could start the season with a 4-0 record in non-conference play, with games against Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nicholls State and CSU. However, opening in the Aloha State will be tough. Traveling across five times zones and an 11 p.m. Mountain Time start could wear down the Buffs mentally. MacIntyre has planned ahead to help the Buffs adjust to the differences, allowing the team time to see a piece of American history.
"We’re going to leave on a Tuesday. We’ll go out there, it’s exciting, and it’s the opening game. The good thing about that is when I was at San Jose State we played them in the middle of the year and it’s really hard because you play and you travel and you come back. But when you play them the first game of the year, both teams will be excited, they always play better on the rock. But we’re going out early. And then, I think it’s important, none of our kids have ever seen Pearl Harbor, so we’re going to take them out there and see that."
A different, more confident swagger is very noticeable with the players this offseason. They've shown strong signs of uniting by attending more functions together and correcting each others mistakes without input from the coaches. The display of leadership has allowed MacIntyre not to push his team to create a winning attitude, but allow his team to take the lead.
"I see these young men understanding that it’s what they do and how they work and how they care. These young men are seeing that it’s what they…they can control their destinies and they’re seeing that. I see them talking that way and acting that way. They tease each other about different things and I see a confidence."
Improvments on defense are a huge part of the confidence boost and the addition of Jim Leavitt has given new life to the unit. Ahkello Witherspoon has shown the most improvement and he predicts a solid season ahead.
"I think we have a good chance to do well in the Pac-12 this year. As a defense, we're looking faster and moving to the ball to make plays."
Good news for the offensive considering they carried the burden for CU last season. Sefo Liufau has developed into a quarterback with a steady frame and good mechanics. Protecting the ball and avoiding mistakes will be the number one priority for the Buffs offensive attack. Liufau's working diligently to correct the turnover problem.
"Being consistent and not turning the ball over is the key right now. In critical situations you can't turn the ball over and that's what I did way too much last year."
Breaking down film from last season has been the best component to Sefo's progression going into the season. He's starting to notice the fine details and allowing room for the coaches to help make better reads down the field. It's also sparked the attention of Shay Fields and the rest of the wide receiver corps.
"Sefo's looking better than last year. I would say his passes are more accurate. He's been working with us a lot and fitting into that leadership role to take over the team."
To casual fans, the process of rebuilding has taken too long and they've become the biggest critics of Mac and the program. Despite being picked by the Pac-12 media to finish last in the South division, the Buffs have the potential to prove their critics wrong. MacIntyre has been consistent with establishing success off the field as well. A record mark in classroom GPA's for the team was the first accomplishment. It was followed up by electing a leadership council of twelve players.
"I did an education system with the young men on what to look for in captains and leaders and then how to be a leader. We have leadership meetings within our athletic department that I send guys to. We have them within the team that we do."
MacIntyre's goal is to allow the players a more of a proactive role with the coaches.
"It felt like our team is more mature. The bulk of our team is still sophomores and juniors so we have a small senior class. I’ve incorporated the senior class in some of the things that we’re planning to do. Off of our voting and talking, the team elected a leadership council. We have 12 guys on that council that are seniors and juniors and one sophomore and I’m meeting with those guys multiple times during camp and definitely once or twice a week during the season. I’ll rotate four of those guys each game to be a team captain. I feel like that way we have more guys out there and are leading; more guys than have voices. We’re developing a more cohesive group."
The part of MacIntyre's press conference that caught everyone's attention was when he was asked by Buffs beat writer Kyle Ringo about linebacker Addison Gillam's uncertain future on the football field. It also gave a clear prospective on the type of person and mentor Mac is with his players.
"Wow. Those are the moments why I coach, period. To help dive into a young man’s heart and soul and mind. The thing about college football which is awesome, but it’s gotten to be so commercialized, so much television, so much everything. Especially in a pro-environment like we’re in here. When young men sign a scholarship at 17 or 18 years old and they walk on that field, most people think they are a 25 or 26-year old Denver Bronco, and they’re a 17 or 18 year old kid. So, just think about your kids and you send them off to college and they have school and all these different pressures, they might have issues at home. There’s all kinds of things and it’s my job to take them through that journey. My job is to win football games, there’s no doubt. But if I don’t capture their heart and soul first, we’re not going to win many football games and then all I’m doing is using a kid to win football games and that’s an empty feeling I would imagine. So taking him through that, and working with him through all that and going through that with him and seeing how he’s coming out on the other side. There will be other moments as we go, it’s really a neat situation, it’s a hard situation, but it’s something that him and I look at each other in the eye and you can smile and now I know that somebody is going to be a productive father, a productive husband one day. He’s also going to be a good football player for us."