After writing this depressing look into a season that some CU fans could consider way too realistic, I was in a foul mood all day. I kept seeing the worst case scenario for this upcoming play out in my head, and for summer months, where the Kool-Aid flows and every team’s QB is a Heisman contender, it was much too dark. On a holiday weekend, no less! So I felt that I had to rectify these feelings immediately. No way could that article linger on my thoughts. What was the best way to get rid of it? Throw those predictions in the trash and look on the bright side of every game instead! I hope you have a Mario Kart handy, because we are about to go down Rainbow Road.
Opener against Colorado State. September 2nd. Primetime. ESPN. Friday night. Sefo Liufau’s foot has fully healed, and the break from football allowed the rest of his body to catch up. He is limber, loose, and ready to win. First series of the game, CSU gets the ball. Jim Leavitt’s defense waits like Ramsay Bolton’s hounds, hungry and ready to pounce. An aggression and athleticism that has not been seen in Boulder in quite some time shows out and the Rams go three and out. It’s the offense’s turn. The no-huddle, hurry-up offense that’s been talked about all fall camp immediately has its desired effect and CU marches down the field at a breakneck pace. A punishing run by George Frazier puts the Buffs up 7-0 and that’s the closest the game will be. Steven Montez gets heavy game action, not due to injury or poor performance, but because CU pulls their starters near the end of the third. A garbage time touchdown by CSU saves the shutout, but a 42-7 score achieves the same message: The Buffs are back.
Idaho State eventually turns into a glorified scrimmage and a chance for the Buffs to practice the offense’s speed before going into the Big House.
Finally, the biggest game of the non-conference schedule is here. The players know it, the CU fans that showed up in droves know it, and most importantly, Jim Harbaugh knows it. A 2-0 CU squad full of confidence and experience is a dangerous thing, especially to a team as young as the Wolverines. The problem is, Michigan is also supremely talented and very well-coached. After a surprising first half in which the Buffs shut down a struggling Michigan offense, Harbaugh does a Mike Singletary and drops his pants to show what CU just did to them. Somehow the khakis magically raise themselves back up, and the players, inspired by the miracle they just saw, play much better in the second half. The Wolverines escape, 24-21, but the national media is starting to take notice of our 2-1 Buffaloes.
A hungry Buff team shows up in Eugene the next week ready to expose Oregon as an overrated powerhouse. Dakota Prukop is not the FCS savior that Vernon Adams was, and the extra beef on CU’s defensive line (Jordan Carrell, Josh Tupou, and Samson Kafovalu should scare every Pac-12 team) helps contain Royce Freeman. Addison Gillam has a coming out party on defense, flying around the field and making great coverage plays in the middle. CU ends up with the ball, two minutes left, tied at 35. They march down the field, showing the prowess of the new offense, but they get stopped at the 25 yard line. And the ball is on the dreaded left hash. Diego Gonzales trots out on the field, cool and collected. He knows what he has to do, but he knew that last year, too. Will all of his work pay off? Can he exorcise his demons from that area on the field? The snap comes, clean hold, one step, two steps, leg swings through...
It’s in. CU just knocked off a top-25 team at home. Sitting at 3-1. A bowl game has never been closer. Mike MacIntyre’s second Pac-12 win in three years is a big one, and the locker room is as happy as it has ever been.
On an emotional high, the team returns to Boulder ready to get their second game in a row against Oregon State. The Beavers are struggling in year two of their rebuild and just can’t get anything on offense. The loss of Kilani Sitake as a defensive coordinator seems to hurt that side of the ball as well. The first half worries Buff fans, though. It seems like the team is playing hungover from their huge upset against Oregon. The Beavers go into halftime leading 14-7, and Jim Leavitt challenges every player to stop OSU from scoring another point. And that’s what they do. Tupou trashes the greenhorn OSU center and the offense finally gets the ball rolling. A 100 yard game from Patrick Carr (EDIT :( Changed to Donovan Lee) proved he was too fast for the Beavers, and the Buffs can largely keep the ball on the ground to finish the game. 28-14 ends up being the score, and CU ends the weekend sitting at 4-1. No one could have expected to start this well and they have all the confidence in the world going into USC.
Unfortunately, confidence can’t win football games on its own. USC is supremely talented and tied with CU for the division lead at this point. USC came in ready to play on its home turf and took it to CU leading into the half. Adoree Jackson’s athleticism is too much to handle and the beef up front is hard to deal with on defense. The Buffs made the score a more respectable 30-21, but they were never really close. CU, already expecting wins every time out, is pissed that they weren’t competitive in a game which would have put them in the top 25. This just gives them extra motivation.
Jim Leavitt, knowing he gave up 30 the week before, makes the defense work extra hard in preparation for the ASU game. The Sun Devils are still breaking in a new QB and a brand new offensive line. Leavitt knows this and makes them pay. He dials up the pressure every single play and by the end of the game, the offensive line don’t know who to block. CU ends the day with 8 sacks, plenty more hurries and a win, 30-17. 5-2 is a great spot for the team to be, and one more win guarantees them a bowl. They’ve been close before, but not this close. The players know they just need one more win, but that’s not where they’re stopping.
That next win does not come this week, however, as Stanford proves to be the cream of the crop once again. Christian McCaffrey is well on his way to winning the Heisman and he shows it against CU. Sefo Liufau tries his best to take advantage of a comparably week Cardinal secondary, but the ground game stalls against a lethal front seven. Stanford is well on their way to an undefeated season, and CU at 5-3 is in good shape.
After a well deserved bye week, the Buffs face UCLA in one of the most anticipated games of the year. Thursday night, under the lights, national television, against a team that snatched victory from the jaws of defeat twice in a row. You know the players are ready to finally beat the Bruins. While Josh Rosen has the offense humming, the defense is hurting from the departure of Myles Jack and Kenny Clark. It turns into a shootout, and at altitude, advantage Buffs. The no-huddle rears its glorious head once again. The UCLA defense is totally gassed by the 3rd quarter, and the Buffs use this advantage to score three touchdowns in the 4th and win 42-35. A scene that will be remembered forever happens on the field. After the clock ticks zero, the field is rushed and everyone sings the fight song. The monkey was off the collective back and they can’t help but celebrate. Mike MacIntyre is quoted later as saying he’ll gladly pay the fine for field storming if they get to a bowl every time.
The Buffs travel to Arizona fresh off the clinching win, but the team doesn’t want to stop at 6. The Wildcats, sitting near the bottom of the division, are hungry for what’s seen as an easier win, and the Buffs see the same thing. At first, it’s a surprisingly defensive game, with consecutive 3 and outs from both teams. Then, the true nature of the Wildcats shows up, and CU cuts through their line like a knife does butter. Donovan Lee and Beau Bisharat end up with about 80 yards each, and Bisharat looks bigger than the defensive line at times. The offense rides out a ball control offense to an easy win, 28- 24. CU ruins Arizona’s home game and the Pac-12 has to take notice of the Buffs. Can they get another win? Can they go undefeated at home?
No. Washington State has become the surprise of the Pac-12 North, tied for 2nd with Washington and behind Stanford (yeah, this is a weird scenario). Luke Falk has become a legitimate Heisman candidate and the running game has become surprisingly effective. Once again, it becomes a shootout, but the Dread Pirate Mike Leach brings a little more gunpowder. 49-45 is the final score, and Buff fans get no solace out of almost reaching 50. Now that they have 7 wins on the year, they’re greedy for more success.
The fierce rivalry resumes once more. Boulder gets chosen for ESPN gameday because of how important this game is for both schools’ bragging rights (lol, just kidding). CU has a bowl game locked up and is playing for placement, and Utah just snuck in at 6-6. Both teams don’t have much to play for, but both want to win. The Buffs’ star power shines through this game. Juwann Winfree and Shay Fields make the necessary catches and Sean Irwin even gets involved. Tedric Thompson makes big hits as usual. Once again, the game is close, but CU ends up pulling out, 21-17.
8-4 ends a great season for the Buffs. They even end up on some people’s top 25 lists near the end. Sefo Liufau vindicates himself after his injury and Jim Leavitt proves he’s the right man for the job. The new offense shows promise and the ability to score points when it counts. And best of all, CU gets its first winning season in a decade and the first bowl in 9 years. Mike MacIntyre proves he’s the best man for the job and all of his hard work, and fans’ patience all pays off. CU is back, baby. The Rise is Real.