Time flies, right? If this article came out five years ago, it would be right after the first year of the Embree era, where the Buffs showed some promise and then signed a great class (on paper). There was some optimism heading into the 2012, though CU fans knew that it would be a long road back to respectability. Well, in those five years, the Buffs got a new head coach, struggled to get back to their old self for four years, and then burst through their fifth year.
Now, suddenly, it seems like CU is on solid ground. New facilities, 10 win season, PAC-12 South Division champions, and plenty of talent in the cupboard. Heck, even the state of Colorado is getting involved, passing an exception that allows as many multi-year contracts as desired for the athletic department. The top level leadership, Rick George, Mike MacIntyre, and President Bruce Benson, have all done a wonderful job of giving CU football a structure, literally and metaphorically, in which they can succeed. Will they?
...yes. Yes they will.
Let’s start at the top. Mike MacIntyre always builds towards the long view. This entirely hypothetical article is assuming that MacIntyre has the preference and ability to stay in Boulder for a long time. After all the work he’s put in to bring the Buffs back, I doubt he’d want to leave at the height of his power. So, we know a few things if he stays.
- His teams will be experienced.
- His teams will be fundamentally sound.
- His defensive backs will get drafted.
MacIntyre’s teams will never beat themselves and they never will rely on freshmen. Now, if freshmen are good enough to see the field immediately, that can only be a good thing, precisely because of his preference to redshirt everybody he can. This leads to a nice mix of young talent, veteran talent, and all -around physicality. His teams won’t get stupid penalties or play out of position. While I would argue that every team is well-coached at the FBS level, at least in football terms, where MacIntyre succeeds so well compared to others is role buy-in. Everyone on the 2016 team knew exactly what they were expected to do at all times. As he said many times, “star in your role.” This led to smart play, complete buy-in, and team wins. Makes sense, but it’s hard to get 18 and 19 year olds to get really excited about 10 plays a game. That’s part of that Coach of the Year magic.
Finally, as long as MacIntyre is here, Colorado will continue pumping out defensive backs to the draft. In his first recruiting class, he produced two DB draft picks, plus a third that he recruited as a JuCo in 2015. In the pipeline, there is plenty of young talent that may turn pro, with the headliner being Isaiah Oliver. MacIntyre is a defensive backs coach by trade, and he hires good position coaches to develop them further. He identifies the talent, develops talent, and then wins games on their back. I don’t see that tailing off anytime soon.
Now, let’s take a 30,000 foot flyover of recruiting for the next five years. MacIntyre’s recruiting classes have consistently improved, if you believe in star ratings and class rankings. According to Scout, the Buffs jumped from the 69th ranked class in 2013 to the 30th best class in 2017. If you extrapolate that improvement forward, CU will be -9th in 2021. Fantastic.
But seriously, recruiting has some spots that the Buffs will be actively pushing in the next five years. California is and always will be a huge focus, so I’m leaving that alone for now. The two biggest changes in the next two years will be the push into Texas and the increased success in Colorado. The Texas push will be sustained because it’s not coming from one coach or two coaches, but from Rick George himself. CU is scheduling more games in Texas, hiring more staff from Texas, and expanding outreach into Texas. The Buffs want to get back to recruiting the Lone Star State hard. And it’s working. This past class had 8 players from Texas, something that hasn’t happened since Gary Barnett. As the Buffs continue to win, and win in Texas, the players will continue to come. And CU just might get its next Alfred Williams. As for Colorado kids, MacIntyre has spent years repairing and rebuilding relationships to high school coaches in the state. The Buffs have made local scouting a priority, and as such, the players don’t feel overlooked anymore. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that CU is once again winning. As the perception changes around these high school players, who have only seen the Buffs lose, they will begin to consider CU before looking out-of-state. One time OSU commit Jake Moretti is a prime example.
As mentioned previously, the schedule is the final piece of this time puzzle. Long story short, after RG took over the scheduling efforts, the out-of-conference schedule got a lot harder and more fun. Between now and 2021, or five seasons, the Buffs will play Nebraska, Texas A&M, and Minnesota, with TCU and Georgia Tech right fast approaching in the coming years. The schedule also includes regional matchups like UNC, Air Force, and CSU. Number one, this shows the premium on fun matchups, no matter where, which is how college football should be. Number two, it illustrates the confidence in the football team. The thing is, I feel like CU will compete in all of these games, and win most of them, especially against the Bugeaters. This seems like a good time to remind everybody that Nebraska lost by 59 points last year as a top 10 team.
So, what will Colorado football look like five years out? Programs never improve in a straight line. There will be some down years, or inexplicable losses. But the “down years” in the next five years will be very different than the last decade of CU fandom. With the foundation that we have now, a “down year” will be a bowl game, or a disappointing loss to Utah at the end of the year. The Buffs will win the next five years, and win a lot more than they have been. MacIntyre didn’t build this program for one year of success (2016). He’s always building with the future in mind.
I finish with a fantastic stat- every decade since its inception, CU football has won a conference title*. There are three years left in the teens. Maybe we’ll get to see it.
*Editor’s note- the 1950’s went without a conference title as CU transitioned to the Big 8. Came 2nd twice though.