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In Boulder, the little engine that could keeps surprising

The Colorado football program has quietly evolved into one of the most underrated teams in the nation.

On Wednesday July 25th, the Colorado Buffaloes football team was picked to finish 5th in the Pac-12 South with a win total of 5 games. Out of the 42 writers voting, they received just one first place vote. But a mere two and a half months later, CU is making their doubters look foolish. The Buffs are off to a 5-0 (2-0 in Pac-12) start, with three wins coming by three touchdowns or more, and a dramatic come-from-behind victory against their former foe, the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

After a disappointing 2017 that followed up a cinderella campaign the year before, everyone on the outside seemingly wrote them off. Outsiders viewed them as a one-hit-wonder program that had an abnormally large degree of success in a single season, only to revert back to previous form for the next decade.

But this group stuck to their guns, worked hard through the dog days of fall camp, and now finds themselves sitting alone atop the South.

Even though nobody else believed in them, Coach MacIntyre knew the young talent on the roster combined with the veteran leadership and the camaraderie in the locker room was a recipe for success.

“I wouldn’t be surprised [if someone told me we’d be heading to USC undefeated],” MacIntyre said. “They have a mental toughness, a togetherness - they don’t blink. It’s a fun group to coach and be around”

One of the biggest reasons behind Colorado’s hot start this year has been the success of the DeSoto boys - sophomores KD Nixon and Laviska Shenault. While Shenault has put up astronomical numbers, gaining national attention contending for both the Biletnikoff award and Heisman Trophy, Nixon has provided a spark to the offense in seemingly every game. What’s even more fascinating is that the two have been best friends since middle school - now they each bring a different element to CU’s offense.

KD is a smaller, shiftier receiver while Laviska is a tall, speedy, muscular workhorse. But before the two formed the lethal ying-yang duo lining up wide on either side, they spent last year as role players on special teams earning their stripes. Suffering through the team’s devastating 2017, they knew the impact they could make going forward.

“I remember in the dorm room last year, crying [with LaViska] like we can help this team out,” Nixon said. “As soon as we lost to Utah in that last game, that next week me, Montez and Viska were in lab.”

Both have made offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini’s blue chip 2016 recruiting class look that much better. Speaking of Chiaverini, the former Buff and “Italian Stallion” is having himself a field day in his first year as the offensive coordinator and play caller.

The Buffs currently rank 4th in the conference in passing yards and 5th in passing touchdowns. Chiaverini has done an excellent job tailoring the offense around quarterback Steven Montez’s strengths and simplifying the playbook to put the team in position for success. Unlike a lot of coaches who stubbornly build their own scheme and try to fit their players into it, he’s flipped the script - building the playbook around his players strengths.

“As a football coach you don’t just say these are my plays and let’s run them - what you have to do as a play caller and coordinator is find out who your playmakers are and then how do you get the ball to them consistently in space,” Chiaverini said.

Another thing that’s allowed this offense to take flight is the hiring of quarterback guru Kurt Roper. Throughout his career, Roper has coached some of the best quarterbacks in the nation in both Manning brothers, Thad Lewis, and Sean Renfree.

Under Roper, Steven Montez’s completion percentage has jumped up nearly 15 points from a year ago, while evolving into one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. The best way to describe the first interaction between Roper and Montez was love at first sight. Essentially he’s become a young Padawan under Yoga’s guidance.

“It was like students in class [when I first met him],” Montez said. Right when he came in we knew that he knew his stuff and that if we listened to him, he was going to going to teach us a lot about the game so we would have our notebooks out every week writing down notes - whatever he said, writing it down.”

Between the success the team is having, the number of talented players returning next year, the excellent incoming recruiting class, and the new state of the art facilities to compliment the beautiful scenery, CU is an easy sell. They’ve turned into one of the biggest offensive powerhouses not just in their division, but in the country.

After years of being the cellar dweller of the Pac-12, it looks like top level football in Boulder is here to stay for the long term.