Kurt Roper’s head coaching debut didn’t exactly get off to the best of starts. Less than two-minutes into his first game as Colorado’s head coach, the Buffaloes were trailing 14-0 as a result of two Golden Bears’ interceptions returned for touchdowns. In all, the Buffaloes committed a total five turnovers – all in the first half - resulting in 24-7 lead for the Golden Bears at the half. A valiant attempt at a comeback in the second half fell short as the Buffaloes ended their season with seven straight losses.
Here are my three biggest takeaways from Colorado’s 33-21 loss to California:
1. Buffaloes defense did their part
It’s be tough to blame D.J. Eliot’s unit for this loss. The Buffaloes defense allowed a season-low 211 yards to the Golden Bears, well below California’s season average. The defense also recorded three sacks, nine tackles for loss and held the Bears to just one conversion on 3rddown in 17 attempts, the second worst by a CU opponent dating back to 1953. So how did the Buffaloes lose? The answer is simple. Turnovers.
“Obviously you guys were at the game and we didn’t play very well early got behind three scores with turnovers and obviously that changes the game.” Kurt Roper said following the game. “But I think those guys really fought hard and they competed for the entire game and tried to battle back in it and gave us a shot.”
After throwing for three picks and just 60 yards in the first half, Steven Montez was 10-of-18 for 110 yards and two touchdowns in the final 30 minutes, but it wasn’t enough to erase a 24-7 halftime deficit.
“The start was just godawful on my part,” Montez said. “I wasn’t seeing it, just forcing balls. Basically, just throwing picks is what it was. I feel like we kind of turned it around a little bit in the second half, started making better decisions, but it was just too late.”
2. Shenault & MacMillian make history
Despite the disappointing finish to the season, wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. and running back Travon MacMillian etched their names into the Buffaloes record book Saturday night against California. Shenault finished with seven catches for 65 yards, giving the sophomore 86 receptions for 1,011 yards in nine games this season. In his final game, senior Travon MacMillian had 21 carries for 58 yards, putting him at 1,009 yards for the season. It marked the first time in program history the Buffaloes had a 1,000-yard rusher and receiver in the same season.
3. Would bowl eligibility have been a “meaningless prize”?
BuffZone.com writer Pat Rooney thinks so. In a well-written opinion prior to the game against California, the beat writer questioned whether a bowl berth would be “worth the time and effort for a team in the midst of a coaching transition.”
“Certainly that is not to suggest the Buffs should tank for the sake of the program. In fact, if CU comes out and somehow rocks the Bears, bucking the trend of six consecutive weeks of a steady freefall, Roper should be given heightened scrutiny as a permanent answer.”
“However, the immediate future of the program isn’t best served with a handful of practices ahead of a meaningless bowl game no one cares about. It’s in athletic director Rick George finding the right fit with a coach ready to lead a group that has the potential to win immediately. It’s in that coach smoothing whatever frayed nerves exist on the active roster as well as among the pledges on the recruiting trail.”
I agree with Rooney in that priority number one for Rick George should be “finding the right fit” to lead this program into the future, but don’t agree with his suggestion that becoming bowl eligible this season would be a “meaningless prize.” With the loss to Golden Bears, the Buffaloes are now 0-10 the last two seasons when seeking that elusive sixth win. That wears on these players, their coaches, this program. The Buffaloes are one of the youngest teams in the FBS, and coaching transition or not, those extra practices and the experience of playing in a bowl game could’ve done wonders for this team’s future. Not to mention, it would’ve meant another chance to play on a national stage. Sure, this is an uneasy time in Boulder, especially with the early signing period less than a month away. But don’t you think those student-athletes verbally committed to Colorado would want to see the Buffaloes playing in December?
Colorado has only been to one bowl game - 2016 Alamo Bowl – in the last 11 seasons. They Buffs have only been victorious in one bowl game – 2004 Houston Bowl – this century. In the 1990s alone, Colorado went to nine bowl games and won seven of them, including a 10-9 victory over Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl that resulted in a National Championship. Bowl games should be the norm for this Colorado Buffaloes program. Whether it’s the Cheeze-It Bowl or the Rose Bowl, playing in the postseason on a consistent basis is EXACTLY what this program needs. I enjoy reading Rooney’s work but a bowl game for the Buffaloes and a chance at their second winning season since 2005, could’ve been the BEGINNING of a “reboot with an eye on 2019.”
Here’s a look at some important dates moving forward:
December 19-21, 2018: Early signing period
January 3, 2019: Under Armour All-America Game
January 5, 2019: All-American Bowl
January 19, 2019: East-West Shrine Game
January 19, 2019: NFLPA Collegiate Bowl
January 26, 2019: Senior Bowl
February 6, 2019: National Signing Day
February 6-April 1, 2019: Regular signing period