From its inception in 2008, The Ralphie Report had never known a good team, let alone a great team. Our staffers had covered every kind of bad team, those that were poorly coached, those that were not talented enough to compete in the Pac-12, and those that had hope but were still inexperienced. This website was designed to be a positive place for Buffs fans, but it’s hard to stay optimistic after 8 years without even going to bowl game. But 2016 changed all that.
There were signs a good season was possible, namely a talented and experienced senior class that was tired of losing, but even then we were looking at six or seven wins. That would be good enough for that elusive bowl game, but with how much talent the team would lose the next year, there needed to be something bigger for the program to gain the momentum needed for CU to be where they were in the 1990s and early 2000s.
No one saw The Rise coming (except us, lol) because it was absurd at the time to think Colorado football could be back just like that. Sure, they had promise on the roster, but they had one of the hardest schedules in the country with road games at Michigan, USC, Oregon and Stanford. Those were more or less assumed to be losses, so for the Buffs to even make a bowl game, we thought they would have to be near perfect at home, plus maybe steal one on the road at Arizona.
Then the season started at the Buffs beat the absolute hell out of Colorado State by a score of 44-7. CSU wasn’t expected to be great that year, but they were a quality team and we as a staff (mostly Jack) were worried CU would slip up and lose. That was also the first ever game I covered, and while I was calming down from losing my wallet on the way to Mile High, I saw firsthand CU’s defensive potential as they built a 37-0 lead. CU was going to be good, at least good enough to make a bowl game and get Mike MacIntyre off the hot seat.
After beating up Idaho State the next week, CU went up to Michigan for the first time since Kordell Stewart and Michael Westbrook pulled off a miraculous upset. I wasn’t able to cover this game, but even from my
illegal streaming of the Big Ten Network, it was obvious there was a certain energy in the air that an upset was possible against the 4th-ranked team in the nation. That upset bid started with a 37-yard bomb from Sefo Liufau to Devin Ross, then 50 seconds later Chidobe Awuzie strip-sacked the quarterback and Derek McCartney returned the fumble for a touchdown. After Michigan scored on a blocked punt, CU scored again to take a 21-7 lead into the second quarter. The Wolverines scored 17 unanswered points in the second, but CU started the second half with a 70-yard pass from Sefo to Shay Fields and CU had the 28-24 lead. But on that play, Liufau was injured and young Steven Montez had to come in. Against that defense with no preparation, Montez couldn’t do anything except run for his life and throw the ball away. Meanwhile, McCartney tore his ACL and CU’s front seven couldn’t contain the run. CU would lose 45-28, but I will go the grave believing the Buffs would have won if Sefo hadn’t been injured.
After Michigan, Colorado went on the road to Oregon. (The Ducks ended up having a horrible season and fired Mark Helfrich, but this was before their collapse.) Sefo was still out, but Montez had time to prepare for an opponent and he looked electric as both teams lit up the scoreboard. He showed his potential as a lethal dual-threat QB as he finished with 335 passing yards and 135 rushing yards, plus four total touchdowns. No throw was more important than his go-ahead touchdown pass on a 31-yard dime to Bryce Bobo, who made a ridiculous one-handed catch in the end zone. Oregon nearly scored in the final minute, but Ahkello Witherspoon stepped up and sealed the 41-38 win with a diving interception in the end zone. Colorado was now 3-1 and they showed everyone The Rise was possible.
In the following weeks, Colorado beat the hell out of Oregon State, lost a heartbreaker to USC (they didn’t have Sefo), then Phillip Lindsay destroyed 25th-ranked Arizona State. After OSU, they were ranked 21st in the country, the first time they had been ranked since 2005.
The Buffs were then 5-2 and the only thing that stood before them and bowl eligibility was a road game at Stanford. That game was unwatchable in terms of quality, but the Buffs shut down Christian McCaffrey, forced four turnovers, and Fields scored the only touchdown of the game. CU had been winning shootouts and blowouts, but this was their showcase that they could win an ugly road game with the brutes of college football. More importantly than just that win, the Buffs had 6 wins and would bowl for the first time since 2007. In our ninth season, The Ralphie Report would finally cover a bowl game.
After that win, CU got back into the rankings and kept climbing as they picked up win after win. They beat UCLA in a nationally televised rock fight. They blew out Arizona as Liufau and Lindsay had seven combined touchdowns. Then they beat 20th-ranked Washington State in a Saturday night game with Gus Johnson screaming “LINDSAYYY” as the 5’8 dynamo shredded the Cougars’ defense.
Colorado was then 9-2 and ranked 9th in the College Football Playoff poll. They were in control of the Pac-12 South and just needed a win over Utah to make the Pac-12 Championship. That game was dedicated to that brilliant senior class and they showed up in this season finale. It never felt like Colorado was in trouble, but they struggled to pull away from a Utah team that built a reputation for fighting harder than anyone. But like they did all season, the Buffaloes defense came through when it mattered most and Kenneth Olugbode returned a fumble for a touchdown to take a 27-16 fourth quarter lead. Colorado won that game and we stormed the field in celebration of the team rising from nothing to win the Pac-12 South.
It doesn’t matter that Colorado was blown out in the Pac-12 Championship or that Oklahoma State beat them up in the Alamo Bowl, or that they went 5-7 the next season — the Rise was a symbol to the rest of the nation that the Buffaloes are still here building something special. Mike MacIntyre rebuilt the program and the players fought through everything to make that a reality. The staff turned that success into recruiting momentum. The class of 2021 is the most promising this staff covered, and this incoming class may be better, and even next year’s class might be better than that. The Rise showed that the Buffs are back and they’re here to stay.