Colorado went down swinging in its season finale. Frankly, the Buffaloes’ 42-35 loss to Utah in the second installment of the rebooted Rumble in the Rockies was one of the most games on Friday. But, like 10 games before it, the Rumble resulted in a Colorado loss.
Though past Buffalo teams finished with just one win, the 2012 Buffs are the first to lose 11 games, thereby making this the worst season in program history. For CU, the how was a bad as the what.
Losses to lowly Colorado State and a middling FCS program in Sacramento State set the tone. In nine Pac-12 outings, the Buff defense never held an opponent to fewer than 34 points. Some of the more dubious milestones included giving up 69 points to Fresno State; 70 to Oregon; a conference rushing record 366 yards to Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey; and today, 22 fourth quarter points to a Utah offense average just over 25 points per game on the season.
CU watched a rare lead evaporate in that final stanza, and with it off-season hope. The Buffaloes finished 2011 on an upswing, routing Arizona and denying Utah a Pac-12 championship game appearance in November. Those wins gave CU something to build on for the second year of Jon Embree’s tenure.
There are no such causes for optimism heading into the long, nine-month hibernation until the 2013 season. With 280 days until the Buffs kickoff against Colorado State, how uneasy will the fan base grow? What are the measures for a rebuilding project?
Colorado never packed it in. I lauded the Buffs for rebounding from that embarrassing loss at Fresno State to knock off Washington State, a win that ensures Colorado will not finish the season in last place overall. I was in Arizona Stadium for the Buffaloes’ game against Arizona, and the CU offense made moves on Arizona despite starting its third different quarterback of the season, and playing its fourth. And today, CU fought hard to end the season on a high note.
But effort only goes so far; most everyone loves the story of Rudy, but had the Fighting Irish been playing 22 Ruettigers, Notre Dame would have been run off every field. Embree took over a difficult situation. Dan Hawkins was brought in to clean up the program after the scandals that plagued Gary Barnett’s successful tenure, but Hawkins recruited talent that simply wasn’t up to par with the Big 12 or Pac-12 Conferences.
This winter’s signing period is important for Embree. Rivals currently ranks the Buffaloes’ list of verbal commitments No. 11, ahead only of Oregon State. OSU’s ranking is noteworthy, though — Riley’s recruiting classes have rarely ranked highly, and the Beavers have been Pac stalwarts save a two-year dip in 2010 and 2011.
Riley was also afforded patience in those down years. Colorado also has precedent for patience rewarding the program.
Of those aforementioned one-win seasons, the last was in 1984. Colorado’s head coach that campaign was none other than Bill McCartney, who just six years later would win a share of the national championship en route to etching his name into the annals of college football history. McCartney’s one-win season was his third at Colorado.
In today’s landscape, a coach would almost assuredly not make it beyond Year 3 with a one-win finish. Colorado must improve in Embree’s third season — coming off the program’s worst, failing to do so would be awfully difficult.