Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wish List for the 2014 Football Season

Football season is back, and with it a palpable sense of optimism to Boulder.  The general impression is that the football program is on the upswing after an extended dalliance in the depths of the college football world. Certainly they were better in 2013.  In fact, the program hit all of my expectations for the campaign, winning four games, competing in many others, showing a sense of pride on both sides of the ball, and generally moving the sticks forward throughout a successful season.  BuffNation even stepped up to the point that the Folsom upgrades are a reality.  By comparison, despondent efforts like 2011 and 2012 seem like they were in the distant past.

But all the positive vibes engendered by a strong 2013 could vanish if 2014 goes to pot.  With that in mind, I've put together a five-pack of wishes for this season.  Nothing on this list is a gimme, but I would considering everything 'reasonable.'  Should the team achieve at least four of these, CU Athletics could rightfully claim another step forward.  Any less than four, however, and I'd consider 2014 a season stuck in neutral.

1) A perfect run through non-conference play

Echoing last season, it'd be nice for the Buffs to make their par-saves out of the gate.  Games against CSU, Massachusetts, and Hawai'i are all solidly 'winnable' on paper, and need to be converted into wins to maintain the status quo.

It won't be as easy as many Black and Gold faithful are making it out to be, however.  The RMS is always a 'thing,' and road games east of the Mississippi have never been kind to this program (even though UMass is particularly awful...).  As unpalatable as it may seem, and as improved as the team is over previous seasons, I can easily envision a scenario where the team starts out 0-2.
Charleston Southern ain't walkin' through that door.  From: the BDC
That's not to say I think it likely.  CU will be favored in each game, and has the talent to overwhelm either opponent, given uneventful efforts from each side.  Plus, if the Buffs can swing those two, the Hawai'i game, after a brief hiccup against ASU, should be a cake walk.  They're talking of dropping the sport, after all.

Honestly, there's really no excuse for the team to not jump out to a 3-1 start in 2014.

2) More than one conference win

Speaking of par saves, slapping around Cal, as CU did last season, is nice and all, but the football program is not going to get back to where BuffNation wants to see it by playing at the Golden Bears' level.  The Buffs need to start beating multiple conference foes on a regular basis.
Get out our way, Cal!
To that end, the Buffs have to get more than one conference win this year.  Yep, a feat not conjured since Jon Embree, of all people, managed it in 2011 (with the help of a historically large senior class).

Finding a winnable pair is not easy.  The Cal game is on the road, and they'll be looking at that date for a win as much as the Buffs will.  Even given a win on 9/27, the Pac-12 is one of the best conferences in the country - some even say it will be better than the vaunted SEC.  The other eight games will be difficult tests, regardless of opponents and location.  Probably the best bet is November 29th against Utah, as CU has usually played their Mountain Time Zone rival well, but that program continues to improve as the power conference money trickles in.  Beyond the Utes, you could maybe sell me on upsets against Washington (new coach), @ Arizona, and @ USC (new coach), but I just don't see it.  It's Bears and Utes or bust.

3) Stay competitive throughout

In the three-year history of the Pac-12, the Buffs have routinely been trounced on the gridiron.  Over the 27 conference games played since 2011, they've lost an ugly total of 19 by at least 22 points.  That's right, CU has been blown out in just over 70% of their Pac-12 tilts.
It's been painful to watch.  From the BDC
Inexcusable.  That has to change.  Immediately.

I don't expect Mike MacIntyre to walk his troops into Autzen and pull out a win, but is it too much to ask them to stay within reach of at least five of their conference foes this season?  Let's say a max of four losses by more than three touchdowns, and only one by 40 points or more.  That'd certainly be a step in the right direction.

This effort would be greatly helped by continuing to stay, relatively, injury free.  Outside of unfortunate season-ending nicks to Jered Bell and Tyler Henington, the Buffs find themselves fortunate to head into the season with their two-deep mostly intact.  While depth is improving at the Foot of the Flatirons, it's not yet to the level that continued shuffling of the deck is a mountable challenge.  For the Buffs to stay in games this fall, they have to stay healthy, and keep their best talent on the field.

4) Get Sefo Liufau into the 2,000 club

This is obviously a individual benchmark, but it stands as a milestone for the entire offense.  In the history of Colorado Football, there's only been thirteen 2,000 yard passing efforts, with six of those owned by messrs Stewart and Klatt.  Getting the calm, composed sophomore into that club would make for a strong sign that the offense is starting to come together.
The Buffs need a big year from Sefo.  From: the Post
There's been too much upheval under center over the last decade.  Ever since Klatt left, it's been anyone's guess who will be leading the team in the huddle.  If anything, meeting this goal would at least point to some stability in the backfield.

The key will be the offensive line.  The only way 2,000 happens is if they're keeping Sefo's jersey clean. Luckily, the line returns three of the starters from last season, and boasts a pair of 5th-year senior guards in Dan Munyer and Kaiwi Crabb.  I like the way the group projects headed into the season, and have high hopes for them.

5) Make a damn bowl game

Bowl games.  The ultimate symbol of mediocrity dressed up as achievement.  In any other sport, earning a .500 record would not be worth celebrating, but college football continues to make it the end-all, be all of competition.  Sure, it's a reward for the kids and coaching staffs for working so hard, but making the BitPay St Petersberg Bowl (*hold for laughter*) has never struck me as anything but a trophy from an everyone-wins little league.

Still, this is the world we live in, and the fact remains that Colorado Football hasn't even been able to manage the pinnacle of average that is earning a bowl berth since 2007.  It's time to end the streak.  Somehow, someway, Mike MacIntyre and crew must turn a brutal Pac-12 slate into at least three wins and sneak into December at 6-6.
Remember when CU and Alabama met on equal footing?
This is probably a bridge to far for 2014, even if some local pundits are entertaining the possibility.  Granting CU manages to sweep non-conference play and beat Cal and Utah (no easy set of tasks, there), they'd still need one more win out of seven very difficult games to break even on the campaign. Given the schedule, given the fragile state of the depth chart, and given the continuing youth that still dominates the field, I just feel it's going to be impossible for this club to find six wins.  

More than likely, this is a achievable goal for 2015.  Still, it's nice to dream.  So, BuffNation, find a shooting star, drop a pocketful of change in the nearest fountain, and scour the ground for four-leaf clovers.  'Cause, if the Buffs can pull this one off, look out...

Go Buffs!  Live the dream!

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