A 31-7 loss at home to Washington State was followed by a 30-7 loss to Utah at home. That was followed by a 21-0 first quarter deficit against California last Saturday before rallying to lose 33-21.
As I watched this season unfold, however, and as I talked to players and saw some reactions outside the locker room on Saturday, I don't think this team ever gave up. I think they simply lost their confidence and had no idea how to get themselves out of their tailspin.
There's another factor that I think came into play during this season, though. Something that we saw at times on the field - and something I've heard in recent comments. This team lacked discipline.
During an interview on KOA radio during Saturday's game at Cal, athletic director Rick George, currently searching for CU's next head coach, said he was looking for a coach who will be a disciplinarian.
During the postgame press conference, I asked receiver Laviska Shenault if better discipline would be a key going forward. Senior running back Travon McMillian was sitting next to him and leaned in to the mic.
"I think it will be, definitely," McMillian said. "Ultimately, you have to play smart football and you can't shoot yourself in the foot. You have to be able to capitalize and stay on the field and keep the drive alive. It felt like this year we had opportunities and we kind of shot ourselves in the foot.
Lack of discipline, in my opinion, is a direct reflection on the coaching staff and, likely, a big reason why head coach Mike MacIntyre was dismissed eight days ago.
The lack of discipline was on full display Oct. 27, when the Buffs gave up a 31-3 lead and lost to Oregon State, 41-34 in overtime. Players have fully admitted they took their foot off the gas with a 28-point lead against the worst team in the conference. When things started going sour that day and Oregon State pulled within 31-17, that was supposed to be the time for a head coach to pull the troops together and get their heads right. Put their foot back on the gas. Get them back to playing smart football. It didn't happen, and the Buffs unraveled.
The lack of discipline shows up when players are flagged for a late hit, or taunting. Those types of penalties were devastating at times in recent weeks. Disciplined teams know when to pull up at the sidelines. Disciplined teams have had it drilled into them that if you make a big hit on third down, don't stand over the guy and taunt.
No question, injuries played a role in CU's struggles down the stretch, but during the second half of the season, this was not a smart football team. McMillian's right: this season is a whole lot different if the Buffs played smarter football.
Whoever is hired to coach the Buffs has to fix that aspect of this team.
CU has some very good talent coming back in 2019, and there are some nice pieces to work with and build a winner. But, if the Buffs don't learn how to play smarter, they won't win.
This program simply isn't good enough to play dumb football.
A few thoughts from the weekend:
1. One reason I believe this team truly cared to the end: I saw genuine love and respect between players and coaches outside of the locker room, who were hugging and thanking each other for the season. By the time the Buffs got to the finale at Utah in 2017, I think they had mailed it in. Not this group. I do think they sincerely wanted to get win No. 6 and play in a bowl game. Unfortunately for them, they never got there.
2. There are several good coaches on this staff. I realize a new head coach is likely to bring in his own staff and make wholesale changes, but the Buffs will miss several of these assistants. At the top of the list, in my opinion, is Kurt Roper and Kwahn Drake. Roper is highly respected by the quarterbacks and made a huge difference for Steven Montez, Tyler Lytle, etc. Drake may have been the CU coach of the year with what he did for the defensive line. Yeah, they had some different players in there, but that group was vastly improved from last year and Drake's teaching and attitude played a huge role (And, don't discount defensive coordinator DJ Eliot for recruiting Isreal Antwine and Mustafa Johnson to Boulder).
3. I figured this would happen, but my story on Steven Montez considering his options has brought a lot of comments from fans - many of which, predictably, think it's ridiculous for him to even consider the NFL. First off, I'll say that in talking to Montez about this Saturday night, I get the sense that he would like to come back to CU, but wants to take some time to make sure. I can't fault a player, especially given the uncertainty around the coaching staff, for exploring options. It's easy for fans and media to look at a guy who just threw two pick-6s in a loss and say he's not ready; and he may not be. But, don't forget how the NFL works. The NFL has never been a league to shy away from projects. Montez has every physical tool the NFL looks for in a quarterback. Montez, should he decide to leave, would also have several months to work on nothing but football and work on his game and raise his stock. Where he projects now could be very different from where he would project in April. The NFL is also a QB-hungry league and the 2018 draft is not loaded with great QBs. I was surprised when Nebraska's Tanner Lee declared for the draft last year - following a 2017 season that was arguably worse than the year Montez just had. Lee was drafted in the sixth round and is collecting a paycheck on the Jacksonville Jaguars' practice squad. Whether he's ready or not needs to be determined by Montez and the people he talks with, but I don't think him leaving is a crazy idea. He's the type of QB I could see a team rolling the dice with in the final few rounds of the draft.
The week's best Buffs
1. Buff Davion Taylor: He was aggressive and all over the field making solid plays on defense.
2. DE Mustafa Johnson: Finished with a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss, putting a cap on what was a great year for him.
3. NT Javier Edwards: Finished with a season-high seven tackles, including one for loss and half a sack. He put together a pretty good senior year.
4. RB Travon McMillian: The numbers weren't great - 21 carries for 58 yards - but he was a workhorse against a tough Cal defense, and his effort put him over 1,000 yards for the season.
5. WR KD Nixon: Caught just two passes, but both went for 24 yards, including a touchdown in the second half. Unfortunately, he also fumbled a punt that was costly.
Stat of the week
This one comes from CU sports information director and stats guru David Plati. I tweeted this stat on Sunday, but its remarkable enough to repeat here.
When Derrion Rakestraw picked off an Arizona pass with 7:22 to play in the fourth quarter on Nov. 2, the Buffs were plus-8 on turnover margin for the season at that moment. From that point on, they were minus-12, with 12 turnovers and zero takeaways. The Buffs, who committed just eight turnovers in the first nine games, had 11 in the last three - including five in the finale at Cal.
Pac-12 players of the week
Here's who I voted for this week for Pac-12 honors:
Offense: Myles Gaskin, Washington - During a 28-15 upset of Washington State, he rushed for 170 yards and three touchdowns. He's the first player in Pac-12 history with four 1,000-yard rushing seasons and finished his career third on the all-time Pac-12 list (5,131).
Defense: Ashytn Davis, California - At the expense of CU, Davis had the best game of his career. He had two interceptions, including a pick-six to put the Bears up 14-0. His second interception set up a field goal. Davis also had 82 yards in kickoff returns.
Special teams: Darnay Holmes, UCLA - His 93-yard kickoff return for touchdown in the third quarter gave the Bruins a shot at the upset of Stanford. He also recorded six tackles and two pass breakups on defense.
Pac-12 Team of the Week
Washington: Give the Huskies credit. After an up and down year, they managed to pull off the biggest win of the season when they needed it, knocking off rival Washington State in the Apple Cup to take the North division title.
National Team of the Week
Ohio State: Biggest win of the entire week went to the Buckeyes. Somewhat written off as a national title contender going into last week's matchup with Michigan, the Buckeyes were remarkable in a 62-39 win. They still may not get into the top four, but they're now in position to get there.
A few thoughts on the Pac-12 after Week 13:
1. Utah continues to impress me. Down 27-7 at home to rival BYU, they went on a 28-0 run from that point on. This team's defense is exceptional and they run the football. I'm eager to see the matchup with Washington, because the Huskies are good in those areas, too.
2. I really thought Washington State was going to win the conference this year the way they were playing. The snow in Pullman made it tough, but was a disappointing result for the Cougars. Hats off to them for a great season, though. They've still got a shot to go to a nice bowl (Holiday?) and finish 11-2.
3. Seven Pac-12 bowl tie-ins and seven Pac-12 teams are bowl eligible. Most surprising is the teams that didn't make it. USC was favored to win the South and went 5-7. Kevin Sumlin and Khalil Tate were supposed to lead Arizona to national prominence and they finished 5-7. CU wasn't supposed to go bowling (according to preseason predictions), but started 5-0 and yet didn't get there. And, UCLA was a trendy pick by some to get there because of Chip Kelly's arrival. The only non-surprise was Oregon State, which wasn't supposed to be very good, and wasn't.
After week 13, here's how I rank the teams in the Pac-12:
1. Utah (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12): My goodness, that comeback against BYU was impressive. Utes are playing fantastic football down the stretch.
2. Washington (9-3, 7-2): Huskies came in as the favorite to win the conference and, despite some bumps along the way, are in position do it.
3. Washington State (10-2, 7-2 Pac-12): I actually felt bad for Mike Leach when they didn't get that win against Washington. I thought this would be the year the Cougars got over the hump.
4. California (7-4, 4-4): Not sure anyone in the conference is playing better defense right now.
5. Stanford (7-4, 5-3): Cardinal escaped against UCLA, setting up a big matchup with Cal this weekend.
6. Oregon (8-4, 5-4): Ducks rolled past Oregon State to cap a solid regular season.
7. Arizona State (7-5, 5-4): One more point was all the Sun Devils needed to get past rival Arizona and secure a winning record.
8. UCLA (3-9, 3-6): The final record is bad, but the Bruins played some good football down the stretch and appear to be in good shape for 2019.
9. USC (5-7, 4-5): First losing season since 2000 for the Trojans, who were favored to win the South.
10. Arizona (5-7, 4-5): Wildcats made a run at it, but came up one point shy of bowl eligibility.
11. Colorado (5-7, 2-7): Going 0-7 is tough to do, but the Buffs found a way (several ways, actually) to do it.
12. Oregon State (2-10, 1-8): Yeah, I know the Beavers beat the Buffs, but this is still the worst team in the conference.
Quote the of week
"Moving forward, this is a great program and it's going to do nothing but ascend." - CU interim head coach and QB coach Kurt Roper after the loss to Cal.
Whether or not Roper is a part of the program going forward remains to be seen.
Contact staff writer Brian Howell at email@example.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.