Lately, I've been deluged with e-mails from folks recalling the "good old days" of Colorado football, and wondering why Colorado can't repeat them.

Most of the missives, naturally, refer to the Bill McCartney era, when Mac -- after a protracted rebuilding period -- put together a stretch of six consecutive seasons in which the Buffs finished ranked in the nation's top 25. That stretch was followed by two more seasons in the top 25 under Rick Neuheisel, giving the Buffs eight straight top-25 teams.

It is that stretch that Buff fans remember so fondly -- and it is that stretch that has given some CU fans a distorted view of the big picture when it comes to Colorado football.

A certain percentage of Buff faithful want to believe their program is -- or at least should be -- on par with the Big 12 and national elite. If Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska enjoy success on an annual basis, they reason, so can Colorado. After all, the Buffaloes did compete with those schools, and every other program in the nation, for the better part of a decade.

But what some CU folks can't admit, even to themselves, is that the McCartney glory years were an aberration, not the norm. Those years were the result of a "perfect storm" that is not likely to form again anytime soon.

Fact: In the last 32 years, Colorado has enjoyed exactly 10 seasons in which the Buffs finished ranked in the nation's top 25.


Eight of those came in the aforementioned McCartney-Neuheisel stretch, with the remaining two -- both under Gary Barnett --coming in the last 12 years.

That means that CU has fielded a nationally competitive team roughly 30 percent of the time -- and if you look back farther through history, that number is about right.

The simple truth is that Colorado is not a top-tier football factory -- certainly not at the same level as Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State, etc. Rather, Colorado has been an upper-level second-tier program, capable of the occasional appearance in the Top 25 and -- when the stars align -- a legitimate shot at a league championship and a top-10 finish.

That's the reality.

So what happened during the McCartney era that allowed Colorado to move ever-so-briefly into that upper stratosphere?

Recruiting. In the mid-1980s, the timing was perfect for Colorado to begin grabbing great players out of Texas and California. The Southwest Conference was crumbling, with several of its members on NCAA probation, and the others -- including the flagship Longhorns -- struggling under less-than-successful coaching. There was a mass exodus of prep talent from the state, and McCartney and his staff were there to reap the benefits.

Today, it's exactly the opposite. Texas is back on top. Texas Tech has improved, and Texas A&M is attracting its share of in-state talent. The task of convincing top-flight players from Texas to leave the Lone Star State has become a difficult task -- much more so than when McCartney was at Colorado.

Ditto for California. In the mid-1980s, Washington ruled the Pac-10. Don James did indeed get his fair share of talent from Southern California, but there were still plenty of great players in the state looking to go elsewhere. Today, USC corrals much of that talent, a greatly improved Cal program gets its share and UCLA appears to be rising again.

That leaves fewer players for out-of-state programs.

Oklahoma's slide. When McCartney was building his program, the Big Eight consisted of the Big Two (Oklahoma and Nebraska) and the Little Six. In what was an incredible stroke of luck -- part of Mac's "perfect storm" -- Barry Switzer was forced out at Oklahoma after the 1988 season when the Sooner program spiraled out of control.

That coincided perfectly with McCartney's rebuilding effort. The Sooners dipped under Gary Gibbs and Colorado quickly took their spot in the Big Two. It took OU athletic director Donnie Duncan three more tries before he finally found the right coach, hiring Howard Schnellenberger and John Blake before finally hitting upon Bob Stoops. In that interim, Colorado filled the void.

Administrative support. As McCartney was building his program, he received the full support of CU's administration. It meant greatly improved facilities (the Dal Ward Center) as well as a much-more cooperative admissions policy with the help of then-president Gordon Gee. That has changed dramatically. If the same policies that are in place today had been in place in the McCartney era, many of the great players Mac brought to Boulder would never have been admitted to CU.

Those factors -- along with a tremendous coaching staff -- conspired to produce eight years of unparalleled success in CU football annals.

They also created a distorted view of what Colorado football "should be" and what it actually is.

Aside from that eight-year abnormality, CU's football trajectory has always been a roller-coaster. Unlike Nebraska (decades of steady success under Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne), Oklahoma (Bud Wilkinson, Chuck Fairbanks and Switzer) and Texas (Darrell Royal and Fred Akers), CU has been an up-and-down program.

The difference is stark. When the football factories struggle (Bill Callahan at NU, John Blake at OU), they can recover quickly because of the infrastructure, tradition and support in place.

When Colorado struggles, the rebuilding effort is much more difficult.

Fact: Under Mack Brown, Texas has enjoyed at least 10 wins in each of the last eight seasons. That's one more double-digit victory season than Colorado has enjoyed in the program's entire history.

Those numbers aren't easy for CU fans to digest. But while Buff faithful might not admit it, such a disparity is not likely to change dramatically anytime soon.

For starters, Colorado does not enjoy anywhere close to the financial support from boosters that schools such as Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan, Alabama, etc., enjoy. Neither is Boulder as supportive of the local university as residents from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Stillwater, Okla., to Eugene, Ore., are to their schools.

Not good, not bad, just a fact.

Neither is CU alone in this situation. Colorado residents -- for whatever reason -- have never been overwhelmingly rabid boosters of any of the state's institutions. Rather, the state throws its undying support behind its pro football team. The Broncos are to Colorado what the Huskers are to Nebraska. The Buffs, Rams and Falcons, meanwhile, cater to far more tepid support.

Fact: Of the three major Division I programs in Colorado, CU has the worst facilities.

Fact: CU has never sold out every game in a single season, not even in McCartney's most successful years. The most Folsom Field sellouts in a single year is five, coming in 1993. Otherwise, Mac played before a less-than-full house at least twice every season, even in his very best years.

Meanwhile, even though the state's population continues to grow, the crowds don't. Heading into this season, the Buffs had sold out Folsom just nine times in the last 10 years -- and this in a stadium that is 25,000 to 30,000 seats smaller than several of its Big 12 brethren.

Again, not good or bad. Just facts, reasons why expectations at CU are sometimes out of whack with reality.

Can it change?

Of course it can. Anything is possible, but reality suggests that it's not likely. Unless there's a Boone Pickens or a Phil Knight hiding in the wings waiting to put millions upon millions of dollars in CU's pockets, it's likely that CU will remain what it has been for the most of its history:

With good leadership, a decent football program that has the chance to occasionally put itself in the national spotlight.

That's not a bad thing or a good thing.

That's just reality.