Ryan Thorburn, Camera Sports Writer
Ryan Thorburn, Camera Sports Writer ( PAUL AIKEN )
Three and 10.

Jon Embree knows those numbers don't add up and that the clock is ticking.

For starters, Colorado's trying 3-10 season was not unexpected. The Buffs were predicted to struggle during the transition away from the disastrous Hawk-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named era to the Pac-12.

And the team lived down to those expectations for 10 weeks before a memorable finish.

"When we got here we weren't a team. We were fractured. I think that was my biggest challenge," Embree reflected Tuesday during a season-ending press conference at the Dal Ward Center. "There wasn't a lot of trust in that locker room, and I feel like we made a huge step towards that."

Embree understands his love for his alma mater and passion for the CU football program helped get him hired, and that those attributes won't keep him from getting fired some day.

The only way to create job security in major college football these days is to win big. And quickly.

UCLA alum Rick Neuheisel was fired on Monday and will coach his final game for the Bruins in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game on Friday.

Washington State alum Paul Wulff was also pink-slipped after four years trying to rebuild the Cougars.

Arizona canned Mike Stoops in October. Arizona State put Dennis Erickson out to pasture this week.

That makes Embree the second-most tenured head coach in the South Division behind Lane Kiffin, who willbe entering his third season at USC in 2012.

Kyle Whittingham has been at Utah for seven seasons but has the same amount of experience in the Pac-12 as CU's first-year head coach.

"We knew when we got in," Embree said when asked what all of the attrition among his peers, including some friends, says about his profession. "It's unfortunate, it's hard when you see that happen. But we know when you get into this business it's: How many did you win? And how many did you lose?"

The Buffs did win two of their final three games, blowing out Arizona at Folsom Field on senior day for the program's first Pac-12 victory and taking some Oxi Magic to the "stain" on the program with a season-ending triumph at Utah.

That's a good sign. Embree's No. 1 goal for the season was to end the road losing streak and getting the team to play its best in November bodes well for the future.

But why didn't CU play with the same vigor when the Embree era kicked off in Hawaii?

"I'm not a guy who really likes to look back too often," said wide receiver Toney Clemons, who saved his very best for the last month of his senior year. "But there was a part of me that asked, 'What if we would have played like this all season?'"

One of the main reasons why athletic directors, boosters and fans are so upset in Salt Lake City, Tempe and Tucson right now is because this was the year to win the South Division.

Next year and for the foreseeable future the division officially belongs to the mighty Trojans, whose two-year postseason ban ends. Kiffin's five-star squad made quite a statement this fall by upsetting North Division champion Oregon and clobbering de facto South Division champion UCLA.

So what about CU?

Any regrets about not taking advantage the mediocrity like UCLA did this year? After all, if the Buffs would have gained some momentum and confidence early and held on against Washington State late and ...

"To say you want to play in the Pac-12 championship game, you've got to win outside of Folsom," Embree said. "And the disheartening thing is we were getting smashed on the road. I knew after the Stanford game we were not going to be in that discussion."

Obviously, it's going to take some time to gather talent and develop depth before CU will be able to compete for a Pac-12 championship.

The short-term goal has already been laid out by the leaders of the 2012 Buffs: Bowl game or bust.

"We can start talking about that because we've won on the road," Embree said. "I don't think you can start talking about those goals until you start winning on the road. ...

"That should be the next step for us as a program."

That means Embree's program must make the jump from three wins to six wins next year.

Tick ... tick ... tick ...