During a pregame media session set up for legendary Colorado football coach Bill McCartney to discuss the debut this week of the ESPN "30 for 30" documentary that recounted his national title-winning run with the Buffs, it only took a few minutes for McCartney's passionate game face to boil to the surface.
Asked about the ramifications of Saturday's home date against Stanford in the Buffaloes' quest to possibly land a bowl berth, the fire in McCartney's eyes immediately ignited. More than a few members of the gathered media were ready to hit Folsom Field to bash some Cardinal on the opening kickoff by the time coach Mac finished his response.
Alas, a week that saw images of CU's glory days providing inspiration to a new generation of Buffs fighting valiantly to restore that glory nonetheless ended with a 42-10 defeat against No. 9 Stanford. And so it is time to turn the page on 2015.
Certainly that's not to say CU should tank its final three games. As stated by center Alex Kelley, a player as blue collar as they come for the Buffs, "The way I see it, we have three games to win three to become bowl-eligible. That was our goal from the beginning of the season, and it's still attainable."
Kelley's attitude needs to be echoed by the rest of the leaders in CU's locker room. Yet if rebuilding the program is a process, as even McCartney said, then part of that process requires forward thinking without compromising a competitive attitude. Here are a number of issues head coach Mike MacIntyre can address over the final three games with an eye on 2016 without making the team's seniors feel like they are taking a knee on 2015.
• Show the tight end position exists in Boulder. Through 10 games, junior Sean Irwin and freshman Dylan Keeney have combined for just 10 catches. Yet those 10 plays have averaged 20.7 yards. It's no secret good red zone teams tend to feature dependable tight ends, and CU is not a good red zone team. Stanford scored an easy touchdown to tight end Dalton Schultz in the first half when CU's defense jumped a running play. Think having a viable tight end option would have helped the Buffs during a failed first-and-goal situation in the third quarter?
• Give meaningful playing time to Cade Apsay. I'm not advocating starting Apsay over Sefo Liufau. And I don't believe rotating quarterbacks is a smart move for teams harboring title aspirations. However, Apsay has impressed enough to supplant Jordan Gehrke as CU's clear No. 2. Can he be more? Giving him more competitive snaps — like, say, on the final series of a first half — would help to start answering that question.
• Keep rotating offensive linemen. Again, stability is preferred to juggling up front on winning teams. This, though, is not yet a winning team. Due largely to injuries, the Buffs have been fitting pieces around Kelley all season. No reason to stop over the final three games to see who is ready take charge next year.
• Redshirt running back Michael Adkins. The junior was injured on his first carry of the third game of the season and remains eligible for a medical redshirt. Given running back is one of the few areas where CU boasts solid depth, exchanging a full year of eligibility to bring him back after two months on the sideline would be pointless.
MacIntyre will say all the right things this week about how the Buffs will continue play to win. As they should. Yet failing to keep an eye on what comes next would be a disservice to the rebuilding process.