CU's 2016 class
A look at Colorado's football recruiting class for 2016. Signing day is Feb. 3, and this list could change, but here's how it looks as of this weekend (star ratings by Rivals.com):
WR - Kabion Ento, 6-3, 180; Decatur, Miss. (2 stars)*
ATH - Ronnie Blackmon, 5-10, 174; Atlanta, Ga. (3 stars)
WR - Johnny Huntley, 6-3, 190; Plantation, Fla. (3 stars)
LB - Akil Jones, 6-1, 213; San Jose, Calif. (3 stars)
ATH - Anthony Julmisse, 6-0, 180; Plantation, Fla. (3 stars)
OL - Chance Lytle, 6-7, 291; San Antonio, Texas (2 stars)
QB - Sam Noyer, 6-3, 193; Beaverton, Ore. (3 stars)
WR - Derrion Rakestraw, 6-3, 175; Woodstock, Ga. (2 stars)
OL - Terriek Roberts, 6-6, 255; Denver (2 stars)
ATH - Patrick Taylor Jr., 6-3, 211; Humble, Texas (2 stars)
ATH - Trey Udoffia, 6-0, 175; Loomis, Calif. (3 stars)
OL - Hunter Vaughn, 6-8, 260; Parker (2 stars)
DB - Craig Watts, 5-10, 181; St. Petersburg, Fla. (4 stars)
* Ento played at East Central Community College the past two years and signed a national letter of intent this past week.
During the past three weeks, 80 college football teams have been preparing for bowl games.
Colorado has spent these past few weeks trying, once again, to figure out how to join them.
Head coach Mike MacIntyre has gone through staff and player evaluations. He dismissed his special teams coordinator and strength and conditioning coach. He replaced a receivers coach who left for greener pastures.
CU's path to national relevance, however, will be paved through recruiting.
Now working on his fourth recruiting class - and really, his third full class - since coming to Boulder, MacIntyre has yet to build a top-60 class. He has, however, filled his roster with quality starters, key role players and talented backups.
"If you're a Colorado fan that thinks that Colorado is going to pull in recruiting classes that are going to rank in the top 25 nationally and are going to have Colorado competing for a Pac-12 South title in the next couple of years, basically your expectations are out of whack," said Adam Munsterteiger, who has covered CU recruiting at Rivals.com since 2003. "What MacIntyre has done a good job with in recruiting has been class depth, which was a real concern under Dan Hawkins and Jon Embree."
MacIntyre's predecessors both pulled together better recruiting classes, in terms of the national rankings. Hawkins signed the country's 15th-ranked class in 2008. Embree's 2012 class was ranked No. 36. Those classes were filled with high-ranking players that either had character risks or didn't pan out.
"When those guys don't work out, you're not left with much," Munsterteiger said.
Given CU's lack of success on the field in the past decade, MacIntyre has had a tough time landing big-name recruits, but he's pulled together classes that have stuck together and improved throughout their careers.
"MacIntyre has done a good job of getting guys that from the top will be starters and guys like Chidobe Awuzie who are all-conference guys," Munsterteiger said, "and at the bottom you have the guys that are going to contribute on special teams and stay in the program and develop over time."
So far, MacIntyre had signed just one four-star recruit: receiver Shay Fields, who has emerged as a star for the Buffs.
Munsterteiger said he would give CU a B grade for its recruiting under MacIntyre, because he's managed to build the foundation of a team that could achieve bowl eligibility by next year.
It's time for the Buffs to take another step, though.
"I think the next step for MacIntyre and this staff ... will be going head-to-head with the Arizona schools and beating them out for some recruits," Munsterteiger said. "That's one thing that if you're a Colorado fan maybe you could be rightfully frustrated with is that the middle tier of the Pac-12 South you're not beating out right now."
CU's new facilities will help, because recruits are starting to see - and become impressed with - the finished, or nearly finished, product.
CU is also beefing up its recruiting by landing top talent in the South.
CU currently has 12 verbal commitments for the 2016 class, with the top prize being four-star defensive back Craig Watts from St. Petersburg, Fla. Five of the 12 commitments are from Florida or Georgia, where assistants Jim Leavitt, Charles Clark and Joe Tumpkin have done great work.
Meanwhile, the top in-state talent continues to elude the Buffs. In state, there are five players for 2016 with a three- or four-star rating from Rivals.com and all five have committed to other schools.
"Those kids (in the South), they see the Pac-12 as sexy and they're not hearing all the negativity about Colorado's struggles, where a kid growing up in Littleton is hearing all of that stuff and is absorbing it a little bit more than those kids that are out in Florida," Munsterteiger said. "The Colorado kids are so aware of Colorado's struggles in recent years. You can find the kid that grew up a Buffs fan and wants to be there, but frankly it's a transient state and those are the minority."
That makes the 2016 season a crucial one for Colorado, because Munsterteiger said the 2017 class of in-state recruits is the best he's seen since 2003.
Of course, 2016 is crucial for CU in general. While MacIntyre has done a solid job in recruiting to this point, the players on board need to start winning if the Buffs are ever going to attract elite talent.
"Frankly, you have to learn to crawl, then walk, then run," Munsterteiger said. "To have a full recruiting class with a majority of them being blue chippers, you're honestly going to have to win football games first. It's just the way it is. Kids want to play for a winner.
"First step is to make a bowl game. That's what I think MacIntyre is trying to build towards at this point."