Perhaps "The Rise" indeed is upon us after all.
Throughout the offseason fans and social media followers of Colorado football were inundated with a slogan that promised the return of a brand of Buffaloes football worth backing was on the horizon. On Friday night, under the spotlight of Sports Authority Field, before a national television audience against a state rival that typically provides a battle to the finish, the Buffs more than backed up all that offseason talk.
Catchy slogans are one thing. Performance is quite another. And coach Mike MacIntyre's group dominated, plain and simple.
When considering the factors at hand — the rivalry matchup against Colorado State after two straight opening-night duds, the balance of expectation and experience permeating the CU roster — it was by far the most thorough performance of MacIntyre's three-year-plus-one game tenure.
Perhaps the CSU Rams are more of a work in progress than anyone expected, yet by that same token no one was predicting a 31-0 lead at halftime for the Buffs that actually could have been worse for the disorganized bunch from Fort Collins. It was as thorough a thrashing the Buffs have delivered in the Rocky Mountain Showdown since a 41-14 win in 2001, and along the way the squad provided reassurance for a number of the most pressing preseason question marks.
First and foremost was the required improvement along the offensive line, perhaps the biggest shortcoming of last year's Buffs. The unit powered a rushing attack that amassed 260 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per attempt. And quarterback Sefo Liufau, under assault almost from the opening snap of 2015, was touched for just one sack.
Granted the sieve-like CSU defense returned only three starters from a year ago and put up nary a fight, but bear in mind three of Friday's five starters up front also were among the group that had fits with Hawaii a year ago.
Liufau proved he clearly is fully recovered from the offseason foot surgery that briefly left his 2016 season in doubt, and running back Phillip Lindsay showed he might be capable of carrying the load for CU's attack, gaining 39 yards on six rushing attempts and another 11 on a reception on the Buffs' opening touchdown drive. Perhaps the best tactical decision by MacIntyre on a night when few were needed (and one hinted by running backs coach Darian Hagan earlier this week) was riding Lindsay's hot hand while the game remained competitive.
Defensively, the Buffs played with passion and intent, flying to the football and delivering a steady stream of bone-jarring hits. Already pegged as a strength of the 2016 Buffs, defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt's crew posted five three-and-outs and a fumble recovery on CSU's first six offensive possessions. It doesn't get any better than that.
The Buffs kept pushing the gas pedal on an outmatched opponent from start to finish in a manner not witnessed in years. It certainly wasn't a flawless performance — if CSU's Tyree Simmons successfully pounces on Liufau's fumble into the end zone on CU's opening drive, that momentum-stealing opening salvo may have played out quite differently. And leaving Liufau in long enough to take a potentially devastating hit in the open field in a 30-point game in the fourth quarter was inexplicable. But overall the showing undoubtedly heightened expectations for a likely 2-0 Buffs squad to be bursting with confidence when they visit Michigan's Big House in two weeks.
Those expectations certainly should remain modest, particularly given the Buffs' two Pac-12 Conference wins in three seasons under MacIntyre. Yet any good rise from the ashes has to begin somewhere. On Friday the Buffs showed they are done playing catch-up and are ready to dictate the course of their own destiny.
Not long after the rout was complete, Lindsay emerged from the locker room bearing a beaming smile and a hat that read, "Make CU great again." Great? Not yet. But for the first time in a long time the Buffs can say they're pointed in the right direction.