For the first time in a little more than a year, the Colorado football program genuinely had something to celebrate.
Yet if coach Mike MacIntyre hopes to remain in Boulder for the duration of the contract extension he signed last summer, it's time for the inroads the Buffaloes have made on the recruiting trail to start paying dividends on the field.
For coaches like MacIntyre, the move to an early signing period for football — it began Wednesday morning and continues through Friday night — was a boon. With no bowl game to prepare for MacIntyre and his staff were ready for the challenge of fortifying last year's recruiting class, arguably the best in Boulder in nearly a decade, with a group considered by and large to be an equal in terms of talent and potential.
With that goal accomplished on Wednesday, credit MacIntyre and his staff for having a sound game plan in place even before the team's postseason fate was determined.
"We already had it set up," MacIntyre said. "You're either going to play (a bowl) around New Year's or Christmas, or you're going to play one early. And then we also brought a lot of kids in during the season, which we haven't done in the past. That really made a big difference."
If all goes according to plan, Wednesday's exercise in dreams of grandeur will begin a rebound that will make the past year a blip in MacIntyre's long-term vision of revitalizing the Buffs' program.
Despite the 10-win season of 2016 the Buffs nonetheless stumbled down the stretch, losing the Pac-12 title game as well as the Alamo Bowl by a combined 79-18. From there it only got uglier, from MacIntyre's highly questionable move to give embattled assistant Joe Tumpkin (since fired due to a lengthy list of domestic abuse charges the former coach still is facing) a de facto promotion to defensive coordinator for the Alamo Bowl to a 5-7 2017 campaign that ended with the fourth last-place finish in the Pac-12 South in MacIntyre's five seasons.
On Wednesday MacIntyre stated on several occasions the 2018 class of newcomers is the most physically ready to compete immediately for playing time. Given the immediate need for improved toughness up front on both sides of the ball, the idea that several new Buffaloes might be able to contribute right away is a welcome nuance. However, the other side of that reality is that MacIntyre has been at CU five years now. Remaining competitive within the Pac-12 on a consistent basis by plugging new faces into familiar voids isn't generally a winning proposition, even if some of those new faces are a little older with junior college experience under their belts.
In some ways, it perhaps is fitting the earlier signing days arrives during the holiday season. The gifts these young athletes bring come with the hope of a better future. And even with the backslide this past fall, MacIntyre remains steadfast in the belief that his new recruits share his vision of more successful days ahead for the Buffaloes.
A new year is supposed to be about rebirth and striving toward new goals, after all.
"They saw our competitiveness on the field. They're excited. They saw where we're going," MacIntyre said. "The thing that sells them is when you bring them and they meet with the kids. And they go out with the kids and the coaches aren't around. They'll let them know if they think we're good enough or not. I think these last two classes show you the culture of our kids and the belief in our kids is that they believe that we're going to be really successful and they like it here at Colorado and they believe in what we're going. That's the telltale sign, and I think that's why we've had such good recruiting classes."
Those improved recruiting classes are a credit to MacIntyre and his staff. In 2018, it will be time to see those efforts emerge on the field.