Under head coach Mike MacIntyre, the Colorado football team has finished last in the Pac-12 Conference South Division in four of five seasons.
The Buffaloes are well on their way to making that five out of six.
The anomaly in that run, of course, was the unexpected and program-rejuvenating march to the 2016 Pac-12 championship game, a spotlight that dims a little more with each defeat that is turning this season's 5-0 start into one long, gut-wrenching nose dive.
If that 5-0 start turns into a 5-7 finish, a possibility that edged a little closer to reality after Friday night's 42-34 loss at Arizona, it will be difficult to justify giving MacIntyre a chance to make it six last-place finishes in seven years in 2019.
Friday's setback once again unveiled a Buffaloes team in disarray on national TV. Yes, the Buffs battled to the end. And yes, players like quarterback Steven Montez kept picking himself off the turf time and time again to fight the good fight while injuries continued to pile up across the lineup. But this is a team unraveling at an alarming clip. And if the Buffs can't protect a four-touchdown lead at home against Oregon State, or take advantage of numerous chances against a solid but hardly great Arizona team, there is little confidence CU can get the job done while hosting a pair of ranked foes at home the next two weeks.
Despite jumping to a 10-0 lead, the Buffs set an ominous tone on their first offensive series, getting the ball at the Arizona 14-yard line following a 59-yard punt return by Ronnie Blackmon. Much like a wasted first-and-goal chance at Washington two weeks ago, the Buffs played it conservatively, with running back Travon McMillian getting two carries for six yards on identical wildcat runs and Montez managing two yards on the first of many run-for-your-life situations to come.
Eschewing the idea that putting quick points on the board might be a good idea on the road, the Buffs decision to play it conservatively abruptly turned as MacIntyre opted to go for it on fourth-and-two. Instead of a 3-0 lead, KD Nixon was drilled for a two-yard loss on a jet sweep.
Afterward MacIntyre pointed to the injury issues, particularly the loss of Laviska Shenault for the past three games. Certainly the one-time Heisman candidate would have been a difference-maker the past three games, but the idea the Buffs lost against Oregon State and UA because Shenault was on the sideline is laughable. Even without Shenault and Jay MacIntyre, who suffered his second nasty-looking concussion in less than a month, Juwann Winfree (eight catches for 101 yards) and Kabion Ento (five for 82) capably filled the void on those rare occasions Montez had time to throw.
A much bigger problem is how, at times, the CU coaching staff appears more interested in proving how smart they are than making the simple play. Case in point: Early in the fourth quarter, immediately after the Wildcats took their 42-34 lead, Montez was forced to the sideline for just one play with the Buffs facing a first-and-10 at the Arizona 43.
Instead of letting backup Sam Noyer hand the ball off, or perhaps taking a chance at surprising the UA defense with some type of safe-and-short play-action pass, the Buffs once again put McMillian in the wildcat formation, this time with the idea he would throw to little-used tight end Brady Russell. McMillian performed his best impersonation of C. Montgomery Burns throwing out the first pitch at a Springfield Isotopes game by spiking the ball into the turf well short of Russell's feet.
Given the punishment Montez is absorbing, it's alarming if wasting a down in a key situation is a comment on the confidence level the Buffs' brass has in Noyer. And while they're at it, the Buffs might be wise to shelve trick plays indefinitely. An ill-advised flea flicker early in the second quarter turned a second-and-six near midfield into third-and-19, and CU was fortunate the result wasn't worse. Again, the trick play turned a promising possession into a punt.
It has been stated already in this corner that MacIntyre is facing the toughest challenge of his CU tenure this November. That challenge became exponentially more daunting with No. 10 Washington State and No. 16 Utah coming to town the next two weeks. It's boggling to think a 5-0 start that stirred thoughts of a Pac-12 title has dissolved into MacIntyre fighting for his job, but such is the state of Buff Nation.
In the past three weeks, all in close games, the Buffs have been outscored 48-3 in the fourth quarter and overtime. That's not finishing strong, much like the Buffs' 0-7 mark and counting in games in which they could have reached bowl eligibility over the past two seasons.
And right now, bowl eligibility feels far less attainable than the Buffs taking their customary spot at the bottom of the South.