To bowl or not to bowl?
It's not necessarily the question facing interim head coach Kurt Roper and the Colorado Buffaloes football team that is dragging its way to Berkeley for the merciful conclusion of the 2018 regular season. Surely the Buffs want to win, and post that elusive victory that will finally attain bowl eligibility — a hurdle that has proven maddeningly unattainable over the course of nine consecutive opportunities.
The question is whether attaining that sixth win after a 5-0 start, and securing a date in some far-flung corner of the 2018 bowl season like the Cheez-It Bowl, is worth the time and effort for a team in the midst of a coaching transition. The Buffs might very well be better off licking their wounds, heading home, and waiting to find out who their new leader will be.
With the advent of the early signing period for football (this year it runs Dec. 19-21) the new coach might be better served hitting the road to make certain a recruiting class expected to be a solid one for CU feels collectively confident enough to follow through on their commitments. Last year, now-former coach Mike MacIntyre consistently expressed a thumbs-up for the new early signing period, but that was without having bowl preparations hanging over the CU staff's heads.
Of course, coaches always expound on how the extra bowl practices offer a springboard into the following season, a chance to get a jump-start on 2019. That, though, is the epitome of coach-speak. There is little evidence extra bowl practices give teams any sort of competitive advantage the following fall. (As one easy example and comparison the participants of last year's Cheez-It/Cactus Bowl, Kansas State and UCLA, are a combined 8-14 this year, with both teams likely to make it 8-16 this weekend.) MacIntyre himself said several times two years ago that his team's preparation for the Alamo Bowl would give a handful of youngsters much-needed extra practices in which to focus on their bigger roles in 2017. They went out and finished 5-7 last year.
In the case of this particular Buffs team, no amount of practice has reversed the reality of a team that got worse as the season progressed. A win Saturday, and the bowl practices to follow, wouldn't change the narrative on a 2018 season that will be remembered as disappointing, to say the least. Even with a win Saturday, would the Buffs deserve a bowl berth? For anyone that has watched this team unravel over the past six weeks, the answer is a resounding no. A win against the Bears might go down as CU's only win against a team that finished with a winning record (the jury is still out on Arizona State, which takes a 6-5 mark into its finale at rival Arizona). Bringing home armloads of Cheez-It swag, as delicious as the thought is, won't erase the taste of mediocrity.
Certainly that is not to suggest the Buffs should tank for the sake of the program. In fact, if CU comes out and somehow rocks the Bears, bucking the trend of six consecutive weeks of a steady freefall, Roper should be given heightened scrutiny as a permanent answer.
However, the immediate future of the program isn't best served with a handful of practices ahead of a meaningless bowl game no one cares about. It's in athletic director Rick George finding the right fit with a coach ready to lead a group that has the potential to win immediately. It's in that coach smoothing whatever frayed nerves exist on the active roster as well as among the pledges on the recruiting trail.
Bowl eligibility? Pass. The Buffs had ample opportunity to reach that goal, and instead crumbled down the stretch. Certainly a Mediocrity Bowl berth offers no financial incentives for a university that will be paying one coach nearly $10 million to go away while getting ready to cut the first check for the new coach.
At this point the program would be best served by coming home to reboot with an eye on 2019.