December 1 wasn't all that long ago. Yet in terms of the meteoric turnaround put together by the Colorado football team throughout the fall, the past two months have provided a rude return to reality.
Two lopsided losses in the program's biggest games in over a decade. Two coaching defections that can be chalked up to the price of success, and a defensive coordinator hiring that largely was met with a collective shrug from the Buffalo faithful. And, most disturbing, the alleged domestic assault allegations against former defensive assistant Joe Tumpkin that inevitably left an ugly blemish on the program, even with the university's swift and entirely justified firing of Tumpkin last week.
In short, it hasn't been the sort of eight-week run a program wants to endure after climbing to such heights But fret not, Buffaloes fans. Signing day is here, with a decorated class expected to sign the dotted lines on Wednesday, adding reinforcements to a core eager to build on CU's first 10-win season since 2001.
"We really started on the beginning of next year, technically, right when we came back," head coach Mike MacIntyre said. "Really we started during the bowl weeks, because we were practicing the younger guys a lot. Therefore we started then, but when our guys got back to school we started winter workouts, right into a great work program."
Losing defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, of course, was the biggest loss among the coaching personnel, as he decided to follow the money to Oregon. It was understandable CU wasn't willing to get into a bidding war for his services, despite overseeing a two-year defensive turnaround that ended with the Buffs ranked fifth in the nation in pass efficiency defense last fall.
No doubt, the passion his defenders typically played with will be difficult to replicate, and even with some injury issues Leavitt's absence clearly was felt in the Buffs' lackluster 38-8 loss to Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl. Tumpkin's situation, though, proved far more unsettling.
MacIntyre declined to comment when asked if he had to reassure recruits, or their parents, that Tumpkin's situation does not reflect the values of his program. However, if all goes according to plan Wednesday only two recruits who originally pledged to CU will land at other schools. Regardless of coaching defections or coaching scandals, that sort of attrition is par for the course in any recruiting cycle.
"We started right back at ground zero, but our foundation is higher. I feel like we have a good nucleus of football players," MacIntyre said. "Of course we lost some good ones, but good programs do that. You replace them with good ones and you develop them. So I'm excited with where we are. This recruiting class, we did a phenomenal job of getting nine guys to come in in January. I'm a firm believer that you build your football team in the winter and spring and summer. The young men that we're signing, some of them are going to help us. But the bulk of our football team, 90 percent or more, is right here right now."
Success reaps success, and the Buffs' stellar 2016 season is expected to pay dividends on Wednesday. The Buffs have a solid chance of cracking the top 30 in the team rankings compiled by scouting services Rivals.com and Scout.com, by far the best marks of MacIntyre's tenure. By comparison, last year's celebrated class was ranked No. 65 by Scout.com, two spots behind Colorado State.
For a program that has weathered a precipitous level of adversity since the climax of its "Rise" just two months ago, Wednesday's expected haul is a monumental victory. MacIntyre likened his squad's two late losses as part of the process of a young team still learning to compete on the national stage.
If all continues to go according to that plan, this year's recruiting class will help MacIntyre and the Buffs eventually make that next step.