Following a Pac-12 South division title in 2016 that put an end to 10 consecutive years of losing football, Colorado got a wake-up call in 2017.

Sluggish from the start of the season, the Buffaloes slipped to 5-7 last year, once again placing last in the South and failing to reach a bowl game.

It wasn't fun, but it may have been the kick in the pants the 2018 Buffaloes needed.

"One-hundred percent," quarterback Steven Montez said. "I think we needed that and I think we got that last year. Hopefully it pays for us and we have a good season."

This offseason, several players have expressed that a year ago, the Buffs lost sight of what it took to be a winning football team.

Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault celebrates his long catch on Oct. 28 against Cal at Folsom Field.
Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault celebrates his long catch on Oct. 28 against Cal at Folsom Field. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

"I think complacency was more the problem ," Montez said. "We needed to focus a little bit more and not just think that everyone is going to lay down for us and give us the win we walk into a place. Winning is tough. You have to go in and earn every game you can."

Whether or not the Buffs have talent to win will be determined once the games begin, but at the very least, CU goes into this season with renewed emphasis on the work that's required to win.

"I think guys are hungry; guys want to win games," Montez said. "That's what you need here. Especially after the year we had last year, I think it's good that we're hungry and it's good that we want to work and it's good that we need to earn these games back."


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The issues that plagued CU in 2017 went beyond complacency, however. Starting in January, 2017 was filled with off-the-field troubles.

It began six days into 2017, when it became public that then-assistant coach Joe Tumpkin had been accused of domestic violence against his ex-girlfriend. Tumpkin was later suspended and then fired.

Throughout the spring and into the early part of summer, an outside firm investigated head coach Mike MacIntyre, athletic director Rick George and chancellor Phil DiStefano, looking into how they handled the allegations against Tumpkin. In June of 2017, all three were given light punishments for their mishandling of the situation.

Meanwhile, the Buffs had three players — all of which would have been either starters or major contributors on defense — dismissed from the team for violating team rules. Then, two senior captains were suspended for the first two games of the season for breaking team rules.

It all accumulated into a dark cloud that hung over the 2017 Buffaloes.

Colorado quarterback Steven Montez celebrates a touchdown against USC on Nov. 11.
Colorado quarterback Steven Montez celebrates a touchdown against USC on Nov. 11. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

"Distractions are always hard to deal with at times," MacIntyre said this past week, "but sometimes distractions bring you closer, too. It just depends on how the leadership and the team handles it."

Last year, the distractions didn't bring the Buffs closer together, but since the calendar flipped to 2018, CU has put a premium on building camaraderie.

"I definitely believe these guys (on this year's team) have the right mind set and kind of understand and saw things they would do differently or bond together and not split apart — things I don't even know about that happen in the locker room or happen away from here," MacIntyre said. "The maturity of a team and the leaders make a big difference."

It's been a quiet offseason for the Buffs off the field, as they've simply gone about their work — not only to improve individually, but to grow as a group.

"We're trying to be closer as a team, trusting each other more, believing each other more and making sure we're fighting to the end," said senior receiver Kabion Ento, who was voted a team captain. "We break up (practice) on "family" every day to let each other know that we're all brothers, that we're all going to be here no matter what. That's what family is; they're there for you no matter what. We just want to be close. We all know that correlates to on-the-field stuff."

MacIntyre and Ento both said the true test of team camaraderie will come during the season, because right now, nobody really knows how players will react when adversity hits.

"We're all just trying to make sure when it does happen, we all stick together," Ento said.

MacIntyre believes the Buffs are in a better place mentally than they were a year ago, and he's eager to see how it translates to the field.

"That's the hard thing for a coach sometimes," he said. "You're just not always sure on that, but I definitely believe we've showed all the signs of going in the right direction in that area."

Nationally, there are certainly skeptics about the Buffs, who are projected by most pundits to post another losing season, with only four or five wins when the dust is settled.

If 2017 was truly a wake-up call, however, the Buffaloes just might get back on the winning track.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.