Mike MacIntyre officially is on the clock.
Year Four of the MacIntyre regime is set to kick off Friday against state rival Colorado State, and the enthusiasm and expectations for the Buffs have never been higher during his tenure.
Whenever August turns to September football fans of any team always indulge in glorious visions of what could be, and fans of the Buffaloes have every reason to be encouraged about possibly witnessing the first .500 or better regular season since 2007…even if it’s best described as guarded optimism.
Yet that remains optimism nonetheless. The addition of Darrin Chiaverini as co-offensive coordinator led to an enthusiastic offseason recruiting boon.
Defensively, the Buffs made dramatic strides last year under then-new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, and with several early 2015 stalwarts back from injury the defense is understandably confident of making further strides in 2016.
The Buffs boast a seasoned, record-setting quarterback in senior Sefo Liufau. And that experience permeates the entire roster, a fact the Buffs brass has been quick to point out through the preseason.
Year Four of the MacIntyre regime means all the pieces are in place. The coach’s recruits will shoulder the burden of performance and leadership, the schemes now firmly mastered on both sides of the ball. So how do the Buffs turn that experience and enthusiasm into a six-win season and the first bowl berth since the 2007, which would all but cement a fifth season in charge for MacIntyre?
The view here is a bowl berth and MacIntyre’s job security are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but it’s close. A four or five-win season marked by a similar rash of key injuries as 2015, or perhaps combined with more than one gut-wrenching, overtime-type loss against the likes of Stanford, UCLA, Utah, or even Michigan could easily give athletic director Rick George pause in pulling the plug — particularly in light of the recruiting boost that has the CU commit class of 2017 ranked No. 29 in the nation by Scout.com.
That said, the Buffs need to turn experience into results. Which may be easier said than done for a program that has gone 2-25 in Pac-12 play under MacIntyre. Roughly half of the roster is filled by upperclassmen. Figuring prominently in the program’s preseason notes is the fact that few, if any, CU teams have entered a season with more game experience.
When the Buffs hit the Sports Authority Field turf against the Rams, they will boast a total of 1,072 games played on the roster — the most since the 2005 team brought 1,080 games of experience into the season. That experience includes a program-record 412 starts among the returnees, yet history shows that sort of starting experience hardly is a harbinger of success. The previous record was 333 returning starts by the 1979 team. The Buffs finished 3-8 that year. The next total is 327 by last year’s team, and we all know how that turned out.
To put it simply, the Buffs must find a way to close games in the conference. Additionally, anything but a 2-0 start against the Rams and FCS-level Idaho State will put CU behind the eight-ball in its quest to return to a bowl game. With the road slate in the league appearing somewhat daunting — Oregon, USC, Stanford, and Arizona — the Buffs must then sweep the home trio of Oregon State, Arizona State, and Washington State while finding a way to upset either UCLA or Utah at Folsom Field in order to reach six wins.
The prediction here is a 5-7 slate for the Buffs. Will that be enough to save MacIntyre’s job? Short of six wins and a bowl berth, the nature of those losses likely will weigh heavily on George when decision time arrives.