Buffs football review: Bad offseason set tone for losing year

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre and the Buffs fell back to last place after winning the Pac-12 South last season.

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay finished with 1,474 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground this season.

  • Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer

    Colorado safety Evan Worthington was third on the team with 86 tackles, including five for loss.



End-of-season awards

Team MVP: RB Phillip Lindsay, Sr.

This is an easy one. Lindsay was the heart and soul of this year’s team, and its most consistent performer. He finished with 1,474 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground and caught 23 passes for 257 yards and another score. One of the best running backs to ever play at CU, he’s also one of the top leaders to come through Boulder.

Offensive MVP: QB Steven Montez, So.

Clearly, Lindsay was the best player on offense, but to spread the wealth, we’ll go with Montez. He had his obvious struggles and even got benched in one game, but Montez had a solid first full season as the starter. He played well enough in three of the Buffs’ losses (UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State) to give the Buffs a chance to win, but they were plagued by dropped passes in two of those and poor defense in the other.

Defensive MVP: S Evan Worthington, Jr.

Returning from a one-year suspension, Worthington was exceptional for the Buffs throughout the season. He was the most consistent player on defense and one of the most versatile. Playing safety and Buff back, he was third on the team with 86 tackles, including five for loss. He also had eight third-down stops, seven pass breakups and a team-high three interceptions.

Newcomer of the year: K James Stefanou, Fr.

Several new players stepped up this year, but Stefanou gets the nod for solidifying the kicking game, which had been rough the previous two years. Overall, he made 17-of-22 field goals, including a long of 53. He was also 35-for-35 on extra points. Three of his five missed field goals came in the last two games, but two of those were blocked.

Even after winning 10 games and claiming the Pac-12 South title in 2016, the Colorado football team had to spend the offseason listening to doubters.

“Everybody thinks we’re a one-hit wonder,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said during Pac-12 media days in July, “and we hope we’re not. I don’t believe we are, so we just need to prove it by putting some back-to-back good seasons together.”

As it turned out, the Buffs were a one-hit wonder.

They crafted a remarkable worst-to-first story a year ago, ending 10 consecutive losing seasons with the greatest single-season turnaround in Pac-12 history.

This year, the Buffs (5-7, 2-7 Pac-12) went right back to the bottom, finishing last in the Pac-12 South for the fourth time in MacIntyre’s five seasons and for the sixth time in seven years since joining the conference.

CU’s disappointing season went well beyond the 12 games on the schedule.

The past 12 months have been rough on the Buffs, beginning with a 41-10 loss to Washington in the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 2 of last year. Since then, the Buffs have not only dealt with on-the-field struggles, but off-the-field issues.

Domestic violence accusations against former assistant coach Joe Tumpkin were brought to MacIntyre’s attention on Dec. 9, 2016. The Buffs’ mishandling of that situation resulted in a months-long investigation into MacIntyre, athletic director Rick George and chancellor Phil DiStefano.

It was an investigation that cost the athletic department roughly $1 million, and all three men spent time being interviewed by lawyers. They were all given light punishments, including MacIntyre being ordered to donate $100,000 to organizations addressing domestic violence.

MacIntyre’s lucrative contract extension was put on hold for about four months because of that investigation.

The Tumpkin situation is still not fully resolved, as he still faces a criminal trial. Meanwhile, in September, MacIntyre and other CU officials were sued by Tumpkin’s accuser, who alleges CU covered up the allegations. That case is still ongoing.

If any of that has weighed on MacIntyre this season, he hasn’t admitted it publicly. Asked recently about the past year, MacIntyre said, “You just take it day by day, wake up and thank God you’re alive and you have an opportunity to try to affect people and affect a situation. Then, you move on from there.

“Life is a roller coaster and you need to stay steady. My faith and my belief in Jesus Christ as my lord and savior and my family are my rock.”

Perhaps only MacIntyre will ever know if the Tumpkin situation was a distraction for him or played any kind of role in CU’s struggles this season, but that wasn’t the only off-the-field issue the Buffs dealt with this year.

Over the summer, three players expected to be key parts of the defense — linebacker N.J. Falo, cornerback Anthony Julmisse and defensive tackle Frank Umu — were dismissed from the team for various violations.

Then, two of CU’s senior captains, tight end/defensive end George Frazier and tackle Jeromy Irwin, were suspended for the first two games for violating team rules.

A negative tone was set before the Buffs played a single game this year. Once the games began, they never looked as sharp as the squad that won 10 games a year ago. Instead, they often looked more like the CU team that went 4-9 in 2015.

Maybe the Buffs bounce back next year and prove that they have the pieces in place to be a winner. But, for now, they look like the one-hit wonder that MacIntyre didn’t want them to become.

With the 2017 season now in the books, here are some end of season grades from BuffZone.


The Buffs believed they would have one of the most explosive offenses in the country. Sophomore quarterback Steven Montez was the trigger man in his first full season as the starter, and the Buffs felt his exceptional talent would combine with dynamic receivers, an experienced offensive line and tough-as-nails running back Phillip Lindsay to put up a ton of points. Montez had some great moments mixed with growing pains, and Lindsay was exceptional, but the receivers and line never lived up to their hype. Ultimately, the Buffs finished 11th in the Pac-12 and 78th nationally in scoring. Grade: D


This side of the ball was expected to take a step back from last year. After all, 10 key players and three of four assistant coaches from the 2016 squad were gone. Led by new coordinator D.J. Eliot, the Buffs got off to a sensational start, allowing just two field goals in the first two games combined. Throughout much of the Pac-12 schedule, however, Eliot’s defense was routinely torched by running backs — and running quarterbacks. CU’s inability to stop the run was a major black mark on this season. Giving up 28.2 points per game was 6.5 more than a year ago. It wasn’t the complete mess CU had on defense from 2011-14, but it wasn’t a banner year for that side of the ball. Grade: C

Special teams

This is the one area of the team that actually got better from last year. True freshman kicker James Stefanou was consistently accurate on field goals, junior punter Alex Kinney had his best season with the Buffs, and sophomore Davis Price excelled in his role as the kickoff specialist. The Buffs did, however, have four kicks blocked (two punts, two field goals), and aside from blocking a punt against USC, didn’t have many impactful plays. Overall, though, it was an improvement. Grade: B-minus


There were plenty of times when poor execution by the players hurt the Buffs, and a fair amount of the blame for this season goes on them. Yet, it all starts at the top. MacIntyre was unable to find the right formula to win with this team, which too often looked undisciplined or unprepared. Grade: D

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at or