Rooney: Work that forged CU Buffs’ 3-0 start far more encouraging than same start in 2017

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado linebackers Rick Gamboa and Jacob Callier celebrate a sack on Saturday against New Hampshire.

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado mascot Chip leads the team onto the field on Saturday.



After struggling on the ground amid a throng of concerned onlookers, a wounded Buffalo carefully was lifted into a cart and driven out of Folsom Field.

Along the way Chip the mascot waved to the crowd and dangled both legs, seemingly showing the CU faithful their favorite silent, costumed-garbed bovine had at least three functioning limbs and was going to be OK. And with that injury scare in the second quarter the drama pretty much was over during a stress-free home opener on Saturday for the Colorado Buffaloes, who raced past an overmatched New Hampshire squad for a 45-14 victory.

For the second season in a row the Buffs have compiled a 3-0 mark in nonconference play. Unlike 2017, however, Saturday’s domination of New Hampshire continued a crisp and generally well-executed start for the Buffs. Last year much of that 3-0 start was accompanied by alarm bells. This time around, the Buffs appear poised to make some noise in the Pac-12 Conference South Division.

Deep analysis isn’t necessary when comparing the two consecutive 3-0 starts. The differences have been clear to the naked eye.

“I would definitely say we have more momentum (this year) just based on the way everyone is handling everything and how we’re focused each Saturday,” senior linebacker Rick Gamboa said. “Nobody has been looking over anybody we’ve played. Nobody has been looking at what we’ve done in the past game. Everybody has that right mindset of just moving on when the game’s over. Enjoy the win, but once Sunday comes it’s time to move on and get ready for the next week.”

In 2017 the Buffs edged Colorado State 17-3 in a yawner of a Rocky Mountain Showdown that featured zero points after halftime. Two weeks ago CU throttled the Rams 45-13.

Obviously winning at Nebraska is a considerable upgrade over Texas State, which visited Folsom Field last year and trailed just 14-0 at halftime — a lead CU built in part due to a fortuitous bounce on a fumbled punt return that resulted in a 55-yard score by Laviska Shenault.

And while New Hampshire never made the Buffs nervous Saturday last year’s FCS-level opponent, Northern Colorado, trailed just 28-21 at Folsom midway through the third quarter before the Buffs scored the game’s final 13 points.

In some ways, the Buffs were lucky to be 3-0 in 2017. This year the Buffs seized their 3-0 start with authority.

This is not to say coach Mike MacIntyre and his staff don’t have a few matters to address before UCLA hits Folsom Field on Sept. 28. Four penalties for 40 yards against New Hampshire in the opening half isn’t something the Buffs can afford against Pac-12 foes. Ronnie Blackmon’s insistence on fielding punts he shouldn’t be within 20 yards of eventually is going to bite CU if it continues. Sam Noyer didn’t exactly instill confidence in CU’s backup quarterback situation, and it’s probably worth noting the Buffs didn’t start taking control until they asserted their physical advantage in the run game after calling passes on 13 of their first 14 official plays.

Still, those issues involve work better described as fine-tuning for this year’s 3-0 club compared to the massive question marks surrounding last year’s 3-0 start. As noted earlier this week in this corner, the Buffs have been as impressive as anyone in what has been an underwhelming start across the division. Though the USC-Texas result was still pending at press time while the rest of the South had late kickoffs Saturday night, the Buffs did nothing to change their stance within what should be a dogged fight for the division crown.

It has been as solid a start as any Buffs fan could have scripted. But the real fun? That begins in two weeks on a Friday night at Folsom against UCLA.

Pat Rooney: or