Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
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The best thing going for the reeling Colorado football team right now is the general mediocrity in the Pac-12 South. The worst? That depends what day it is. Or what game or even quarter it is.
With a promising season on the brink and questions about Mike MacIntyre’s ability to take the Buffaloes to the next level gathering more momentum, Colorado heads to the Tucson desert with an unenviable task. All the Buffs have to do to start resurrecting their season is to defeat an Arizona Wildcats program they have topped only twice in seven tries since joining the Pac-12 Conference.
Last weekend’s epic meltdown at home against last-place Oregon State shed fresh light on a season that began 5-0 and stirred talk of a second run to the Pac-12 title game in three seasons. Pac-12 title game? It’s not impossible, mathematically, but that goal has been relegated to the backburner. Bowl eligibility? It’s right there for the taking, but these Buffs haven’t shown they can get over that rather modest hurdle.
The final four games of the 2018 regular season finds a Colorado program at a crossroads. If the Buffaloes can get back to the way they played through the team’s 5-0 start, and maybe even add a bowl win to the mix, and a seven or eight win season with a wealth of rotation returnees set to be back in 2019 should leave the Buffs and their fans enthusiastic for more.
This isn’t a program trending in that direction, however. And salvaging the season after the worst loss of MacIntyre’s tenure leaves CU’s leader facing the most challenging month of Buffs career.
Getting that sixth win to get to a bowl game for only the second time in 11 seasons sounds easy enough. Yet in that exact situation over the past two seasons the Buffs are 0-6. All of those games were either essentially over by halftime or featured CU wasting a fourth-quarter lead.
Since the 10-win 2016 season, the Buffs have gone 1-6 in Pac-12 road games, with the one win a narrow one last year against the same lowly Oregon State squad that dominated the second half last weekend at Folsom Field. Given the toughest of CU’s remaining opponents are at home — Washington State and Utah — bowl eligibility might have to be earned on the road. Since joining the league the Buffs are 1-3 against those two road foes (Arizona and Cal) away from Boulder.
Moreover, earlier this fall MacIntyre, when asked his thoughts on what went wrong down the stretch in 2017, cited a loss at Arizona State as a tipping point of an 0-3 finish that kept the Buffs out of a second consecutive bowl game. Asked specifically earlier this week what lessons he might have learned from that late slide a year ago as the Buffs try to reverse that trend this November, MacIntyre put the onus on his players, encapsulating the work he believes needs to be done over the final four games by saying, “hopefully they have a close enough brotherhood that they’ll stick together and that will make a big difference.”
If MacIntyre couldn’t press the right buttons to reverse that slide a year ago, what confidence is there he can do it this year with bigger stakes — a winning season, a bowl berth, even staying alive in the South Division race — on the table? Coaches preach improving every week throughout the season. Division foes Utah, Arizona, Arizona State and, to a lesser extent, UCLA can say they have achieved at least gradual improvement. One team not on that list, USC, is so alarmed by its struggles head coach Clay Helton shook up his coaching staff this week.
So far, the Buffs have neither improved, nor shook things up.
On the other hand, if the middling Pac-12 can be described aptly this season, the word is unpredictable. Oregon State’s rally at Folsom was the biggest surprise of the league last week, yet hardly the only one. Raise your hand if you had Cal holding Washington to 10 points in a win, or predicted Arizona throttling Oregon. The idea the Buffs can run the table might feel laughable after last week, but it’s hardly is out of the question.
The evidence simply suggests otherwise.