For the rest of us, the coming winter is certain to only grow colder and more depressing.
For Colorado football, however, November almost always is the coldest, cruelest month.
Take away the November work of the 2016 Pac-12 Conference South Division champs — the season that remains the great outlier for Buffaloes football in the Pac-12 era — and the Buffs have posted exactly one November win since 2012.
Admittedly, some of those CU teams early in the Pac-12 transition were as bad in September as they were in November. More recently, however, it has been the sign of a football program failing to improve as the seasons plow forward.
That has been the case once again in the first season of the Mel Tucker era. With three games remaining, a run that begins Saturday at home against Stanford, the Buffs have regressed, particularly on offense, from the squad that used an overtime win against Nebraska and an encouraging road performance at Arizona State to forge a 3-1 start.
That high-water mark seems like another season ago. Like last year, when the Buffs started 5-0 before unraveling in a seven-game losing streak, the quality of the early-season competition is easy to re-examine in the second week of November. Nebraska is 4-5 and has lost to Indiana and Purdue during a three-game losing streak. Once upon a long ago, this native Hoosier would have considered that sentence unfathomable.
Arizona State was 3-0 and ranked 24th going into the matchup against CU, but the loss that night started the Sun Devils on a 2-3 slide.
Turning things around in November would buck tradition for the Buffs in the Pac-12. In five of CU’s previous eight seasons in the Pac-12, the Buffs have gone winless in November (2012, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018). In 2013 the Buffs went 1-4, and they take an eight-game November losing streak into Saturday’s contest against Stanford. (The 2016 team went 4-0 in November before losing December games in the Pac-12 title game and the Alamo Bowl.)
What gives? That run of November futility has been scripted by three different head coaches. It is the trademark of a team that regresses as the season progresses, the exact opposite of what every football team at every level strives for. One of the misgivings I had about the 2019 Buffs was that on the field, particularly on offense, it was going to be the largely same group that was unable to reverse the momentum of last season’s program-altering seven-game losing streak. Exchanging Mike MacIntyre’s erratic leadership for Mel Tucker’s even-keeled intensity hasn’t changed that habit so far.
The latest swoon further illustrates the patience Buffs fans, who have had that patience stretched thin for the better part of a decade and a half, must continue to exhibit until Tucker gets a chance to get his preferred pieces in place. To his credit, that process has begun in earnest.
In the wake of last week’s listless loss at UCLA, and with second-year coaches Chip Kelly (UCLA) and Jonathan Smith (Oregon State) seemingly getting their struggling programs on better traction, I offered the idea that by November 2020, Tucker needed to give the Buffs’ faithful reason for optimism. Instead of taking a year, Tucker only needed about 48 hours to get that done by signing defensive lineman Antonio Alfano, a five-star recruit ranked as the top overall prospect in the 2019 class by 247Sports.com.
Alfano signed with Alabama but never played this fall before leaving the program. While one player does not make a football team, and the Buffs’ limited history with five-star recruits shows zero program-altering contributions, Alfano is the exact sort of splashy addition Tucker needed to reinforce the confidence of Buffs fans. Alfano’s eligibility remains in question for 2020, but he could make an impact as immediately as this weekend, as dozens of potential future CU recruits visit while wondering what might be in store for the program in the coming years.
Other than that magical outlier of 2016, Alfano’s acquisition and possible influence this weekend counts as the program’s brightest in November in CU’s Pac-12 era.