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Rooney: Futile CU Buffs’ offense stoking fan apathy

Quick exodus during Minnesota loss could turn into Folsom theme

BOULDER, CO - Sept. 18, 2021: ...
University of Colorado Boulder’s Brendon Lewis fumbles as Minnesota’s Marian Sori-Marin gets the ball during the Colorado Minnesota NCAA football game on September 18, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

By the modern standards of college football, the game hardly was out of reach.

Yet Colorado fans own Master’s degrees in Bad Football Recognition, and even with ample time remaining on the clock during a miserable shutout loss at home last week, Buffaloes fans decided enough was enough.

When a 3-yard run from Minnesota’s Trey Potts pushed the Gophers’ lead to 20-0 with 23 seconds remaining in the third quarter, the exodus began. It emptied the student section first — surely the college crowd had better things to do in the middle of a beautiful Saturday afternoon — but before long the only seats still occupied at Folsom Field were those of Minnesota fans celebrating a surprisingly easy victory.

Certainly a 20-point deficit is a backs-against-the-wall situation, but one hardly insurmountable for competent offenses. Those fans, though, saw what everyone else did. The Buffs don’t have a competent offense. Not even close. And unless things change soon, the apathy that swept through Folsom Field last week could become the prevailing theme of CU’s 2021 season.

The Buffs will have an opportunity to prove last week’s offensive malaise was an aberration on Saturday when they visit Arizona State. If they don’t reverse course, and CU looks as futile in the pursuit of points as a week ago, Buffs fans may reach a breaking point.

It hardly was a scientific study, but the fed-up rhetoric emanating from Buff Nation seemed more fatalistic than normal this past week, even after a bad loss. My BuffZone colleague, Brian Howell, echoed that thought in our latest podcast. Many die-hards appear ready to spend their time and energy every Saturday doing something more productive than watching the Buffs’ unproductive offense.

Who can blame them, but why now? Buffs fans have followed their team through thicker fogs than this. Excluding the asterisk season of 2020, CU has posted just one winning season since 2005. There have been more coaching changes in that span (five) than bowl appearances (three, one of which was the asterisk season). No one enjoys backing a losing football team, but this season’s 1-2 start hardly is straying from the routine.

Perhaps it’s simply the fatigue of constantly dashed hopes, but the fallout from last Saturday’s disaster had an ominous tint. After such a promising start to the Dorrell era — asterisk season or not, going 4-2 during last year’s COVID season surpassed all expectations — the performance against Minnesota reeked of a bloom falling quickly off the black-and-gold rose. With a defense talented and dependable enough to keep the Buffs in most games, even a below-par offense would be enough to stir hope. But the Buffs team that flailed and failed against Minnesota had the look of a program years away from being a serious contender in a less-than formidable Pac-12.

No doubt, the Buffs were struck with some bad luck. The late transfer of quarterback Sam Noyer to Oregon State left a void on CU’s depth chart that was difficult to fill over the summer —  any quarterback still in the transfer portal at the beginning of June would see a Buffs team with Noyer, Tennessee transfer JT Shrout, and freshman Brendon Lewis, whose last impression from the 2020 season was an encouraging one with his performance in the Alamo Bowl. But Noyer’s departure, followed by Shrout’s preseason knee injury, has left the Buffs with the inexperienced Lewis. And Lewis’ no-pressure relief performance in the Alamo Bowl has not at all transferred to the starting role.

Maybe there is a welcome distraction around the corner. Next week, head coach Tad Boyle opens preseason practice for his 12th season at the helm of the men’s basketball program. The CU women’s team enters 2021-22 with higher expectations than during any of the previous five seasons under coach JR Payne.

I’ve seen our own BuffZone analytics enough to know that even in the most woeful of seasons, it’s the football passion that runs the strongest amongst Buffs Nation. Repeat the offensive futility of a week ago, however, and Buffs fans can’t be blamed if they tune out and don’t bother filling Folsom the rest of the way.