Colorado Preview 2016: Is this finally when Mike MacIntyre and the Buffs start to win again?
Are we there yet?
Colorado has been building for what seems like a generation. Actually, it’s been just the past decade that the one-time Big Eight power under Bill McCartney has been flat-lining. The Buffaloes haven’t bowled since 2007, and they last finished above .500 in 2005. As a member of the Pac-12, one of the nation’s toughest conferences, turnarounds occur slowly.
Finances aside, the Buffs would probably be better served in the Mountain West Conference, so, yeah, this is one of the hardest Power Five coaching gigs. Football will never be the priority it is at, say, USC or Oregon, which is reflected in the facilities and the caliber of recruits the program attracts.
Still, winning here is not impossible. Gary Barnett went to five bowl games over seven years. Rick Neuheisel twice won 10 in a season. And McCartney’s last six teams finished ranked.
So, fourth-year head coach Mike MacIntyre, a program builder, will need to make a run at .500 at some point after starting 2-25 in Pac-12 play in his first three seasons.
The promising news for MacIntyre is that the personnel is decidedly better than when he arrived from San Jose State in 2013. His fourth team is flush in upperclassmen and returning starters, who now know what’s needed to compete in the league. Provided a bad wheel doesn’t blow up the plan, the offense will be in the capable hands of a fourth-year starting quarterback, Sefo Liufau.
On defense, coordinator Jim Leavitt is back for a second season after piloting an impressive improvement last fall. In fact, this could be the program’s toughest D in ages, led by CB Chidobe Awuzie, LB Kenneth Olugbode and a scrappy front seven. With a full offseason of preparation, Leavitt is primed to have his kids ready to catch the rest of the league off guard in 2016.
MacIntyre needs tangible gains this season. He knows it, as do his assistants and players. And while no one is looking for a miracle run, especially if the quarterback situation experiences hiccups, the Buffaloes possess enough quality veterans to surpass last year’s four-win mark and contend for a bowl game.
If, on the other hand, Colorado regresses, it’ll be hard to justify a fifth season for the man hired to clean up predecessor Jon Embree’s mess.