By Larry Zimmer
“You build a program over time, and that’s how we are going to win here. We didn’t break it, but we’re here to fix it.” Those are the words of Colorado’s head football coach, Mike MacIntyre, as he heads into his second season with the Buffs.
A year ago in this space I wrote, “Buff Nation is splintered and disillusioned and there is a disconnect between the team, former players, alumni, faculty and the Boulder community. The Athletic Department is operating in the red, and fundraising for needed additions and improvements in facilities is lagging far behind. The men charged with fixing all of this are Rick George and Mike MacIntyre.”
Have they fixed it? Not entirely, but they’ve made impressive progress. George designed an awesome business plan for the athletic department, which he heads. The plan so impressed the Board of Regents that George got the green light for improvements at Folsom Field, expansion of Dal Ward Center, and construction of a football and indoor practice facility to the tune of $156 million. George and MacIntyre understood that healing was necessary, and both have been active with former players, alumni, faculty and the community to instill confidence in the direction of Colorado athletics. An immediate goal was to raise $47 million to be applied toward the construction project. George says that number will be exceeded by the start of the football season. He has recruited new donors, and while he hasn’t identified anyone, he says there was one large contribution from an individual donor.
“That’s just the start,” he says. “We will set records for fundraising this year.” As for the red ink, the athletic department budgeted for a $5.6-million deficit in the fiscal year that ended June 30. With good management and other factors, that number has already gone down to “less than $4 million.”
George says of his head coach, “In my opinion Mike MacIntyre had a very good first year, going from one win to four wins, and with the way he conducts his business and the way he works, it’s just terrific.”
Where does MacIntyre stand on the question of year one? “I think we truly improved,” he says. “One of the things you’re always uncertain of is, would the players buy in to what you’re asking them to do? Would they trust you? Would they commit themselves? Well, they did that. That’s the very first step. We have a long way to go, but we have started. We’ve gone from the valley to the foothills. We’re headed in the right direction, and we have to keep working and keep climbing.”
Hold Onto the Ball
On the field, the statistics on both sides of the ball are still unacceptable, but the Buffs did show some progress last year. They increased their total offense by 66 yards per game, and while their total defense is one of the higher numbers in the country, it was 20 fewer yards per game than in 2012. They allowed eight fewer points per game in 2013 and showed progress in other areas, such as sacks. In 2012, opponents dropped the quarterback 52 times, versus 20 times last year.
The coaches stressed securing the football and the Buffs had the fewest number of fumbles in school history—14, losing nine. They had the least amount of penalties in the last three decades. These two areas were priorities, and the vast improvement proves that hard work does produce results. MacIntyre says, “If you cannot hold onto the football, you basically have no chance of winning. If you’re killing yourself with penalties, you stop drives and you keep opponents’ drives alive.”
It’s an accepted truism in college football: “Great players make great coaches.”
MacIntyre belives that, and thus has built an impressive recruiting program. “We do a good job evaluating,” he says. “We watch tons and tons of video. We talk to the principal, counselors, even the janitors. If there are any red flags, we walk away. We want the right type of young men in our locker room.”
MacIntyre doesn’t put a lot of stock in the star-rating system of the recruiting services. “When I watch film on players,” he says, “I don’t have a clue what star they have. I don’t even look at that. We just try to find players anywhere we can find them.”
MacIntyre’s staff really couldn’t get serious about recruiting until January 2013. While MacIntyre was in Boulder, the assistants were taking care of business at San Jose State’s bowl game. Still, the recruiting class was good enough that six players made considerable contributions last season as true freshmen. Sefo Liufau took over at quarterback in game five, starting every subsequent game. Linebacker Addison Gillam was a starter from day one and led the team in tackles with 119. Michael Adkins played in nine games at running back and was the second leading rusher, gaining 535 yards and scoring seven touchdowns. Chidobe Awuzie played in all 12 games at nickelback, and wide receiver Devin Ross and safety Tedric Thompson made significant contributions. Evaluation of the 2014 class will have to wait until they take the field.
MacIntyre vowed to recruit heavily in Colorado. He indicated that either he or an assistant coach would visit every high school in the state. It’s paying off. The 2014 class includes five players named to the Denver Post All-Colorado team—offensive linemen Isaiah Holland of Valor Christian and Isaac Miller of Silver Creek; defensive lineman Terran Hasselbach of Regis Jesuit; defensive back Evan White of Cherokee Trail; and wide receiver/defensive back Jay MacIntyre of Monarch. Yes, he’s the coach’s son, but he will not play quarterback.
MacIntyre is not satisfied. “It hasn’t gone as well as I would like. When these kids were growing up, CU hasn’t been very good, but some of them are seeing the changes.”
First Things First
Going into the season, here are the priorities and solutions as I see them:
»Replace All-Pac-12 wide receiver Paul Richardson, who passed on his senior season and was drafted high in the second round of the NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. The speedy Richardson holds 29 Colorado receiving records and last year was the eighth-best receiver in the country, with 83 catches for 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns. He had three games in which he caught passes for more than 200 yards.
The answer: There’s no one player who can match Richardson’s speed and talent. It will have to be done by committee. Reliable junior Nelson Spruce (55 catches/650 yards/4 touchdowns) returns along with speedsters D.D. Goodson (22 catches/306 yards/2 touchdowns) and Devon Ross (6 catches/24 yards/no touchdowns). Redshirt freshman Bryce Bobo, a rangy, big receiver, was easily the standout in the Spring Game. Two other newcomers will be in the mix. Lee Walker has been with the team since January. He originally signed with Arizona, but never played there. Shay Fields is an outstanding recruit from Bellflower, Calif. He was in the top 50 high school receivers in the nation.
» Improve in the red zone on both sides of the football. MacIntyre says, “We need to make the other team kick more field goals and score fewer touchdowns.” Last season opponents scored 43 touchdowns in 64 red-zone trips. No other team in the Pac-12 allowed more than 30.
The answer: Hard work. The staff has been motivated to make it better. It is a priority.
» Improve the defense overall.
The answer: Defensive coordinator Kent Baer is certain his unit will be better, and says, “We’re miles ahead of last year.” Joining secondary veterans Greg Henderson, Kenneth Crawley, Chidobe Awuzie, Jared Bell, Terrel Smith, Marques Mosley and Yuri Wright is Ahkello Witherspoon, a transfer from Sacramento City Community College. He was one of the outstanding players in the Spring Game and will challenge for a starting corner spot. The linebacker corps is deep, anchored by Gillam. Brady Daigh, Woodson Greer III, Kenneth Olugbode, Ryan Severson and Deaysean Rippy will share playing time. The defensive line must improve its pass rush and is a work in progress. Josh Tupou, Justin Solis, Juda Parker, Tyler Henington, De’Jon Wilson, Clay Norgard and Derek McCartney will all play.
» More consistent offense.
The answer: The key is Liufau. Even though he started the last seven games in 2013, in the spring he was pushed by junior college transfer Jordan Gehrke, who redshirted last year. Offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren says, “Sefo is the starter, but I’m not worried about putting Jordan in if something happens to him.” Lindgren is encouraged by Liufau’s progress. “He has matured. I like his decision-making. He’s seeing the field better.” Last year’s leading rusher, Christian Powell (579 yards/3 touchdowns), leads the battery of running backs. Seniors Tony Jones and Malcolm Creer, sophomore Michael Adkins and redshirt freshman Phillip Lindsay provide coach Klayton Adams with a lot of choices. The offensive line returns the starting right side in guard Daniel Munyer and tackle Stephane Nembot. Sophomore Alex Kelley emerged as the starting center after spring drills. Senior Kaiwi Crabb and juniors Marc Mustoe and Brad Cotner have experience, and newcomers Sam Kronshage, Jonathan Huckins, John Lisella and Gerrad Kough will compete for playing time.
» More consistent kickoffs.
The answer: While senior Will Oliver didn’t miss an extra point last year and kicked 17 of 24 field goals, his kickoffs were inconsistent. The Buffs might have found a solution to that in Diego Gonzalez, a redshirt from Guadalupe, Mexico, who can boom the ball. Coaches describe his leg as a “cannon.” The punting game is solid, with Darragh O’Neill, who averaged 40.5 yards per punt (22 dead inside the 20-yard line) last season, back for his senior year.
The Bottom Line
Without reservation, I can say this Buffalo football team will be improved. The one thing that doesn’t change is the competition. The Pac-12 is generally considered the second best conference in the country, behind only the Southeastern Conference. Oregon and UCLA are among the nation’s elite. Southern California, Washington and Arizona State are on the doorstep. Oregon State and Arizona are rising. All are on the Buff schedule.
The number of wins could hinge on how CU fares against other building teams—California and Utah—and the non-conference opponents—Colorado State, Massachusetts and Hawaii.
For the 49th consecutive year, Larry Zimmer will be behind the microphone broadcasting college football. This is his 41st year as “Voice of the Buffs.” Zimmer also has been play announcer for the Michigan Wolverines and Colorado State Rams, and broadcast Denver Broncos football for 26 years. Zimmer, who won the Chris Schenkel Award in 2009, has been inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, the CU Athletic Hall of Fame, the Broadcast Professionals of Colorado Hall of Fame and the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.