When Hall-of-Fame Coach Bill McCartney proclaimed that “the pride and tradition of the Colorado Buffaloes will not be entrusted to the timid or the weak,” he probably did not realize at the time that his statement would become an enduring battle cry capturing the very spirit of the University's athletic programs.
Since McCartney first pronounced this timeless creed, the Colorado spirit has revealed itself on numerous occasions over the years.
That spirit was seen in a 62-36 gridiron thrashing of second-ranked Nebraska in 2001. That spirit launched a 64-yard game-winning touchdown pass from Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook in Ann Arbor. The spirit was captured by cancer-stricken quarterback Sal Auense vomiting blood between snaps and courageously refusing to walk off the practice field.
That spirit is exactly what coach Mike MacIntyre is steadily reigniting.
The one-time Big-12 football juggernaut has yet to have a meaningful year in its new home, the PAC-12 Conference. The transition has been plagued by heavy coaching and personnel changes that have stunted the Buffs' growth.
However, in 2013, Buffs fans saw something they had not seen in over seven years -- progress. That progress has been both measurable and visible, but is best viewed by looking at the intangibles -- the Colorado spirit -- rather than the statistics and analytics.
Here are four key areas of noticeable recent improvement in the Buffaloes football program:
Gritty and Disciplined Football
Under MacIntyre, the Buffs never quit, as the team displayed effort and relentlessly competed each and every week. No matter the opponent, the Buffs came out with a game plan and fought hard until the clock read triple zeros. Perhaps the most impressive change from the prior coaching regime was that the team consistently fought and clawed its way back into games when facing early deficits.
In addition, the team's overall execution was better, as Colorado cleaned up the senseless penalties and miscommunications. The result was a more organized and improved Buffs defense.
To continue this growth on both sides of the ball, MacIntyre has targeted one overlooked area where the team could see large benefits: Third down.
“Specifically on the football field we need to be able to play better on third downs, both sides of the ball,” said MacIntyre. “But you have to improve three or four percent from where you were last year. Get two more first downs than you did the year before. All of a sudden you're in drive, going into the red zone, getting into the end zone one more time a game, two more times a game type of thing instead of kicking a field goal. That is a big, drastic change. It changes momentum.”
Taking Care of Business
Since taking over the program, Coach Mac is 3-0 in non-conference play and 1-0 when the Buffs are favored in conference play. Such numbers demonstrate that Coach Mac has a track record for taking advantage of opportunities, as he thrives when his team has a chance to exploit small or large-scale personnel mismatches.
In the upcoming 2014 season, he will get a chance to continue this trend against vulnerable Colorado State, UMass, Hawaii, and California.
In order to ensure the Buffs maintain their focus, Coach Mac has implemented a new slogan this year for the team to adopt: Uncommon.
“We don't want them to do the common things,” said MacIntyre. “We want them to do the uncommon things. For example, it's common to skip a class or skip a workout or take the easy way out on different situations. We want them to be uncommon in everything they do, every single thing they do. I'm seeing that throughout our team. Want them to be uncommon men.”
Polishing Off a Gem
“We’re coming for you,” declared true sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau to his PAC-12 opposition as he walked off Folsom Field after the 2014 Spring game.
Sefo started his career as a Buff essentially mid-season at Arizona State when Coach Mac peeled off his redshirt and had him replace the embattled Connor Wood.
In his first series as the CU signal caller, Sefo showed incredible poise, leading the team down the field for a touchdown. The 6’4" quarterback went on to endure his fair share of true-freshman growing pains, however, when the dust settled, one thing was clear – Sefo is the right man for the job.
MacIntyre has praised Sefo’s toughness and acknowledged that standing up to Anthony Barr in last season’s UCLA game was a defining moment for the young quarterback. At the moment Coach Mac thought to himself, “Wow, those men really respect him,” after observing the team rush to protect their young signal-caller following a late-hit by Barr.
Sefo and his teammates come in with increased confidence in his abilities after his blow-out performance at the highly competitive Manning Passing academy. Given that performance, Buff fans can expect him to strongly assert command of his huddle.
“I think when you get out there and get right beside a guy that's starting at other schools and you're throwing beside him, you go ‘Oh, I can make the same throw he can,’” said MacIntyre of Sefo’s increased confidence from completing the Manning Academy. “I think that kind of makes you think, yeah, I am getting better.”
Coach MacIntyre has indicated the team is expanding Sefo’s playbook to include “pre-snap” reads, suggesting Coach MacIntyre is fully turning over the keys to the offense.
“I think that Sefo, some of the things we're doing with him a little bit different are going to take care of more of his strengths,” said MacIntyre. “So I think we'll be able to hopefully move the ball more consistently and score more touchdowns instead of kicking as many field goals as we did.”
Sefo has used the offseason to add muscle to his frame and to master the Colorado playbook. This dedication to body and mind will undoubtedly yield a healthy dividend over the 12 game season. Colorado has not had the luxury of returning a non-controversial starting Quarterback since Joel Klatt in 2005. In a conference where so much of a team’s success rides on the quarterback, CU football will be much improved.
A Blueprint for Success
Coach Mac is the son of legendary Vanderbilt Head Coach, George MacIntyre. One could say he was literally bred to be a football guru with an excellent command of X’s and O’s.
More importantly, Coach MacIntyre and his staff are a group of proven turn-around professionals. It seems that the more time they have with this team, the more they organize and elevate this football program. A full offseason, a full recruiting cycle, and a full year implementing the MacIntyre diet will translate to on-the-field success in 2014.
“I've worked the plan before, so I have faith in the plan and what we're doing,” said MacIntyre of his program. “I was able to bring a lot of our staff with us. Not only on the field, but a lot of our auxiliary staff, and strength coach, and academic coordinator and offset that type of thing . . . So I feel good about the way everything's headed. It's just a process. I see us improving and getting bigger, and stronger and making big gains.”
Colorado Buffaloes 2014 Outlook
Buff Nation has caught a wave of good news in recent weeks. The NCAA deemed OL Shane Callahan, a former high school All-American and transfer from the Auburn Tigers, eligible to play this fall. This came unexpected as many CU fans still harbor a healthy distrust for the NCAA after the controversial disqualification of U.S. skiing gold medalist and former CU football player, Jeremy Bloom. Further, rising-star wide receiver Bryce Bobo appears to be on track to be academically eligible for Fall.
Coach MacIntyre has been slowly and methodically assembling an underground army on the practice fields of the University of Colorado, and this upcoming season sets up a perfect opportunity to showcase his Buffaloes’ marked improvement.
Indeed, 2014 will unveil the first meaningful PAC-12 season for the Colorado Buffaloes. Based on the favorable opponents early in the season, and a favorable road matchup against the California Golden Bears, the Buffs can easily start the season 4-1, or even 5-0. Look for CU to restore the home field advantage at Folsom Field early in the season and force enough wins for a bowl berth.
“I see the work ethic, the attitude,” said MacIntyre, hinting at the big things to come this year. “I see the responsibility and accountability. So to me that shows me we're heading in the right direction. Now they've got to do it in the heat of the moment.”
Ultimately, CU fans can expect two things this holiday season: 1) a new piece of hardware at the Dal Ward Athletic Center formally recognizing Mike MacIntyre as the conference’s Coach of the Year, and 2) the return of their long-lost and very beloved football team.
By Sherwin Sadr
Contributing Writer for TheDailySportsHerald.com