Things won't get easier for Colorado

September, 12, 2012
9/12/12
7:00
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Here are two pieces of stone-cold reality for Colorado: 1. Its best chance to win a game this season probably happens Saturday at Fresno State; 2. The Buffaloes are two-touchdown underdogs.

Preseason hopes for the Buffs lay in the schedule, which seemed super-soft entering the season. Game 1 was against a Colorado State team that Colorado beat a year ago, one that was breaking in a new coach. Game 2 was against Sacramento State, an FCS team.

A 2-0 start seemed not only reasonable to project, but likely. And a 2-0 start would bring confidence to a young team. It would energize a fan base. A 2-0 start probably would have made the Buffs even money at Fresno State. After that, a trip to Washington State, UCLA coming to Boulder ...

[+] EnlargeJon Embree
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiColorado coach Jon Embree is facing an uphill battle with a young roster this season.
It wasn't difficult to be charmed with optimistic possibilities in August. It wasn't unreasonable, looking at the schedule, to think: "Hmm. Colorado could be 4-2, heck, even 5-1 when it goes to USC on Oct. 20."

Then stone-cold reality set in. It seems more likely now that the 0-2 Buffs win no games in 2012 than they match their three wins from last season. Making matters worse, while the Buffs have receded from modest preseason expectations, the rest of the Pac-12 has advanced. Perhaps significantly. In particular, the South Division no longer appears to have any easy outs. Other than the Buffs.

We should have seen this coming, though. The coaching staff was under no illusion that its team wouldn't be extremely young this season. As bad as things have been the past couple of years, losing 28 seniors -- 26 of whom started or saw significant action (when healthy) in 2011 -- is not something that a team can easily overcome.

You want young? There are only nine seniors on the entire roster. The current depth chart features 16 freshmen -- 11 true freshmen -- seven on offense and nine on defense. Both starting cornerbacks on Saturday are likely to be true freshmen.

Did we mention costly injuries. Receiver Paul Richardson started things in the spring when he blew out his knee. He's only Colorado's most explosive player. But wait ... there's more. Linebacker Doug Rippy and safety Ray Polk, both seniors, are likely out at Fresno. Cornerback Greg Henderson and center Gus Handler are questionable.

The simple fact is Colorado, even against some lower-division teams, faces a talent and experience gap. Remember what Bum Phillips said about Bear Bryant: "He can take his'n and beat your'n and take your'n and beat his'n."

Bryant couldn't win with Jon Embree's roster.

The problem for Embree is he walks a fine line between maintaining confidence in his locker room -- aka, "We're close!" -- and pleading for patience to a disgruntled fan base that sees the talent gap, but also is micro-analyzing the coaching, looking for creative failures and every blip of inefficiency.

"What's killing us right now is details," Embree said. "We have to be more detail-oriented as coaches and as players."

Granted. There were mistakes aplenty in both losses. But those are the sorts of miscues young players make. The devil might be in the details, but the losses are reflective of the depth chart, which Embree has had control of for just one and a half recruiting classes (he was hired in December of 2010, so he gets a 1/2 for his first recruiting class).

Of course, the coaching staff can't just sit back and hope things work themselves out, and it doesn't appear it is. The staff made a change at tailback, and 235-pound freshman Christian Powell's move from fullback yielded 147 yards rushing and three TDs against Sacramento State. Embree said backup quarterback Connor Wood would see action at Fresno State, along with starter Jordan Webb. And you can expect to see plenty of shuffling along the depth chart over the coming weeks as Embree and his staff try to figure out who can play and who needs to sit.

Embree has suffered through a horrible start before in Boulder. In 1986, his senior season as Colorado's tight end, the Buffs opened with a 23-7 loss to Colorado State, the first defeat in an 0-4 start. That team stepped up and finished 6-6.

That's not going to happen here, though. The more instructive numbers Buffalo fans should consider are 2, 4 and 1.

Those are the number of wins Bill McCartney produced his first three seasons. You might recall that things got better.

Patience is no fun. Being told to have patience is even worse. But that spoonful of cod liver oil is probably the best medicine right now in Boulder.

Ted Miller | email

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