Colorado Turns The Page

By Bob Bell

First and foremost, I think we at the Ralphie Report speak for most Colorado fans in saying we are extremely excited to join the Pac-12 Conference. The move aligns the University with some of the best academic institutions in the world and premier athletic programs not just in football and basketball but across all collegiate sports. I also believe the move is symbolic for Colorado fans as an opportunity to turn the page on the past few years and regain some of the success the University experienced in the 90's and early 2000's.

The University of Colorado is nestled up against the Flatirons of the Rocky Mountains. Located in Boulder, the University has one of the more picturesque campuses in the United States. The setting will fit in well with the rest of the Pac-12 schools, something we are excited to witness firsthand ourselves. Only 30 minutes outside of Denver and within an hour of ski resorts, Colorado truly provides a plethora of activities that many visiting Pac-12 fans will soon enjoy. One of the best is certainly tailgating for a Buffaloes football game at Folsom Field in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains!

I can't imagine too many athletic settings better than taking in a game at Folsom Field. Folsom Field, named after legendary football coach Frederick Folsom, has been home to the Colorado Buffaloes since 1924. Since then, Colorado has played over 400 games in the magnificent stadium. The 53,613-seat stadium won't blow you away from an amenities standpoint, but it is one of the best visuals for a college football game with its views of the foothills of the Rockies. If that doesn't get your juices flowing, then the running of Colorado's mascot, Ralphie, sure will. Ralphie, a real buffalo, leads the football team out on the field both at the start of the game and second half. It is one of the more unique sights to watch in college sports as the massive animal charges around the field, often dragging its many handlers to ground. The buffalo first appeared in 1934, according to the Colorado Football Information Guide & Record Book.

CU has had success in many sports, winning 31 postseason championships since joining the Big 12, ranking seventh overall in the conference. In cross country, CU won five team NCAA national championships since the formation of the Big 12. But football reigns supreme in Boulder, Colorado. Former Colorado coach Bill McCartney can probably be thanked for national recognition around the program. McCartney, the most successful football coach in Colorado history, led the Buffaloes to a National championship in 1990, beating Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl 10-9.

Over its 120 year history, Colorado football has 666 victories, good for 18th best in NCAA history. In the 90's, the Buffaloes enjoyed their golden years, winning 87 games which was 10th best in the decade.  From 1990 - 1999, Colorado went to ten bowl games, winning seven. Overall, CU ranks 24th in all-time bowl victories.

Fellow Ralphie Report writer Jon and I grew up during the golden years of the program, making it easy for us to become fans. Colorado was stacked full of talented All Americans like Heisman Trophy winner RB Rashaan Salaam, QB Kordell Stewart, WR Michael Westbrook, LB Chad Brown, DB Deon Figures, RB Eric Bieniemy, DB Chris Hudson and DE Alfred Williams. This was a top tier program with top tier talent. They were dominant. The black and gold were indeed special.

Not only did Bill McCartney bring success to the program but also brought about its biggest rival. The Nebraska-Colorado rivalry was not started on the field, but more so by McCartney's changing the game to "red-letter game" each year on the schedule starting in 1982. McCartney knew the Huskers were the team the Buffs would have to beat to be successful, and he made sure the players were well aware.  McCartney wasn't afraid to tell the rest of the world he had the Nebraska game circled, and he did little things to develop a disliking for the Huskers, like not letting players or staff wear red. McCartney brought an attitude to the program that fans gravitated to, making him a beloved icon to this day.

Colorado had some football success in the 2000's, heading to five bowl games including a Fiesta Bowl. But since the end of the 2005 season, Colorado football has had its struggles. CU has only been to one bowl game since 2005, something Buff fans got used to being a part of the prior 20 years.

But as we noted above, the past year has been about change. After Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn and the rest of the University partnered with Larry Scott and the Pac 10 to get the Buffs into the conference, Bohn hired former Colorado football players Jon Embree and Eric Bieniemy this past winter to lead the football program back to prominence. Both Embree and Bieniemy played under Bill McCartney. Embree has made it a clear goal that he wants to bring the program back to where it was in the 90's and that means returning to some of its traditions and making sure the players know playing football at Colorado is a privilege, not a right. Such an attitude is much welcomed by Colorado fans.

Looking ahead at the upcoming season, Colorado will face many challenges, including a very difficult schedule ranked by many as one of the hardest in college football. With a challenging Pac-12 Conference schedule as well as non-conference games against Hawaii, Ohio State and Colorado State, the Buffs will have their work cut out for them. Colorado does return a good amount of experience, especially on the offensive side of the ball, but Embree and Co. will have to channel their "Bill McCartney" ways to get the program back to pre-2000 levels.

As for basketball, Colorado had the most wins in its history last season under first year head coach Tad Boyle. The Buffs, led by 2011 NBA first round draft pick Alec Burks, were left out of the NCAA Tournament, but made it to the NIT semifinals in New York. Boyle will be tasked with replacing the team's top four scorers from a year ago but he has shown promise on the recruiting front.  Joining the Pac-12 has already paid dividends for the basketball program, allowing it to successfully recruit players from California who wished to stay in the Pac-12 to play. Colorado's most famous former basketball player is NBA star Chauncey Billups, who is still very involved in the program.

Like we mentioned above, the current status of Colorado athletics is one of change. A new head football coach, a new women's basketball coach, a men's basketball coach who has one year of experience under his belt at CU and now joining the Pac-12, things are sure interesting up in Boulder and full of excitement and anticipation. Most of the anticipation and excitement stems from joining the Pac-12.

We couldn't be more impressed with Commissioner Larry Scott, especially after the television contract he was able to negotiate this year. Such a deal will put Colorado in a financial situation unlike anything they have experienced in the past. The increased athletic budget should allow for improvements to facilities and the ability to expand its athletic offerings.

The move also allows the University to better align with its alumni base, which will increase participation and donations. Colorado's student body is 40% out-of-staters, most from along the West Coast, most especially in California.

The move is a great fit academically, culturally, philosophically.

It should be a fun ride!

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