After 10 consecutive losing seasons, the Buffs have a 10-2 record, are playing in the Pac-12 title game and have ignited their fan base.
They used to scoff — even laugh — at Chase Youngman as he extolled the virtues of the University of Colorado football team while guiding prospective students on campus tours.
That was last year. They’re not laughing anymore.
“All of a sudden everyone’s a believer,” the 19-year-old Castle Rock native said this week, as he prepared to lead a caravan of eight friends on an 18-hour road trip to Santa Clara, Calif., to attend Friday night’s Pac-12 championship game between Washington, which is fourth in the College Football Playoff rankings, and No. 8 Colorado. “People are starting to rediscover CU football.”
Youngman, a sophomore, is vice president of C-Unit Football, a booster club charged with turning out students to Buffs games and then getting them to
turn up the rowdy to 11. That was a tall order in his freshman year when the Buffaloes went 4-9, following nine other losing seasons in a row.
But this year, the Buffs have amassed a 10-2 record as coach Mike MacIntyre guided Colorado to the greatest single-season turnaround in Pac-12 history. This week, MacIntyre snagged the honor of Pac-12 football coach of the year and was voted national coach of the year by his peers. Meanwhile, 53,000seat Folsom Field saw its first sellout crowd since 2008 at last Saturday’s game against Utah.
“We saw that there were some changes this year that were going to lead to a better football team,” Youngman said.
He gave special credit to the high-caliber coaching and the seniors on the team, which include standout quarterback Sefo Liufau, and cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon and Chidobe Awuzie.
At the game against the Utes on Saturday, a thrilling CU 27-22 victory in which the Buffs clinched the Pac12 South Division title, Kurt Marrs cheered on the Buffs, as he has for decades. He said he had the distinction of attending CU during its football “glory days” under coach Bill McCartney. A 1992 graduate of the university, Marrs got to experience the Buffs’ 1990 national championship victory.
“I haven’t felt this type of atmosphere of excitement since I went to CU,” he said of fans’ anticipation leading up to Friday’s game. “I didn’t think it would take this long, but I never lost hope.”
Since that triumphant championship year, the Buffs have had 13 winning and 13 losing seasons. But Marrs, 46, never contemplated turning in his season tickets, which he has owned for more than two decades. That includes years when he was living in Illinois and Kansas.
“We held our tickets — we knew it was important to do that,” said Marrs, who now lives in Arvada.
Longtime season-ticket holder Joe McCreary, who played on McCartney’s offensive line in the mid1980s and was in the coach’s first recruiting class, also never considered abdicating his seats at Folsom during the lean years.
“I can’t stress how proud I am of the team,” McCreary said by phone Thursday while golfing the back nine at a course in San Francisco and eagerly awaiting his Friday night entry with friends into Levi’s Stadium for the monumental matchup.
He said leadership in the Buffs’ locker room, especially from the upperclassmen, was key to turning around the beleaguered program in 2016.
“These seniors are something special,” McCreary said. “They were tired of losing and tired of not getting respect. I hope everyone in the country starts to show Colorado more love than they have.”
Though the Washington Huskies hold the advantage over the Buffs among sports bookies, CU law student Jacob Rhoads wasn’t worried about Colorado’s chances.
“Why not? They’ve gotten this far,” he said, knocking back a locally brewed beer at The Sink in Boulder this week.
Rhoads, who got his undergraduate degree at CU, said he remembered not long ago the dismal games when few sections aside from the student section in Folsom saw much love from fans. That was not the case during the CU vs. Washington State game he attended Nov. 19, in which the Buffs came out winners.
“It was exciting — a lot of people were there with their families,” he said.
Fans sang the CU Fight song and Chip the Buffalo, the Buffs’ mascot, led the stadium in a giant mass clapping rally.
“The fan base at school is a lot bigger, and the vibe has been better,” said Ashley Kooker, a sophomore and a sister at Alpha Chi Omega sorority on University Hill. “Everybody has the same mentality about it. Everyone is going crazy around here.”
If the amount of Buffs gear CU students were wearing inside Norlin Library on campus was any indication of the excitement surrounding the team, it would not be an overstatement to say it’s approaching fever pitch.
“Everybody is happy to be a Buffs fan,” said Brett Dobson, a CU sophomore who was chasing down a book in the third-floor stacks this week.
Dobson has to work at his Williams Village dorm on Friday night, but he’ll be keeping an eye on the television as the game plays out. He’ll also be fending off antagonistic texts from his father back in California, who is a diehard Huskies fan.
“We’re a divided house,” he said.
There was no division at Buff Stuff Marketplace on University Hill, which indulges in all things Buffalo. General manager Alex Luttrell said anything in black — T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats — has been flying off the shelves. He was expecting a shipment of Pac-12 South Division championship gear to hit his shelves Saturday.
Luttrell is thankful for the late-season business — a phenomenon he hasn’t been familiar with in quite some time.
“Generally by this time in the year,” he said, “they’re not in competition.”
oct. 1, 2016 • attendance 46,839. Colorado fans get fired up against Oregon State at Folsom Field.
nov. 1, 2014 • attendance 35,633. The crowd was thin the last time CU played Washington.
nov. 19, 2016 • attendance 48,658. Fans swarm the field after Colorado defeated Washington State.