Oth­ers pay more at­ten­tion to CU now

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Kyle Fredrick­son

LOS AN­GE­LES» Mike MacIn­tyre tells the story as a joke, but like plenty of things that make us laugh, the tale is tinged in some truth.

The fifth-year Uni­ver­sity of Colorado foot­ball coach sat be­neath a pa­tio um­brella Wed­nes­day at the Hol­ly­wood and High­land Cen­ter for Pac-12 me­dia days, and when dis­cussing the re­cent evo­lu­tion of Buf­faloes foot­ball, he re­lated The Rise to his morn­ing runs back home down Boul­der Creek. More specif­i­cally, to the lo­cal com­mu­nity with which he shares the trail.

“They used to try to run over me with their bi­cy­cles,” MacIn­tyre said, and then he smiled. “Now, they say hi to me.”

How­ever, CU’s me­te­oric surge from the Pac-12 cel­lar to con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship run­ner-up in 2016 has done more than re­ju­ve­nate a proud fan base. It also pro­duced a theme echoed through­out the Buffs’ podium time at the league’s an­nual me­dia sum­mit: Ex­pec­ta­tions.

“Be­fore, we just set them,” MacIn­tyre said. “Now, ev­ery­body else kind of sets them.”

Can CU main­tain its place as a Pac-12 heavy­weight in 2017? De­pends on whom you ask.

The pre­sea­son me­dia poll re­leased early Wed­nes­day slot­ted the Buf­faloes at No. 4 in the South Divi­sion with just one of 52 vot­ers pick­ing CU to win it. De­spite 10 vic­to­ries in 2016, the Buf­faloes were pre­dicted to fin­ish just be­hind UCLA — a team that notched four to­tal wins last fall.

“Our kids have seen it since the

sea­son was over, dif­fer­ent ar­ti­cles and dif­fer­ent things that have been said to them,” MacIn­tyre said. “‘Was that just a dream sea­son? Was the Pac-12 re­ally that good?’ ”

The de­trac­tors, on pa­per, can make a strong case. CU is with­out four-year start­ing quar­ter­back Sefo Li­u­fau. Eight de­fen­sive starters are gone, too, with a litany of new­com­ers now un­der the di­rec­tion of three new as­sis­tants — de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor D.J. Eliot, sec­ondary coach ShaDon Brown and out­side lineback­ers coach Ross Els.

Se­nior run­ning back Phillip Lind­say was fiery in his de­fense of CU’s chances to reach the Pac-12 ti­tle game in con­sec­u­tive sea­sons, of­ten thump­ing his chest or the ta­ble with a closed fist to re­in­force his own per­sonal ex­pec­ta­tions.

“We know we can,” Lind­say said. “They put pads on just like we do. They hurt just like we do. If you think you’re not the best, you shouldn’t play. We think we’re the best.”

Over and over again in Hol­ly­wood, the Buffs were asked to state their case for an­other mag­i­cal sea­son.

“You start to re­peat your­self a lot, but it’s OK,” CU se­nior line­backer Derek McCart­ney said. “I be­lieve what I’m say­ing, so I don’t mind say­ing it.”

MacIn­tyre was more diplo­matic in his as­sess­ment, ac­knowl­edg­ing the chal­lenges, while also em­brac­ing the Buffs’ strengths. CU re­turns a ros­ter with a col­lected 320 games started — a mark that ranks fourth­most in school his­tory.

“We won’t be as salty early on de­fense as we were last year, but as the sea­son goes on, we will,” MacIn­tyre said. “I think we’ll be ex­cel­lent on of­fense. We have our best of­fen­sive line that we’ve had. We have an ex­cep­tional re­ceiver corps and a great run­ning back. We have young quar­ter­backs that we feel are very tal­ented. … About ev­ery two years, you’re go­ing to have turnover. You’ll have good play­ers go to the pros. So as a pro­gram, you al­ways have to be pre­pared for that. You’re go­ing to have coaches leave and go. That’s part of it.”

Washington coach Chris Petersen has eval­u­ated the Buffs since he joined the Pac-12 ranks in 2013 and claims he wasn’t all that sur­prised by their turn­around. Petersen is also well aware of what it takes to main­tain col­lege foot­ball suc­cess. That is some­thing he ac­com­plished at Boise State and now strives for with the Huskies af­ter a Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off ap­pear­ance.

“Is it harder to get there, or is it harder to stay? I think it’s prob­a­bly harder to stay,” Petersen said. “Most peo­ple can’t do these re­ally hard things over and over and over for a long pe­riod of time. It’s prob­a­bly eas­ier to do the hard things over and over for a shorter pe­riod of time. Can we do it again next year? That’s hard.”

CU’s bid for a re­peat divi­sion ti­tle be­gins Fri­day when play­ers re­port to cam­pus. MacIn­tyre will have about a month through fall camp be­fore open­ing against Colorado State on Sept. 1 to fur­ther iden­tify his team’s chances.

So he has plenty to pon­der on those long runs down Boul­der Creek with one ques­tion loom­ing above the oth­ers. How do you make peo­ple be­lieve in the Buffs?

“The only way to do that is to put back-to-back-to­back (win­ning sea­sons) to­gether,” MacIn­tyre said. “That’s what we plan on do­ing.”

Mark J. Terrill, The As­so­ci­ated Press

Colorado coach Mike MacIn­tyre ex­pects his in­ex­pe­ri­enced de­fense to im­prove as the sea­son pro­gresses.

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