Can Buffs, Rams climb out of the Bottom 10?
I grew up in the Denver area when the Broncos were starting to hog space on the front pages of the two Denver newspapers.
The Colorado Rockies as a baseball team were not yet a figment of anyone’s imagination, and hockey was played by Denver University and an assortment of minor league squads.
The University of Colorado football team was big news and often challenged the likes of Oklahoma, Nebraska and Missouri.
I cheered hard for the Buffs as I worked my way through K-12. When it came time to decide on a college, however, penny loafers won out over sandals. I took my tuition money north to Fort Collins.
It was 1967 when I was introduced to “The Bottom 10,” a column written by Los Angeles Times sportswriter Steve Harvey.
Colorado State was near the top of the bottom rankings on a weekly basis throughout my college years.
The lowlight came in that 1967 season opener when the Rams hosted Kansas State in what was dubbed “The Toilet Bowl,” one of those rare matchups when the Bottom 10’s two worst-ranked teams played each other.
Kansas State came in as No. 1 by virtue of having tied one game in its past two seasons, and it defeated the No. 2 Rams 17-7. It was the only game Kansas State won that year and the only game it won over a three-year period.
For several seasons the Rams earned the bottom spot weekly. It was humorous to many, sad to those involved.
Sure, there was a brief sojourn when Sonny Lubick rescued the Rams in the 1990s as they made it a habit to play in bowl games. But even Lubick couldn’t keep the cash-strapped Rams near the top forever. There have been two winning seasons in Fort Collins in the past nine seasons.
There will be no winning season this time around under new coach Jim McElwain. The Rams have won only two games, one against CU, 22-17.
The Rams have lost to North Dakota State, San Jose State, Utah State and Wyoming, among others.
But what the Rams have done pales against Colorado’s season.
Jon Embree and his Buffs have become regular fixtures in the Bottom 10, and rightfully so, getting beaten at home by Sacramento State, then 69-14 by Fresno State (at which point CU earned the nod of No. 1 in the Bottom 10). The Buffs have given up more than 50 points on four occasions and 48 and 42 in two other games.
Last week, they were ranked sixth in the Bottom 10, now published by ESPN and written by Conor Nevin.
Being any part of anyone’s Bottom 10 should be embarrassing. And that’s what the Buffs have been this season.
Despite the beatings, CU Athletic Director Mike Bohn gave Embree the dreaded vote of confidence this week, saying the coach at least deserves the chance to have another couple of years to rebuild the program, but he issued the warning that there may be changes made on the staff.
Colorado State, on the other hand, is beaming about what is going on, with Jack Graham, the school’s new athletic director, standing firmly behind McElwain’s progress, saying they are on the right track. CSU President Tony Frank and the school’s board of governors gave the OK to start working on a new on-campus football stadium.
There is reason to be optimistic about CSU just in looking at its football roster. There are only 13 seniors on the team and 22 juniors. Youngsters abound, with 23 sophomores and a staggering 51 freshmen. CSU’s top quarterbacks this season have been Garrett Grayson, a sophomore, and Connor Smith, a freshman.
CU also is young to a fault.
There is silver lining in the fact that Paul Richardson, the team’s best player, will return from injury next season as a junior, and Embree has commitments from several outstanding receivers who boast much-needed speed.
CU has struggled mightily this season with junior transfer Jordan Webb at quarterback, but he will return, as will Connor Wood, a sophomore, and highly regarded freshman Nick Hirschman. The Buffs should be in good hands next season at QB.
As for the youngsters, the Buffs have 46 freshmen on their roster and 29 sophomores. There are 20 juniors and only eight seniors on board.
Embree admits his team needs more speed, more strength, to compete with the rest of the best in the West.
One question is: Will he be around long enough to climb out of the Bottom 10?
A bigger question: Will most of us be around long enough to watch these two teams battle in something other than a Toilet Bowl?