Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Denver Sports Radio Landscape Changes -2015 to 2016 Edition

The turning of the Calendar to 2016 brings a change in the Denver Sports Radio Landscape as we know it.  First and foremost, January 4th will bring only a single FM radio station on the airwaves in the long running 104.3 FM The Fan (formerly 950 AM) standing atop the mountain.  Denver had 3 FM Radio stations before Mile High Sports sold 94.1 FM mid 2015 and Denver's 105.5 FM ESPN being officially turned over into the hands of Fan's sister station 1600 AM on that January 4th morning.  The change will grow as 2016 goes on.  Here are the things you may see in 2016 Denver Sports Radio.

104.3 FM The Fan
The Fan remains much the same, but adding ESPN back to the family, they will go away from the 10 am  to Noon Dan Patrick tape delay and have a local line-up that remains filled with familiar names and voices while making a couple additions that will strengthen the station.

Yes, Scott Hastings and Vic Lombardi have been removed from The Fan line-up, but the addition of Mark Schlereth in the mornings (ESPN related and very smart since he had a great national show on ESPN and was great here locally prior to that).  Then moving Shaun Drotar and Ryan Edwards into the 10 AM to Noon shift and placing the talented Joshua Dover into the Fan Late Night with James Gomez, The Fan's new Sports Director, Armen Williams, has improved their line-up.

The estimated line-up would be:
6-9 AM: Mike Evans, Joel Dreesen and Mark Schlereth.  I am on record as believing Dreesen will be gone by 2nd quarter since three is just too much in a radio booth and takes away from good sports talk.  Schlereth is consummate professional and will bring a much bigger name nationally than the very beloved Vic Lombardi.  He doesn't use the Dreesen made up words.  Evans is Mike Miller of sports talk, he will be there forever and help the true stars shine.
9-10 AM: Fan Football Hour w/ Evans and a daily guest-This is great for Denver to have during season and a welcome addition over the national B.S.  r is a football town so it will probably still do fairly well in the off-season since football may only be a 4-5 month thing, but is truly year round with free agency, the draft and camps.
10 AM-Noon: Ryan Edwards and Shaun Drotar-A much overdue call-up to the big leagues.  This will fill a hole Denver has had with only Mile High Sports being on locally.  Though I truly enjoy Mile High Sports, I like options if the content matter is not cutting it that day.
Noon-3 PM: Sandy Clough-Sandy is good.  He's knowledgeable and he's not the ass that he was a decade ago.  Sandy is great on his own, but I still think he fits well with a solid wingman like Mike Evans to fill his dead air gaps when he's pondering his next take.  I would like to see this happen but we will see.  Sandy can handle it either way.
3 PM-6 PM:D-Mac and Big Al-The numbers must be good still, but I don't get it.  There are not a lot of facts brought into this show. The callers that get in and these two make me think of the guy living off his glory days from 15 years before and his friends that never played sports and they bring nothing to the table.
6-9 PM: I am hoping for a replay of something on ESPN or ESPN Radio or Nate Kreckman or anything but another 3 hours of that shitty show.
9-Midnight: Josh Dover and James Gomez-These two are producer legends that are also great on-air personalities.  A show they can team up on and call their own is long overdue.

1340 AM Mile High Sports
What a 2015 for Mile High Sports.  They were off air for over two months.  They lost their FM dial and went to an AM dial that is stronger than the AM/FM dials they held previously but they still lose clear signals up north and especially in the non daylight hours.  Knowing the station, they are still trying to clear up paperwork on getting an FM signal so they can be on both outlets.  It is a wise move.  Just last week Mile High Sports and BSN Denver broke off from one another.  In that they lost the BSN Sports Desk.  It will be interesting to see how 2016 looks for BSN and Mile High Sports but Mile High Sports already filled that hole in the line-up.  That line-up is:
7-9 AM: Morning Mayhem with Danny Williams and Cello Romano-A guilty pleasure and entertaining show.  Unfortunately some days we get mundane arguments about John Mayer or Dave Matthews.  The show is caller centric and entertaining.  I will stay tuned in.
9-11 AM: Sports Guy Mike-It is 3 days in, so we will wait to hold judgment.  I will say he is well dressed and media savvy and talks sports the entire show.  Hoping this show proves to be solid.
11 AM-1 PM: Gil Whiteley-Gil's voice is unforgivable as much as it is unforgettable.  Take it in 15 minute doses per hour at most, but make sure you give him some time.
1-2 PM: Irv and Joe Show-Irv Brown and Joe Williams.  Legends!
2-4 PM: The Big Show-Benny Bash, Benjamin Allbright and Kent Erickson.  Three is a crowd but these three play it smart.  They don't step on each others toes.  Allbright may be too football intelligent for some listeners with him talking schemes, formations, etc. but it fits my mold.  Benny is doing things the right way.  Kent's still just toast but it's always nice for two younger guys to let their Uncle talk sports with them.
4-6 PM: Afternoon Drive with Les Shapiro and Eric Goodman-Eric finally has someone to argue with and not back down.  These two were a couple that were afraid to come out and work together but they have been very good together.
6-8 PM: Renaud Notaro and Big Dee White-Renaud has been great for years.  Big Dee White was a producer that showed he deserved to be on the mic full time.  It has worked out well.  It's a great pairing.  Unfortunately, the station becomes pure static about an hour in. 
After 8 I am still in the dark with no radio during darkness

1600 AM ESPN
My guess is full ESPN format.  Great signal.  Will help all the non-Broncos fans hear something they are more interested in.  Will  be good to  have another option during the Rockies season when there is nothing to hear.

760 AM-Real Talk
760 has gone from Liberal talk to Sports talk full time.  It took all the Fox Sports shows (and paycheck for airing it) and added a couple of sports centered shows. 
10 AM to Noon-Dave Logan and Susie Wargin-Neither have been my cup of tea but people loved their work together in the past.  They got the band back together!!!!
3-6 PM-Andy Lindahl-Lindahl does great with his work talking Broncos pre and post game and everything in between.  Plus his first name is the best you can have.  I will probably give him a listen and decide where my radio ears will go each night.
National syndication shows include: The Ben Maller Show, Dan Patrick, Colin Cowherd and Jay Mohr along with a couple I never have heard of.  Maller is one of the best that not enough people know about.  Jay Mohr turned his Bob Sugar role and fill-in spots for Jim Rome into a full-time gig. 

950 AM-Kroenke Sports Entertainment
No word yet, but expect a new big dog to come into town with KSE's acquisition of the original Fan station 950 AM.  Vic Lombardi and Scott Hastings are obvious choices for hosts.  We will see how everything else goes, but by owning 950 and 3 FM radio stations, KSE can start airing their content of Nuggets, Avalanche and Rapids teams without having to pay someone else for it once current contracts expire or get bought out.

BSN Denver
BSN Denver does not appear to have a voice on the Denver airwaves, but Brandon Spano has built an interesting concept of full Denver Sports writing, blogging and podcasting.  So it is worth giving some note here.  Spano is ballsy having added a large contingent of writers and mouths to feed to make his website respectable.  It is an interesting model and I look forward to seeing how it works out with the only voice being via social media.  But social media has proven to be growing while talk radio has proven to be dying.  BSN Denver must compete against millions of other bloggers, "writers" and podcasters that have a voice themselves in Denver, so how they make money and continue to build their unique brand will be very interesting for 2016.

2016 Outlook

Denver could have 5 full time sports stations with at least 3 of them full-time Denver centric (The Fan, Mile High Sports and KSE) and another 5 hours local of 760.  Denver Sports Radio looked like it was going to thin out with 104.3 The Fan changing Sports Directors after new ownership and when 105.5 FM ESPN officially announced they had fully sold (out) but instead it made local sports content increase immediately.

So what else is on the horizon?   I am not sure, but I know 105.5 FM left a great group of free agents from Nate Kreckman, Cecil Lammey to Drew Spevak, Rob Wagner and Raj Sharan.  I think Cecil Lammey would make a great 6-9 PM show in lieu of the replay of what may be The Fan's worse show!  Nate Kreckman has worked his way up in Denver and I hope Kroenke or the Fan sign him or a large sponsorship contingent brings him back to where the magic truly started for Nate at Mile High Sports.

2016 is shaping up to be a crowded race for listeners and sports information in the Denver market.  Based off all the change we have seen in the last three years, my guess is , whatever 2016 sports radio looks like in Denver January 4th will be much different come July 4th with Broncos training camp on the horizon.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Top 5 Denver Sports Talk Shows of All-Time

After thinking back to my drive from Thornton/Brighton to Colorado School of Mines every day back in 1999, I look back at what sports talk shows had the most impact on my love for sports talk, so without further ado, here are the Top 5 Denver sports talk shows of all-time.

5) Mike and Sandy (Mike Evans and Sandy Clough): This show was on mainly during my late college to early career years.  It was 950 AM The Fan's morning show.  DOG Nation (Defenders of Griese) were often ridiculed by these two.   Evans was the yin to Clough's yang.  Evans kept Clough from going off on anyone that called in but also provided a lot of good back and forth and helped Clough shine.  Clough is a very knowledgeable sports guy but alone he tends to rip apart callers rather than make them learn more.  This show brought the now two longest tenured sports guys on 104.3 FM The Fan together.  They moved to the afternoons for a short stint that was so forgettable that I had almost spaced the fact they had moved to afternoon drives when 104.3 The Fan sold out to ESPN.  It would be wise to do so again late mornings and get rid of the national tape delayed show!

4) Klatt and Kreckman Show (Joel Klatt and Nate Kreckman): Yes, THAT Joel Klatt cut his chops on one of the greatest shows Denver Sports has heard with two young up and comers in the sports business.  Klatt moved up quickly taking a gig with Mike Evans giving him full lip service (pun intended) in the mornings on 104.3 The Fan for a short while before Joel got the call up to take a gig on Fox Sports 1.  Klatt has ascended the chain quickly becoming Fox's College top color guy and was also the highlight guy for the Fox's NFL coverage last year.  Kreckman has become the focal point of ESPN Radio.  The Working Man as his solo show after Klatt split off showed Kreckman can make it on his own or with a Locker Room filled with Gary Miller and Tom Nalen.  (Little known fact, Nate Kreckman was the producer and update guy for The Press Box I mention later)  Back to these two together; Kreckman and Klatt are both a little cocky, both a little arrogant and I hated Klatt with anyone but Kreckman because only Nate could put Joel in his place and Joel made Nate truly shine.  This show never went through the motions, it brought good sports talk and entertainment that has been tough to match.

3) Vic and Gary (Vic Lombardi and Gary Miller): The TV duo may be the biggest man-man love that we have seen from two sports guys in Denver.  Their show had a mass following and operated in Vic's basement.  The two were ahead of their times with a live stream and a chat for their listeners.  The great sports talk on the show coupled with the chat during the show were fantastic radio.  The two's work marriage brought comedy and their good rapport with local athletes allowed for great insight into the happenings of the sports scene.  It was just radio pleasure from day one.  The fact no one has figured a way to bring these two back together shows that sometimes these program directors over think themselves.

2) The Press Box (Tim Neverett & Jim Armstrong): Early 2000s gem on 560KLZ and then Neverett on Mile High Sports around 2007.  Armstrong was amongst my favorite writers at The Denver Post.  He was never the ass hole just to get reads (now clicks) like his peers Woody Paige and Mark Kiszla.  Instead he gave his opinion and kept it fair.   His column on Page 2 of the sports page was my must read every morning from high school through his time ending at the Post after a betting scandal took away Denver's best sports op writer.  I loved how he could talk about so many things in so few word and give enough info to want to know more.

Tim Neverett was an all-star for Denver.  He brought a great opinion and knowledge that rivaled any in Denver.  His voice is smooth as silk and delivers a perfect "pitch" now for the Pittsburgh Pirates after his departure in late 2008.  The two worked well together with their large amount of sports IQ and ability to talk about anything.  Unlike their competition, they made callers feel welcome and helped transition sports radio to a more caller friendly situation.  Unlike 104.3 The Fan and 105.5 ESPN that relies on texts for interaction and actually takes away from their shows doing so, Mile High Sports used Neverett's format to build Press Box with different cast and characters and build a caller friendly station that has had many long time The Fan listeners switch over from their old, boring same format of 20 years.  These two didn't have a mass following but anyone that had the pleasure of hearing it, heard my true favorite show of all-time. 

1) The Irv and Joe Show (Irv Brown and Joe Williams): Due to their legacy and what they have done in the Sports talk game for longer than I have been listening and probably been alive, they get the nod of the greatest of all-time in Denver.  These two bring humor, clich├ęs (Red Dog "Down Goes Frazier), two old friends bickering (Irv threatening: I'll Walk off This Show!) and a signature ending ("Come Home Baby Now").  It has stood the test of time and these old farts are still bringing entertainment an hour a day to 1340 AM Mile High Sports listeners.  It is a guilty pleasure for me.  These two are about half a decade past their shelf life,  but I remember coming back from Golden and getting hours of entertainment.  Joe's long time pot shots at John Elway, the Avs being destined to being beat in the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals and just great local and national talk is what has made this show great.  These two talk college football as often as NFL and give all sports a fair shake rather than holding on to the Denver Broncos jock talk that has lazily failed Denver Sports the past.  I started with these two in 1999 when they were on 950 AM The Fan, went over to 1600 AM when 104.3 FM The Fan let them go with their switch to ESPN Radio.  The two moved to Mile High Sports and have been hanging out around the lunch hour for ages.  A lot of young guns credit their listening to these two being a deciding factor on trying to cut their chops on the radio.  Two oldies still make a goodie once in awhile!

Monday, December 7, 2015

105.5 ESPN Denver Departure Thins Sports Radio Landscape

Announced today 105.5 FM ESPN will close shop on January 3rd, 2016.  Denver's radio was crowded in the afternoon but it allowed the sports radio listener to make a choice between the 3 programs that were on.   Lou from Littleton and his partners had continually thinned the herd going from 87.7 The Ticket and all live and local shows to selling out to corporate ESPN and only having two true full-time one-man band shows over the past year or so.  This day was coming and rumors had been running rampant from behind the scenes that Lou and company would throw in the towel at year end.  It came true.  While it is not good news to lose the ability to choose my show, the crowded landscape thinning out may actually help Denver radio IF the local stations bring some of that talent over.

Nate Kreckman has been one of the most entertaining and well informed guys in Denver sports.  His show with Joel Klatt ranks amongst the greatest in Denver Sports Radio history and he has shown his abilities to work solo as The Working Man to doubling up to having a crowded "Locker Room" when he was on with Tom Nalen and Gary Miller.  Nate Kreckman is radio gold and would be just another big loss in Denver Sports Media if someone local doesn't step up to the plate and bring him on and let's him move on elsewhere!

Cecil Lammey is a niche that works PERFECT for Denver radio and today's sports landscape where people are more concerned about their fantasy line-up and the NFL draft than they are about being a fan of their NFL team.  When he was given a full-time daily show, it was good news for the football hungry Denver Sports market.  He had been used and tossed to the side as just a filler weekend guy until ESPN thinned out and got rid of a large portion of payroll in Les Shapiro, Charles Johnson and then the Locker Room shake-up.  Cecil has a great bank of NFL draft and fantasy football knowledge he can share and give his educated opinion on.  He should not be lost locally but a national fantasy football show would be wise to use his work ethic and knowledge.

As for the others, Drew Spevak AND Rob Wagner have been young up and comers that have taken full advantage of their increased air time.  Wagner and Spevak remind me of the talent 104.3 The Fan wastes in their Fan Late Night group.  That group is probably their most talented show and is on during a time the married family man has a difficult time being able to catch most of their show.  Spevak would make for a great replacement while those guys move up to the big leagues.  Raj Sharan is a great producer and glue that has held that ship that has been breaking apart for years and would improve either remaining Denver Sports station.

So what is next we ask with only 1340AM Mile High Sports and 104.3 The Fan left and how should they react.  Here are my thoughts:

1340 AM has to get an FM signal somehow, some way.  I can't listen to 1340 once the sun goes down and some great late shows like Eric Goodman and Les Shapiro are scratchy for half their show, Big Dee White and Renaud Notaro don't even get a chance and anything later, I can't even tell you whether it is worth a listen since my late night drives are spent listening to a station that works in 104.3 The Fan.  They have a decent line-up that differs from The Fan enough that unless they offer something to Nate or Cecil, I don't see them changing much since they are the CSU of coaching.  A stepping stone for bigger things or a place for a guy to retire.  After that, here is where those ESPN talents should land:

104.3 The Fan:
6-9 AM: Nate Kreckman w/ Vic Lombardi-Joel Dreesen has brought nothing.  Nate can ramble off for an hour and then bring on Vic.  Nate over Mike Evans is like going from Tebow to Peyton Manning instantly.  13 Ws and home field advantage compared to pray you get  something good once in awhile.
9 AM to 11 AM: Cecil Lammey -9 AM to 12 PM.  He could pick up The Fan Football Hour rather than know little Mike Evans. Let Raj work with him and help however need be.

11 AM to 1 PM: Sandy Clough and Mike Evans.  They were really good together and belong together.  Quit trying to keep this love away.

Move Big Al and D-Mac to 1-4 PM.

4-7 PM Move James Gomez, Ryan Edwards and Shawn Drotar to where they belong providing an entertaining and quality show.

7-10 PM: Drew Spevak and Rob Wagner or whatever contractual NBA or NHL or Monday night game.  Let Drew work 9-Midnight on those nights it doesn't happen. 

Denver Sports Radio can truly be live and local and not  have tape delay and shitty replays if 104.3 The Fan is smart and Mile High Sports takes advantage of losing a competitor on the FM dial

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

College Football Fandom-Tenure over Alma Mater

After having a hate filled back and forth friendly debate with a CSU fan questioning my "fandom", I decided I had to give my two cents on college football fans and some parameters, or rules for the more simpleton people, that warrant your fandom.  (Side Note:  This can be used for basketball as well but let's be honest the only team most people care about college basketball begins long after college football bowl season).

This also ties into two articles wrote by Brian Curtis known as the Rules of CFB Fandom.  Like most Grantland pieces that don't go into excessive amounts of analytics, formulas, etc. this is a pure opinion piece.  It is funny and interesting, but his overriding factor is attending the school you are a fan of.

Well, the simple truth is some Chicago kid or California kid that is 18 years old doesn't earn fandom automatically, it is done through an undying passion and knowledge of the history of that school's football program.  Part of Mr. Curtis' acceptance in fandom is a college drop out from a school but a person that has rooted for a school since they can remember watching college football and stayed a fan for years is shunned?  Wrong!   That college student wasn't even born when I was watching my team win a national title.  He probably knows more about the team down the road that he cheered for growing up but he chose to get away from home or get a better education in the things he was seeking.  This is not meant to be gender biased, so she can be swapped for he you wonderful women that are college football fans, but I don't have time to write each sentence to please each gender.

#1 Rule of College Fandom is Years Invested
My family grew up in Colorado and I was steered towards cheering for CU because they were on TV all the time and I got to grow up seeing something special happen as I got into playing football, a perennial Top 25 team that had a national title, a Heisman trophy winner and success. 

My father-in-law grew up in Pennsylvania and rooted for Penn State but spent his teenage years in Colorado during the 70s and hooked on to Eddie Crowder's Colorado Buffaloes.  His family was raised right and grew up cheering for the Buffs.  He went to the National Championship game CU won against Notre Dame and the family has been season ticket holders in some capacity for approaching 30 years.

So, to read that some 18 year old out of towner that has very little idea or true personal connection to of the history of the team they are just now cheering on being a fan over me and especially my in-laws is humorous at best.

Rule 2-Passion Towards the Program/Unwavering Support
I work with a CU alum.  He likes the team, but he may only get to a game or two a year.  There is a hunting and skiing season that takes precedence over CU football.  For us passionate fans, there is only one thing to do on Saturday during the game.  Be at the game if at home or watch the game at TV on the road.  You have inked yourself (Barela), you support the team no matter what and even when they are down see the bright side (Aaron Lott) and you care and will be there no matter what to see your team get back to that peak, that's a fan.

Which leads to Part 2 of this, I don't skip out because my team sucks that season.  A real fan attends every game whether it is a blowout win or loss and stays to the bitter end.  And I have had plenty of bitter colds hit across the face over the past decade as a CU fan.  There is no, I'll hang around and bitch about how bad they suck still but won't attend a game.  I cheer them on.  I rip them for their deficiencies but every Saturday, there is no question, I hold out hope and believe this is the game they finally get over that peak and take the next step.

Rule 3-You Have a Direct Connection
Being a student that sits in the same class as the team's star running back is not the equivalent to going to those games and sitting in tickets the player on the team gave you because you have been friends with/played high school ball with him long before he was on the team you rooted for.  You got to hear about the crazy workouts and the personalities of some of the guys you just stared at idolizing even though they were the same age as you.

Rule 4-Standing Strong Even When You Marry Into It
 If I was stupid or desperate enough to lower my standards to marry a CSU or NU fan, under no circumstance would I root for their team when we played each other.  I may be a bit more cordial like I am with my friends that attended/have cheered for those teams since they were kids, but I sure am not changing my allegiance.  I take my NFL standards for one in me being a Broncos fan and in-laws Packers fans.  I cheer for my wife/in-laws team because we aren't in the same division and have no history, but when we play each other this year, I am watching the game upstairs or in another house because when it comes to playing your spouses team, if it's different than yours, there should be some friendly tension.  If my wife were a Raiders fan, I would never root for her team, I would constant take pot shots at them and it's the same way I feel about the rival college programs CU has had in CSU and NU.  Be cordial, but take every direct jab you can.

Rule 5-Being an Alum/Student of Said College and INVESTING into that Program
This goes back to an earlier point, but the worse argument comes from simply being a student.  Now if you are a student that grew up a fan of that program, move to the front of that line but if you are a poser and can't name over half the team and the majority of the team's starters, you are simply just there.  Did you go skiing or go home and not come back to watch that Thanksgiving Weekend game?  That's not investing.  Are you a student of your team, but if the team you grew up cheering for comes into town, you are rooting for them, you certainly have NO RIGHT to lay claim of being a fan over me and so many others that have truly invested themselves.  Now if you went there and completely bought in, go to games and stand by them, applause to you, you've earned your right into the place we fans since childhood earned before you even were born or chose to attend your school.

I chose a Division II school with a strong academic respect in the engineering field, Colorado School of Mines.  At the time of my attendance, Mines was widely acclaimed as a Top 20 program in ALL fields and Top 5 in many.  I chose education but two weeks into school, I attended my first college football game as a student... as a CU fan at the Rocky Mountain Showdown in 1999.  Since then, my fandom went from admiring CU growing up and trying to see what I could when I didn't have my own sport to being consumed with CU football every Saturday and every recruiting class and every spring ball and every fall camp.  So, Mr.Curtis, you are wrong in tying fandom directly towards the school you attend(ed), the overriding factor in being a fan of any program or team is to remain passionate about them whether in the valleys of the darkness or peaks of the sunrise and to have it be what you look forward to every Saturday.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Dream Changer: The Life of a Division I Power 5 Level College Football Walk-On (Year 1)

Preface: This is a 5-part series that goes into the life of what walk-on Division I college football players go through in their “career”, mainly drawing on the highest level possible of Power 5 conferences.  It is 5-parts because ach walk-on that sticks it out with a power conference is usually a 5-year window.  My background is seeing the life of a former walk-on from age 15 through today and some of the stories I have shared or been shared with me.  Yes, this story is my opinion and thoughts, but a lot of it draws on the discussions I have had with him and still do to this day on the subject.
A walk-on football player at the Division I level is the most grueling “job” in sports.  They work as hard as or harder than any scholarship athlete.  They do what the head coach, their position coach and others ask on a greater scale than any of the scholarship players and every day they have to earn their keep on the team.  It is comparable to that of a life of a NFL practice squad player, you are part of the team but you are just a body to help the team improve.  The main difference is a practice squad player gets some pay for his work, while a walk-on player pays his way onto the team beyond what any typical college student can imagine paying for their education.  A walk-on player typically plays for a Division I program for one main reason; the dream of playing at the highest level they possibly can.  In the end it’s a dream that starts one way as a high school player and is changed over their college football career.
His First Year-The Dream Begins
The Division I walk-on story doesn’t start the day he sets foot on the field at campus, it starts back in high school like any other player on the team.  The walk-on typically fits multiple criteria of the following that differ ever so slightly from their scholarship athlete teammate:
  • The best player on his team or amongst the best player on his team.  Typically this person is from a team that doesn’t have a lot of Division I athletes produced.
  • The complete opposite is the player that would be the best player for a number of other high schools and is very solid but is outshined by big-time Division 1 recruits that he plays alongside.  This happens at many of the football “factories”.
  • Has very good Division II offers, may have Division I-AA/FCS offers, one of the service academies schools think his athleticism would fit their model and offer him to file paperwork or may have a scholarship to a lower level Division I school.
  • Lacking the intangibles that earn a scholarship for a player with less stats or ability potentially.  These range from height to weight to speed or strength.  A gangly 17 year old is tough to predict how their body develops over the matured body of a 17 year old that filled out earlier.
  • Competition level that they face.  This is especially true for smaller divisions and schools where a kid can’t choose to go play at a bigger school that is an hour away.
  • Playing out of position-Often a high school will play their best player at a position they are most needed based off their abilities.  Typically this is the quarterback position for a player that is probably better suited to play wide receiver or secondary at the next level.  On the defensive side of the ball, they may play a player suited to play Linebacker at the defensive end position because they are the biggest player on that team.  Or they may play a safety type at the next level as a linebacker.  Usually a player plays out of position because their team lacks other players that can highlight where that player may be most effective.
  • It is their Dream-An athlete that is good enough to be Division I but doesn’t get the offers may dream of playing for their long-time favorite team or a BCS level team they see regularly that told them they could walk-on but no scholarship was available.
  • And last, that player grew up a fan of the team he decides to walk-on at and his dream has always been to be on THAT field.
So the combination of these amounts to the fact that a walk-on wants to prove they can be as good as the scholarship players and that they “earn” the right to be part of a prestigious program.  They want to show the people that doubted them, and told them to take the free money at a lower level school, that they can make it.   Often this is a discussion that may be difficult for many families that can’t help support an athlete through a larger university.  But ultimately the walk-on wants to be part of the highest level of completion and to be on television, they want to take the field in front of 10s of thousands and they want to live their dream.
Their path differs long before signing day:, there are no official visits, there are no hat ceremonies, there is no sitting at a table signing a letter of intent for a school and having your picture all over the paper and internet with your parents and coaches at your side.  These guys don’t get their names mentioned in the paper most of the time while the Division II and smaller Division I FCS signees accolades are noted along with the big name scholarship players.   This is followed up by going from February until the beginning of August where they have to work out at their local high school.  They will probably get a work-out program from the university if they are a preferred walk-on (usually meaning they can show up when practices begin for the team) but if they are another walk-on, it is at the coaches discretion and a program’s needs if they are allowed on the field to even prove their worth.  Either way, any walk on is always doing one thing for the program: proving they are worth keeping on the field. 
The Internship Begins-Fall Camp
Whether a freshman walk-on is allowed on the field the same day the rest of the team begins camp or comes out during open try-outs, it is like an internship or 30-day probation period in the job world, you better show that you are worth keeping on and taking the time and effort to deal with throughout the season. 
They aren’t even that last scholarship guy that the team took that at least has the entire season to improve, but are now a number or name on athletic tape on a helmet where they better be good at following a coaches orders and not doing too many dumb things, along with giving the old adage of 110% on everything asked of them.  They will run harder than that other guy because even though they are both the same speed, the walk-on can’t go 80% on those sprints like the other guy is because they lack the security blanket of a scholarship while the walk-on is trying to earn the chance to represent the university. On every drill, play or anything you see them do, it requires them giving maximum effort because if they get ran over, that may be the last time they are allowed in that drill or to run a play or maybe even be on that field representing the school.
If you started with the rest of the team on Day One, your camp has a life changing moment happen during the middle of camp, you’re now a college freshman!  You not only have to be at practice and bust your butt, you have to pay for your college and already start counting your debt.  That walk-on balances football along with living with a roommate he just met, a lack of funds after paying for what the loans didn’t cover and taking the most difficult classes they have every taken.  While the other first-year freshman are able to maybe enjoy the college scene (aka party and other fun troubles), that walk-on is either at practice, doing homework they couldn’t do while the typical college student studied or doing extra work to develop the area they were lacking in order to get a scholarship in strength and size.
After all this,  the walk-on athlete is exhausted and has gone from being the big man in high school to the no-name player on campus, but that young man has earned the right to be a part of the program he worked his rear end off and already started to live part of his dream.  In Game 1 of the season his name will be in that program, he will be on that sideline (if at home) and unlike the guys that showed up to wear a jersey in high school he earned that name on the back of that jersey to represent the program on the front.
The Season Begins
The excitement of the season is amazing for a fan, but living out a dream of being part of a Division I program trumps it.  The walk-on is now actually a part of that team and gets to dress or at least wear their jersey to every home game.   They are part of the team and getting very few reps but they can say every week when they stay home while the team is away that they practice against that guy on or laid the wood (or most likely got laid out ) by that guy on TV in practice the other day.  They get to experience everything they were hoping to do when they first had this wild dream of playing Division I football.  In most every walk-ons case, they aren’t ever going to walk on to the field on game day as a true freshman other than in a rare occasion to walk on to do warm-ups and after the game, but there won’t be any live action.
Practices remain the same as fall camp.  They are just a warm body that helps provide depth on the scout team and maybe be a practice dummy.  They get yanked around here and kicked over there.  They still have to give 110% but that walk-on better know their role.
There is the rookie hazing for all freshmen that began with singing your high school fight song and/or a skit that better get laughs or entertain or you’ll start to get more shit than the typical freshman.  This is typical of any freshman in college sport, especially football, not just the walk-on.  The walk-on just has less protection than a scholarship guy from the coaches.  The walk-ons best chance at making a good impression on both the staff and players is to work his ass off but not piss off any of the players.  It is a tough balance and during the season it is difficult to not draw a more well-known player or older players ire at some point.  It’s how you handle it in both the players and coaches minds that will determine what is next.  Most of the time, if a freshman walk-on gets through an entire season and makes a fair impression, it means they get to go to a bowl and enjoy the luxuries the other regulars do and it means a chance to continue to show your worth come spring.
End of Season through Spring Ball
Again the walk-on player is on probation, bust your butt and come spring you will be there.  You don’t show up to off-season workouts and try to get better every day, they don’t need you and will wait for fresh blood the next year.  A walk-on is owed nothing and as their time with the school goes, this becomes more evident.  However, for the guy that is giving that effort, there is little doubt that he is probably still in dream mode.  He is thinking, “Next season I can maybe play.  Heck I will play, since the coaches said I could play in some of the blowouts if I’d like.  But I’ll play when it matters, not just when we are winning by 30!”  How the next few months shake out will determine what happens in August, but first it’s off-season and spring ball.  For the walk-on, the weight room and the strength coach are his new best friends.  While they were acquaintances before, the group better spend every day possible together for hours.  After all, there is a reason the walk-on is not a scholarship athlete because he most likely lacked the size of the fellow freshman that got less reps and less chances in practice because he doesn’t care, he’s got a scholarship and he doesn’t need to show as much fire if he’s not going to get the chance to show how good he is?  That is the mindset of the unsuccessful scholarship kid and most are not that way, but still a walk-on must push like the hardest working scholarship player, not the lackadaisical scholarship player.  The team isn’t going to rally around him due to his hard work in one year, but the strength coach and the players that push every day like him will take note and spread the word eventually.  The respect will be there.  That is one aspect that the hard working walk-on with talent gains over the scholarship athlete with a lack of drive has the advantage in, RESPECT.  Respect is earned after all!
That walk-on gains 5-10 lbs from end of season to spring ball and while he has ate a ton with the team meals, meal plans, etc. this is hard earned muscle.  That scrawny or a little pudgy freshman glamour shot for the program is now turning into a young man, redshirt freshman that has grown muscles and looks like he belongs.  That same walk-on will have a great spring where he gets some reps with the second team and even though he’s not going to make the rotation, the coaches see the work he has put in to date and know how that will increase with a great summer off-season.  Still, they did just sign a freshman receiver from a dominate conference in a recruiting hot bed, so come August camp, they’ll let him have the reps he had earned and showed he was worth.  It is an endless cycle he will continue to experience.  Still, the now Redshirt freshman walk-on just had a great spring and there is talk of playing time on special teams before the summer training or camp has even begun.
Off-Season Workouts-A Job But No Pay
The walk-ons summer isn’t relaxing and having a good time or taking classes he needs for the next season in order to be eligible aren’t in the cards.  It is spent trying to find a job that can pay him whatever is possible for him to have a life other than school and football, as well as pay the extra that loans won’t cover in order to attend school.  Mainly, for his dream of continuing his stature as a football player with the University, it is continuing his love interest with the strength/conditioning coordinator and the weight room.  There is working around your schedule that pays you in order to make the workouts that you MUST do to only pay for a better body and chance to play.  If you are lucky enough you may have a strength coach that will work with the schedule of the players and give you options so you may well be able to balance workouts while maintaining a 40-hour a week job while having friendships and family.  That walk-on will have to put in roughly six hours a week in the weight room and another half a dozen in organized activities and cardio workouts that are meant to push players to the point of exhaustion.   There is no break for a walk-on if they want to live their dream.
 Epilogue of Part 1 :  Many of this story, I am referencing what may be an exception to the rule here and the walk-on maybe isn’t busting his tail off in every case.  Some may do just enough to keep on board and be a scout team tackling dummy.  This walk-on is the type that earns playing time within the first couple years, typically on special teams but he sees the field.  He travels because the team actually needs him and doesn’t just replace him.  Not all walk-ons deserve praise, but from the main one I have known and seeing and reading and watching the stories of many others, the overriding factor is hard work and not quitting. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

CU Football: Take the Hand Off the Panic Button

The gap between the top of the Pac 12 and the University of Colorado football is not the size of the Grand Canyon any longer.  No matter how much you try to point to not being able to beat an Oregon team that is reeling or how CU still doesn't have a signature win under the past two coaches, the fact is the gap looks more to be like the Cherry Creek path that separates Speer Boulevard.  CU just needs to find the right bridge to end up downtown and getting caught in one way traffic.

Oregon has more 4 and 5 star recruits on their current roster than CU has amassed in the last dozen or more years.  Almost all of Oregon's recruits have been offered by numerous Power 5 conference schools, while CU is playing with a group that gets 2 or 3 guys that have legit Power 5   Colorado outplayed that group for an entire half and their start to the third quarter pretty much ended their chance at playing to Oregon's level with the Ducks being allowed to use their 4* track speed and NFL sized front lines.  Oregon just ran the ball down CUs throat to end the second half.  Oregon is down because they lost one of the best college QBs of all-time and don't have an answer for the teams that knock them on their ass right now.  CU can't answer that bell because CU lacks Power 5 depth and quality of player at so many starting positions.  Here are the guys that would start or get significant snaps for any Pac 12 team on CUs roster:
Nelson Spruce, Stephane Nembot, Chidobe Awuzie, Tedric Thompson

Signifcant Snaps:
Kenneth Crawley, Kenneth Olugbode (at strong safety and not ILB!)

To be fair, those six guys are probably 4-5 more than CU has had over the past 4-5 seasons for a team, so there is better talent, but the point is the talent gap is monumental, yet last year and to start this year, CU has already shown the ability to play with teams that on paper should destroy them.  The positive is they are scheming and coaching at or above the level of most of the teams they face, the problem lies in talent and depth.  But that area is less of a gap than it was from 2011-2013.  CU has one of the top secondaries in the Pac 12.  They have depth they have not seen and are finally closing the talent gap because they have a vision that can actually be seen. 

The Champions Center and Indoor Practice Facility were the closer that CU needed to sell the university.  CU's campus is consistently a Top 10 campuses in the country for setting, aesthetics, etc. but the stadium and the big dog on any relevant Power 5 college program is football and CU just didn't have what they needed.  After the Indoor Practice Facility is finished this winter/early spring, there will be no question, CU has the extras to attract recruits that ignored them not only due to their product on the field but the subpar facilities those overmatched athletes were receiving.  CUs finished product will be amongst the Top 3 facilities in the Pac 12 with no better setting.  The changes have already made impacts on this recruiting cycle.

Colorado has landed three commitments from the state of Florida with Craig Watts Jr, Johnny Huntley and Anthony Julmisse.  Rarely has CU had a player from Florida with 20 all-time.  That group alone could have been a trio for a multitude of other Power 5 schools with Watts Jr. pretty much being able to choose any school in the country.  CU hasn't had those sort of recruits in many years but got three in one class.  They additionally got commits from two Georgia products with one of those players being Ronnie Blackmon who has over half a dozen Power 5 offers.  The class is going to be small so it will look like a very subpar class, but it has guys that could probably have helped CU on the field during their respective visits as high school seniors.  Hell, in the end of Hawk Love and Embree days they would have been starting already.

But what about this year and will Mike MacIntyre do enough to prove the "gap has narrowed" as he put it in his post-game press conference?  The Pac 12 is still the Pac 12, strong and a lot of good teams with a lot of likely bowl teams.  Stanford, Cal, Oregon, Utah, USC and UCLA seem near locks to make a bowl while Arizona State should also and Arizona and Washington have good chances.  The question is can CU get in that as well.  The next three weeks says a lot about if CU has truly narrowed that gap.  CU plays an ASU team that beat a Top 10 UCLA team but has also got trounced by USC and Texas A & M along with a late 4th quarter rally to put away FCS Cal Poly.  Arizona has got boat raced in both of their Pac 12 games and looked only marginally better than UTSA at home.  2015 Arizona is not the 2014 version of the Cats.  The last game in the trifecta is Oregon State.
  Oregon State has lost a lot of talent and not recruited well along with bringing in a new coach, it is a road win that CU must end their road woes at and take command of that game and put a beating on the Beavers. The following 3 weeks, CU faces a similar talent gap issue that they did versus Oregon but UCLA, Stanford and USC have much better QB play but probably not as strong OL/DL that Oregon has.  CU has to play those games competitive and try to steal a win out of those 3 if there is any hope for a .  To quit being doubted, the Buffs have to keep from getting boat raced all year.  Washington State is no better than the team CU beat in the past with less talent and CU may be as talented as Washington State, it's a game they have to win.  Utah looks unstoppable to end the season but the Buffs have always played Utah competitive and it's the same team for the most part that CU should have beat to close out the season last year.  

Doesn't sound like anything is sure; So my answer is, I don't know if MacIntyre and CU will prove that just as much as people claiming to believe the Buffs are still in the cellar.  The Buffs have two very winnable games in the next three weeks.  They have to show those close losses and morale victories can become tangible proof in getting a mark in the Win column.  To prove the gap has narrowed, one win won't cut it and two is marginal, the Buffs MUST get at least three Pac 12 wins to prove they are moving up and just need more depth and some more talent.

The positive is more talent appears to be on the way, but this game is won in the trenches, so some decent offensive line recruits must prove they can fill in and be as good or better than their predecessors with a year of college under their belt.  Right now the Buffs are battling injuries, but for the first time in ages, there is at least more than a warm body filling that role.  To get those three Pac 12 wins, we are going to need to see a healthy Michael Adkins and Addison Gillam along with some cohesion on the offensive line.  24 points isn't going to cut it in the Pac 12, the Buffs need to get to high 30s to low 40s consistently in this conference.  CU has improved greatly on defense and seems to have stayed stagnant from last year's offense.  The offense must improve and keep leads and not turn over the ball because against better competition, that is going to lose the game as evident by the 14 points off turnovers Oregon had.  The best part of Saturday may be, the Buffs are now being questioned and told they are bottom of the barrel and after a tough loss to Hawaii, CU bounced back strong and found a way to destroy two lower level teams and have a bad day keeping consistent against in-state rival CSU but still come out with a win.  Bury CU in 3 weeks if they go 0-3 or even 1-2, but for now, CU still has a legitimate shot at shutting up the haters.  Finger pointed squarely at you lazy local media!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Mile High Sports Radio Re-Boot, BSN Denver Explosion and Drew Soicher

Mile High Sports Radio Re-Boot
I am biased, I am a sports fan so I will talk up franchises, colleges and players on my fantasy team higher than I should.  Maybe the same can be said for how I feel about my sports talk, but I present some fact with my bias so keep on reading whether you prefer Mile High Sports, The Fan or ESPN Denver.

Mile High Sports Radio re-launched on July 27th on 1340 AM.  Over two months has lapsed and the long break may have truly made Mile High Sports Radio better.  The segments have been trimmed down to allow the same amount of air time but keep them off the same schedule of commercial breaks that The Fan or ESPN Denver use.  This has always been something I found to make no sense.  Why take the same commercials as your competitor?  I do most of my channel surfing when commercials hit, so I applaud this move.  Nothing worse than 3 sports talk shows running commercials at the same damn time.  It's a way to steal listeners if your show is rocking.  So a quick breakdown of the changes are in order.

7-9 a.m. for Morning Mayhem: I have been impressed by Morning Mayhem with the addition of Dee White as their producer.  Dee is no Joshua Dover but he is the glue holding Morning Mayhem together.  I have and always will be a fan of the show but without Dee squashing some of the bad takes, my finger may have hit my SAT button in my car.  Cello has came back stronger.  Danny needs to get back on point.

9-11 a.m for BSN Denver Sports Desk: I truly enjoyed the takes of Adam Kinney and Joshua Dover when they had their own show, Denver Sports Nation, before.  It is good to hear them on daily and the only live and local sports talk show after 9 a.m. in Denver.  The two make a great team and bring a lot of different talk to Denver and then bring in BSN staff to help give knowledge on other local sports teams like the Buffs, Rockies and Rams.  It's nice to hear their eclectic sports show.  Dover has always been a good dude both on the mic and off of it.

11 am-1 pm Gil Whitely: Dude is older than my grandparents but he took the couple months to give people the most information of what was going on at Mile High Sports.  Hard working, different sort of show.  I still can't do more than 15 minutes at a time but he's the perfect headed to the job site or lunch talk.  This is my brief Scott and Sandy tune-in just to see if they can save me from Gil's voice for a few minutes.

1 pm-2 pm Irv and Joe: These old dogs were good in the 90s and early 00s.  Bronco Billy, Clyde, etc. are the reason they still have a show because I can't do it any more.  Cecil Lammey gets my attention at this time.

2 pm-4 pm The Big Show: Kent Erickson is the unbuttered bread to the delicious omelet with home style potatoes covered with tabasco that Benny Bash and Benjamin Allbright are.  This show is good.  It is entertaining.  I tune in strictly for Ben-Squared.

4 pm-6 pm Goodman and Fogg: Eric Goodman is a machine in every phase of advertising to sports talk.  He has a good partner with Zach Fogg which is something he has not had in a long while.  The two are entertaining.  They must outshine Nate Kreckman.  My ears bleed the instant I accidentally have 104.3 tuned in.

6-8 p.m. Notaro and...: Littering and, littering and, littering and... That's a Super Troopers reference.  Notaro has always been good.  I enjoy him solo.  I enjoyed him partnered with Tom Helmer but that was short lived and 2 months after that experiment ended, Big Dee White took Helmer's spot.  White needs some non production air time and this is a great move.

After 8 p.m. I have not tuned in.  The only time I would, I would be in my car and the AM radio signal is scratchy once the sun starts to descend behind the Rocky Mountains.  The addition of Will Peterson to the staff on a permanent basis has already brought great things like partnering up with SB Nation and a clean website and appearance.  I truly have enjoyed these changes and applaud the work Mile High Sports has done, but if they want to get back on the stage with the big dogs, they need that FM dial as soon as possible.

BSN Denver Explosion
While at Mile High Sports took their hiatus, Brandon Spano took his Brandon Spano Network website and turned it into a force in online sports media for Denver.  I hardly click on the Denver Post because I either get Rockies, Broncos or CSU talk that I can get everywhere else.  He has added some talented young writers and hard chargers.  The best thing about the site is it has added different takes for all sports that you aren't getting from the tired old Denver Post that lost it's most talented writer in Benjamin Hochman and has no connection to Denver Nuggets or CU any longer.  Even their Broncos takes are bland with the departure of another writer in Mike Klis to 9 News and monotone Troy Renck trying to talk Broncos when he is more of a fit for the sport he covered in between his Broncos stints, Rockies baseball.

Brandon Spano has made a lot of great moves, from the RKs covering CU and CSU athletics to the very honest and talented David Martin covering Rockies but his biggest get may have been bringing Nate Timmons over.  Timmons was an excellent writer for Denver Stiffs and all things Nuggets talk.  Internet media has taken over print media and the amount of content and effort Spano has put together along with giving up the radio gig to give better suited guys in Dover and Kinney. 

But all things are not rainbows in BSN Denver land.  As I was typing this I saw that South Stands Denver is joining the BSN Denver team.  If you have followed Colin Daniels and John Reidy's podcast or twitter feeds, some of the most inappropriate and limited sports information comes from these two.  Their takes are for the truly lowbrow, thickheaded, meek minded, idiotic, uneducated sports fans.  Proceed with caution when dealing with these two.

Fire Drew Soicher
There isn't a much better way to put it but with that, Drew Soicher should be fired.  I could care less  he had a stupid segment on the Broncos season.  It's the fact he brings very little sports knowledge or hard work to the table.  He has somehow kept a job and on top of the sports department at 9 News for far too long.  I haven't tuned in for years, but every time I read or see a video of his, I just shake my head and say "How the hell does this guy still work at 9 News?"  Hopefully, for the sake of Denver, we won't have to endure him past this year.  It's time for a fresh start 9 News. 

Enjoy your weekend.  Don't go sliding down a handrail after you have taken edibles and are drunk off your ass like Colin Daniels did this summer.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

CU Football: Regression Leads Back to Depression

I have tried to stay positive.  I saw positive signs in 2014 and heard all the right things and saw enough to believe that with a full off-season that the 2015 Colorado Buffaloes Football season could snap the losing season drought that now appears headed to nine years.  I had visions of a bowl game and singing the CU fight song with the team after a big win in Folsom.  Instead, I feel like it's 2014 all over again. 

Colorado Football regressed back to 2014 early season form in their opener versus Hawaii.  There is no other way to put it.  When I ask what happened, I continually use one form of a word, REGRESS (regressed, regression).  The Buffs have returned back to the team that went 2-10 in 2014.  The promises of improvement due to losing so many close games by a score or less and being "COMPETITIVE" are no longer viewed as acceptable.

The tired excuses were heard from many due to some awful phantom penalties to the ending of the game and some fans and national media added fuel to that fire, but the simple fact is there are no excuses to how CU looked against Hawaii.  So let's look back at the circumstances that lead to the Hawaii debacle and go from there.

CUs Travel Schedule and Game Schedule
Colorado had a football game to play roughly 2 1/3 days after landing in Oahu on Tuesday.  They then enjoyed the island like you should; enjoying the beach, attending a luau and then getting a necessary history lesson of Pearl Harbor.  The issue is they didn't give themselves enough time to do so.  I am all for enjoying Hawaii, but there should have been a full day of rest going into the game.  Even a speed tour of Pearl Harbor requires 4 hours of your day.  There is not a lot of sitting.  The Buffs should have got to Hawaii on Monday and allowed the day before the game to be beach in the morning, football walk through early afternoon and then focus at the task at hand.  Use Thursday to watch movies and hang out.  That's it. 

The other problem is the 11 p.m. start time.  I don't care that it was 7 p.m. Hawaii time.  The game was covered on a network you had to upgrade your regular programming to or already have a ridiculously overpriced sports programming package in order to watch the game.  The Buffs should have said 5 p.m. Hawaii time at the latest or we play Friday or first thing Saturday.  I know the Buffs have a long season, but playing a game that ends 3 p.m. Mountain Time is ridiculous.  Yes, the average college student stays up that late partying but not playing Division 1 football. 

CUs On-Field Play
Key Bone-Headed Decisions
1. Electing to Receive when you win the toss
2. Spread Punt with a true freshman punter having issues getting the ball off in practice
3. Another bone headed turnover by Sefo
4. Hot Handed Adkins doesn't get ball, Powell who has not looked good gets ball and fumbles
5. Force 3 and out to start 2nd half, offense still clicking and CU runs their damn flat pass routes on 2nd and 12 when you need positive yards.  Settle for Field Goal.
6. Another wasted 3 and out D Stop! Adkins is still running well, you cross mid field and throw 3 consecutive passes instead of running the ball.
7. Another wasted 3 and out D Stop! Do the same damn thing that ended your last dive throwing the ball on 3 consecutive downs.
8. Hawaii takes advantage of it and scores making it 25-17.
9. Sefo takes a sack so Buffs go into snail mode and crawl in shell and run the ball on 3rd and long.  Hawaii answers with FG on short field.
10. Again, Lindsay and Adkins get you a first but you again pass the ball on 3 consecutive plays.
11. Another wasted 3 and out D Stop! Do the same thing as Numbers 6, 7 and 10.  There was still over 10 minutes to get two scores.  Not tough.
12.  D gets big stop and Buffs answer to get to Hawaii 27 and settle for a long field goal.  A 4-yard pass on a 3rd and long. Down by 8.
13. Another huge defensive stop.  2 minutes to score a TD + 2 point conversion, oh but you have us...wasted all your timeouts with two of those being in the 3rd quarter?!  Awful clock management, blame refs and yell at refs.

Key Bone-Headed Coaching
1. FIRE NEINAS-It starts with Neinas.  You have a blocked punt due to not protecting a freshman punter correctly.  It bites you in the ass.  You have a punt return muffed that shouldn't have even been attempted to be grabbed. 
2. Lindgren makes me balder-I already have very thin hair.  As my Grandma Ventura would have said, it's part of life.  But it is made worse when a Pac 12 offensive coordinator can't be innovative and regresses back to what he has done consistently.
-Panic and throw the ball too often:  Go back up and you will count 4 times that CU passed it three consecutive times to end a drive with time on the clock.  Run the ball or play action, but no these were passes from the start. 
-Short routes or runs when you need more: Why does CU have so many 3rd downs come a yard or two short?  It's the routes they are being told to run.  Have your players get past the sticks a yard or two.  Not short of it and have to make a play with tight coverage.  Or run the ball on 3rd and long. It's overly conservative and ridiculous.
3. Bernardi's Offensive Line-Can you say discombobulated? Sure you can!  That was a CU offensive line that looked like they had no depth and were playing for an Embree coached team.  Yes, regression!
4. Clark coaching corners-Kind of nitpicking, since defense was key but I feel that was mainly due to the nickel corner and safeties.  The outside corners aren't getting burned but they aren't turning so they can't make a play on the ball.  This was regressing back to last year and Crawley is a huge part of that.
5. Mike MacIntyre-I have gone to bat for him.  I believe in him, but your team regressed back under your watch and that talk about being on the hot seat I tried to keep cool got stoked with all of the above and the below.

Key Bone-Head Players/Units
1. Sefo Liufau-He is starting for the third year.  He regressed back to the OOC form in 2014 and all of 2013 by keying on receivers from the snap of the ball.  If Hawaii had more athletic cornerbacks they could have keyed on his eyes and he would have thrown more than the one typical bone headed interception.  By the way, I'm not counting or anything but that's 10 consecutive games started with an interception thrown by Sefo.
2. Kenneth Crawley-Forth year starting and give up a touchdown early.  You could see he was frustrated and he let it get to him the rest of the night.  The 79-yard touchdown could have been a 30 yard first down but instead of tackling, we went threw a ball punching drill.  This game was the worse I have seen from Crawley that I can remember so more regression.
3. Offensive Line-What happened to the pass protection we had seen last year.  Nembot got bull rushed by a guy much smaller than him and Kelley looked bad.  The guards looked like they were trying to still figure out the plays and were not sure what to do. 
4. Addison Gillam-We would like to see Gillam regress back to 2013 form.  Gillam still looks hesitant and a step slow and not the same.  He is no longer making plays but just there for them.

What can you say?  The team did everything possible wrong and lost to a Hawaii team they should have beat.  The defense played a very good game minus the baffling cornerback play.  The offense seemed to regress back to their worse times.

This team has to improve.  Rick George was brought on to bring a winning program back and while he has won from raising money to a beautiful addition to Folsom to improving the game day atmosphere, the Buffs ultimately fail repeatedly in the most important place, the WIN column.  The heat will just get turned up on MacIntyre if we don't see improvement in that win column. 

Last year I wrote a blog with just three weeks left in the season titled CU Football: Reasons To Not Give Up Hope. I re-read it before this and while there are many factors there for reasons to not give up hope, the main one I didn't see was improvement and that was the most on-field related reason to not give up hope.  Improvement comes in Wins in 2015.  The Buffs can't finish with 2-3 wins and claim they have improved.  At most they can say they have remained steady.  Steady is okay when you are a winning team, you must make strides and take that next step up when you are a conference bottom feeder.  CSU is proof positive.  There is momentum and positive vibes that are warranted.  Right now, a CU fan can do little more than just sit there and hope and pray.  Well, MacIntyre is a very strong spiritual man and a good man, so all I can do is pray with him.  The Colorado Football Depression appears to still be around, so get ready for a lukewarm Folsom crowd for the home opener against UMass.  Right now, there is just a lot of "Here we go again!!!"disappointment amongst Buff fans.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Colorado Buffaloes 2015 Season Preview

Nine years of losing seasons has worn thin on the Buffs faithful.  The history is too painful to re-live, so it's time to move onward and upward, like Folsom Field has.  The 2014 season brought on new seating on the North end of Folsom field with the Touchdown Club and Champions Club level seating.  In fact, nails, concrete dust, forms amongst other things were evident in CU's first home game last season.  The work that was seen for that first home game against Arizona State was just part of a work in progress for the bigger picture and similar to how 2014 went.  The Buffs went into 2014 with very few expectations and that's exactly what Buffs fans got, but like the Champions Center, improvements to Dal Ward and Indoor Practice Facility, Buffs fans saw progress and better things to come during the 2014 season.  After losing six conference games by over 22 points (and as much as 52 points) in 2013 and average margin of defeat in all conference games of nearly 24 points, the Buffs average margin of defeat was just under 14 points in conference play in 2014.  The Buffs only lost two games by over 15 points in 2014 and lost four games by 5 points or fewer.  So while their 2-10 record and winless conference record look abysmal, you have to look a little deeper to see the Buffs were a much better 2-10 team in 2014 than the 4-8 team of 2013.

In 2015 Colorado Football fans will see a Champions Center and updated Dal Ward that are completed but the overall project will still have the completion of the Indoor Practice Facility and Underground Parking Garage to be completed Early 2016.  Colorado football fans will also most likely see an incomplete product on the field, but near completion of the turnaround Head Coach Mike MacIntyre and CU fans envisioned when Rick George was brought on board as Athletic Director and helped to change the culture of Colorado Athletics.  But this isn't about how amazing Rick George is, since that is a blog in itself (coming soon), but about the 2015 Colorado Football Season.

So we start our journey in to the 2015 season by breaking down the team:

Colorado's most significant losses on offense were the departure of two senior offensive lineman Daniel Munyer and Kaiwi Crabb.   The two were the most consistent players on the offensive line in 2014 and didn't do anything to wow you or have you pulling your hair, they were solid.  Fortunately, the Buffs have recruited well and have a trio of replacements looking to fill the two spots.  In years past, the Buffs may have looked to incoming 4-star Tim Lynott Jr. to fill the void but Shane Callahan, Sam Kronshage and Gerrad Kough should see the majority of those snaps and the Buffs should be able to redshirt Lynott.  The Buffs OL is anchored by returning starters, LT-Jeromy Irwin, C-Alex Kelley and RT-Stephane Nembot.  Nembot is the only Senior and appears to be the size of a pickup truck.  Nembot has NFL size and ability and his play at season's end provided some hope that 2015 would be a special year for him.

The Buffs two offensive line departures were not their only losses as running back Tony Jones, slot receiver DD Goodson and hybrid wide receiver Tyler McCulloch  (aka TyGucci) eligibility ended.  The positive is the RB corp was already deep and have added two talented freshman in Patrick Carr and Dino Gordon to the mix.  Right now the way the rock will be shared is a question with Christian Powell back for his senior year after leading the Buffs in rushing over the last 3 seasons, Phillip Lindsay adding some mass to his frame and Michael Adkins II hoping to stay healthy for a season and show some of the flashes from his freshman season.  The best thing of this group is it got better even after losing it's second leading rusher in Jones.

While the departures of the 3rd and 4th leading receiver would typically hurt, the amount of talent and speed that are available in 2015 will allow the Buffs to not miss a beat.  Nelson Spruce, owner of too many accolades to list, returns for his final season with the Buffs after setting numerous receiving records in 2014.  Shay Fields returns off a Buffs freshman record, 50 catch season, and will be a key benefactor in any teams trying to prevent Spruce from getting his catches.  The group behind them are Bryce Bobo, Devin Ross and Donovan Lee.  All bring something different with Bobo being the tallest of the group but having strength and speed combination to go with it.  It's not fair to compare but having seen Bobo as a true freshman to this year, the way he cuts on a dime and turns it upfield and the way he can contort his body is reminiscent of former Buff great Paul Richardson.  Bobo played injured in 2014 and a healthy 2015 could spell difficult for opposing secondary's.  Devin Ross played his true freshman season sparingly and took last year to redshirt and trust his hands a little more.  All signs point to 2015 being a solid season for him.  Donovan Lee showed some flashes in 2014 when he filled the slot position while Goodson took a break.  Lee should be that 5-8 yard quick slant/flat that the slot receiver has become vital for.

Colorado had very limited production from the Tight End role in 2014 with the position only accounting for 18 catches.  The Buffs have junior tight end Sean Irwin that will fill the role he did last year of added blocking/limited pass catching and two redshirt freshman in Hayden Jones and Dylan Keeney that will look to make the tight end more than just an afterthought.  Keeney is built a lot like McCulloch and may fill that slot Tight End role, while Jones is a taller version or Irwin and will most likely spell Irwin.  Both Keeney and Jones have the height you want in a tight end making it impossible for  the shorter LBs/secondary to keep from making that catch in that seam splitting corner/post route or at the sticks comeback route.  Having this group be productive may be the key in keeping the offense from having those momentum killing 3 and outs.

The Buffs are set at quarterback as far as having a starter in his third season in Sefo Liufau.  Liufau was very productive in 2014 but his game killing turnovers have to be minimized this year after being part of the problem in losses versus half a dozen teams.  Liufau must be the dagger in 2015 by sustaining drives and limiting those turnovers.  He has a full cupboard of options with a solid running game, wide receiving corp with the most speed CU has had since their Big XII title run in 2001.  Behind Liufau are Jordan Gehrke, Cade Apsay and Steven Montez.  The hope is none of them have to see the field in anything but clean up duty.  Montez is intriguing in 2017, but a redshirt year and chomping at the bit in 2016 is what CU fans need to see in order for 2015 to show signs of success.  #13 can no longer be unlucky for the Buffs.

The key component to the offense is a staff that has not lost anyone from this group with Troy Walters showing his coaching ability may be as good or better than his play making ability as a former Biletnikoff winner at Stanford and 9-year NFL veteran.  Klayton Adams has motivated a RB/TE group with his engaging personality and enthusiasm as a coach, Gary Bernardi (Michael Douglas' long lost cousin) has improved the offensive line play and Offensive Coordinator/QB coach Brian Lindgren has made the Buffs offense look dynamic at times.  Of course you are going to question a guys play calling as a fan but other than that damn 2 yard flat route when the Buffs need 8 yards, Lindgren will be tough to keep on staff with smaller FBS/FCS schools probably kicking his tires to take over if the Buffs again show improvement.

The Buffs lost DT Josh Tupou to a season long suspension due to his involvement in a fight at a party as spring camp was about to begin along with the graduation of Juda Parker.  The other key losses are limited to mainly Greg Henderson and Brady Daigh.  Henderson was CUs most consistent corner over his 4-year career, but a changing of the guard happened in 2014 with Kenneth Crawley proving to be his equal much of 2014.  Daigh was a back-up but filled in admirably when Addison Gillam's injuries got the most out of him.  Daigh was a great run stopping LB but teams took advantage of his limited pass defending ability at times.  Gillam is a better all over the field player, but he has to be healthy and keep weight on to be that player.

The Buffs defense most likely will be a Hybrid 3-4 with the changing of the guard, gone is Kent Baer's vanilla defense that did little improvement from what Buff fans have been used to seeing for far too long in giving up an atrocious amount of yards and points.  Andy LaRussa left with him but the Buffs improved as a staff adding Jim Leavitt and Joe Tumpkin.  The energy, persona and positivity out of Jim Leavitt is electrifying and it's tough not to get excited about what he brings to the table.  He is a coach that turned around a defense at Kansas State into the nation's top defense and made the University of Southern Florida go from Division I-AA average team to a Top 25 program D-1A team leading USF to a 95-57 record in his tenure.  Tumpkin goes from defensive coordinator at Central Michigan to safeties coach at Colorado.  The Buffs fans hate the term home run hire but Leavitt was the guy in left field that no one expected to be named Defensive Coordinator and Buff fans have had a smile on their face since.  Hopefully that smile isn't wiped off until at least Oregon in 2015 or the Buffs dreams of a bowl game could be wiped away, but we'll get to that later.

On the defensive line, there are a lot of ability but not the most experience.  Samson Kafovalu returns after a year away from the team and showed a ton of promise to end 2013.  A 5-technique in a 3-4 is a great fit for his added bulk.  Senior Justin Solis should anchor the Defensive Line and will need to go from rotation player to main contributor at Nose Tackle.  The other 5-technique will most likely be JUCO transfers Jordan Carrell and Leo Jackson with hybrid OLB/DEs contributing as well.  Jase Franke is a large young man that may have seen the field as true freshman in years past but a redshirt will help his first contributions be greater.  He will be part of that rotation as well.  Eddy Lopez got some playing time in 2014 as a true freshman and will be Solis' main back-up.  Blake Robbins is also intriguing a junior college transfer that is intriguing coming off a 3-4 type defense.  He may take a little longer to contribute but he has good talent for a player in only his fourth year of football and he will move between DE and OLB in this system.   The group will have to grow up quickly with an experienced Hawaii offensive line off the bat and in-state rival CSU having a solid offensive line over the past few seasons.

At Linebacker, the Buffs bring back plenty of experience but must take over this team in the 3-4.  Addison Gillam and Kenneth Olugbode return as the Buffs leading tacklers.  Gillam's numbers were deflated by missing large chunks of time and his health (recovering from mono, concussions and injuries).  Both were undersized but have put on enough weight to have that be less of an issue.  Both can play 3 downs and help all over the field.  The concern is how will players transition to their new positions on the outside and how deep or thin is this group?

The positive is the Buffs had a great deal of 3-4 Rush OLB type prospects that were playing Defensive End.  Both Derek McCartney and Jimmie Gilbert should see a bump in sack production with the transition to being on their feet rather than 3 point stance every play.  Some intriguing OLB players are QB turned OLB Jaleel Awini and transfer Deaysean Rippy who is a former 4-star prospect that has not seen the field much.  Terran Hasselbach, a rested Timothy Coleman and  In the middle the Buffs will need contributions from first year players Grant Watanbe (greyshirt) and NJ Falo.  Both are built like seniors instead of freshman but how they play in the speed of the college game should be interesting. Rick Gamboa and Christian Shaver are two other inside guys that will get reps and push the guys ahead of them.  It is an interesting mix that will have to get acclimated to their new roles quickly.  The health of Gillam is the key to whether this defense can take the next step or is left spinning its wheels.

The secondary may be the deepest it has been since the early 2000s, much like the Wide Receiving corp.  Cornerback has returning starters in Chidobe Awuzie and Kenneth Crawley.  Their back-ups in John Walker and Ahkello Witherspoon have good Pac 12 game experience and will see regular playing time during Nickel/Dime packages.  Newcomer JUCO transfer Afolabi Laguda is good depth to have to play either corner or safety.  There is little talk and hope of former 4-start prospect Yuri Wright contributing.  The main thing fans and staff would like to see is the cornerback group contributing via Turnovers.  The Buffs have not had much success over the past 3 seasons in causing interceptions.

At Safety the Buffs have a group of Tedric Thompson, Evan White, Jered Bell, former walk-on Ryan Moeller and Laguda competing for 4 spots.  Thompson was the heart of the secondary it seemed.  The teams performance declined heavily when he wasn't on the field.  The Cal game and Arizona games are both very showing of that.  Bringing Bell back for his 6th year is huge for this team.  In 2013 he was CUs best safety and is a strong presence in the locker room and on the field.  The depth and experience from this group can weather an injury where it was a dagger in years past that required RBs and WRs to switch positions late in the season under other regimes.  This staff knows secondary is key to success in a pass heavy Pac 12.

Special Teams
This is the Achilles heel that all Buffs fans are cringing even thinking about.  The Buffs lose their Punter and Kicker in Darragh O'Neil and Will Oliver and replace them with a kicker from Mexico that has never kicked at the big level, a former walk-on and a true freshman that was raised in Rams country with Nebraska red but chose to challenge himself and go to a real school in CU.  Diego Gonzalez, Chris Graham and Alex Kinney will have to grow up quickly and adjust to the Pac 12 level quickly.  Early season foes Hawaii and CSU use special teams to turn the tide in games against more talented teams often.  The coverage units for the Buffs return a ton of experience but they will have to be better early in the season than they have been under Toby Neinas.  The return duties could go to anyone.  Nelson Spruce is sure handed but not dynamic in punt return, while Shay Fields can be more dynamic with his speed but didn't show too much.  Lee Walker is intriguing if healthy with his electric speed.  Kickoff Return was improved last year but the Buffs must not have costly turnovers.  Phillip Lindsay and Patrick Carr would make for the most exciting guys along with Walker.

Season Outlook
The Buffs should be improved on offense from an already solid unit.  Eliminating turnovers and  short drives will be what makes that improvement be either minor or major.  On defense there is no way but up and the experience returning in the key area of secondary (ask the past 2 NFL champs how key a deep secondary is) and a reinvigorated coaching staff should see a defense that is in the 70s-80s ranking which can still spell bowl game for a team that puts up points like the Buffs can.  Special Teams is nerve racking but the Buffs have not had to replace two starters in one season.  Kinney has to get rid of his punts faster than the high school and practice speed he is used to and the kickers need to be automatic on PATs and be able to make 9 out of 10 inside 40 yards or there will be more pressure put on the offense.

at Hawaii-W
Hawaii loses both coordinators and the strength of their defense in their defensive line.  Their offense should be improved.  Still, Hawaii doesn't have the talent or team speed to compete against Power 5 conference teams. 
UMass has a very solid offense and made the Buffs pay for coming out flat.  Their travel to Boulder will not allow them the same advantages and while UMass is a better team in 2015, it's not as much as CU is. 
I respect what CSU has done, but it is a two year window with one of those years having a loss to CU.   The Rams are 4-5 against the Buffs in their worse 9 year stretch ever.  The Rams have an extremely talented and one of the nations top playmakers in Rashard Higgins.  They lose their top two tacklers... and their now SEC head coach and NFL Left Tackle and Quarterback.  Their coach has been at the same school and coached under the same coach for the majority of his coaching career and their quarterback.  He may be a damn good coach but it will not be a seamless transition.  Buffs win and cover whatever the spread will be.
Bring on the Ducks at 4-0.
Buffs will not be boat raced but the excitement and buzz is met by realizing the Buffs still need another year at least.
at Arizona State-L
Probably the most arrogant head coach there is in the Pac 12.  Buffs had a shot and wasted it last year.  It will be nice to see them play Arizona State tough on the road but no win in the desert.
CU has been on the cusp against the Wildcats and Arizona was just like a fly that wouldn't die and worked their magic to take a Pac 12 South that beat each other up.  Arizona State and USC won't falter this year.  The Wildcats will and CU will shock the world getting to 5-2.
at Oregon State-W
Even if the Buffs end up losing against Arizona, they face an OSU team that is scrambling after Mike Riley left them void of talent.  Anderson is a hell of a coach but it won't matter.  Buffs get a road win in the Pac 12!
This is a tough call since CU had UCLA down but didn't make the most of their chance in 2014.  UCLA starts a true freshman that may be great but it won't matter with the talent Mora has recruited.  Mora is not a great coach and at home, CU would push UCLA and actually keep them down.
Kevin Hogan is in what seems his 5th year as Stanford's starting QB.  David Shaw is a solid coach but his team is slowly declining without a true magician like Jim Harbaugh.  2016 the Buffs will get them back at their home.  Buffs shake the tree but can't knock it down.
USC has Kessler and while Sarkisian has a bottle of that "Smooth as Silk" Whiskey in his desk, his QB is all USC needs.  USC has finally got off probation and will use it do their full advantage.  Similar loss to Oregon, not pretty but not a blow out.
at Washington State-W
Mike Leach will be fired after this game because his curse against CU (and Colorado schools in general) leads him to lock the AD in the closet.
at Utah-W
The Buffs cause another coach to get canned with Kyle Whittingham's constant revolving door of coordinators finally biting him in the ass and his AD has decided he has worn out his welcome with the Utes going 4-8 on the season.

Buffs somehow go 8-5 and CSU fans are quiet another year.  Order is being restored on the Front Range for college football.   Honestly, I am not sure about 8-5.  I see 4 Wins, 4.5 Maybes and 3.5 Sure Losses, so the Buffs could only be 5-8.  Either way, the improvement continues.  Those that believe the Buffs should be content with four wins are expecting the same results and no improvement.  From Rick George to Mike MacIntyre to the team and coaches and beyond, the expectations can no longer be getting better but getting Wins.  After seeing that culture change/change of tune from the team, a bowl game is a real possibility in 2015.