Despite coaching change rumors, Buffs eye bowl eligibility in home finale

Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre stands at the edge of the visitor tunnel prior to kickoff at Memorial Stadium. Sept. 8, 2018. (Nigel Amstock/CU Independent)

Amid rumors that surfaced late Monday night of Colorado Buffaloes head coach Mike MacIntyre parting ways with the university at the end of the season, the sixth-year coach held his weekly press conference at the Champions Center on Tuesday in a room packed to the brim with eager reporters and media personnel.

The first question, as one might expect, asked him to address the situation at hand.

MacIntyre held up a large framed picture of a buffalo walking in a blizzard, a photo he revealed he proudly hangs in his office.

“We talk all the time about how you can only control our guys, our people, your situation,” MacIntyre said. “That’s one of things I talk to [the players] about all the time.”

Continuing his anecdote, MacIntyre held the picture up so everyone could see it.

“We’ve had a little bit of a storm here in the last few weeks and we’ve lost some close games,” he said. “I talked to [the players] about life and what that means and that we’re walking in it together … I love this football team.”

As it turns out, roughly an hour before the press conference was set to begin, CU’s athletic director Rick George released a statement refuting the allegations of MacIntyre’s and the university’s agreement to part ways.

The press conference really felt more like an announcement of a head coach stepping down rather than his usual pre-scheduled, weekly game preview press conference. Lost amid the chatter and the speculative questions from media is the fact that Colorado still has a season to finish.

There is still a great deal on the line. With two games and just one win shy of clinching a bowl game, the Buffaloes have much to play for. It starts this week with the Pac-12 South-leading No. 21 Utah Utes (7-3).

It’ll be the final game at Folsom Field this season, marking the last time that the Buffs’ 19 seniors on the roster will play in front of home fans.

“A lot of guys want to win this game for the seniors to send the seniors off right,” senior safety Nick Fisher said. “I think everyone knows one more win and we’re bowl eligible, so it’s kind of a win-win for us.”

It’ll be a big day at Folsom Field. Not only will the hallowed grounds play host to Colorado’s senior footballers one last time, but it will also mark the milestone 500th game to be played at the 94-year-old stadium.

If nothing at all, a win would just be a feel-good moment for any Buffs fan.

It won’t be easy, however. Don’t expect Utah to lay down and let Colorado’s seniors, Folsom’s fans and bowl-postulants get an easy win just because it’d be a good story. No, this is football and it’s never easy.

“It’s tough to win in the Pac,” Fisher said. “Any game you can win is impressive. Everyone is good in the Pac-12. Looking at Utah, they’re a great team. Their quarterback played well [and] their running back played well. They got hit with some adversity [against Oregon] and they did a pretty good job of handling it.”

Utah is coming off a big win against the Oregon Ducks last week. The Utes’ win was even more impressive considering the team lost its starting quarterback and running back to season-ending injuries just a few days apart from each other before the game against the Ducks.

Redshirt freshman Jason Shelley Jr. made his first career start, completing 18 passes for 262 yards and rushing for 22 yards and two scores on the ground. When Shelley comes to Boulder this Saturday, it will be somewhat of a homecoming for the young quarterback.

Shelley is the second cousin of CU’s late, great Rashaan Salaam, who is the university’s only Heisman Trophy winner (1994).

The young gun will be a tough task for the Buffs to handle. To squeak out a win, the team must get back to what junior quarterback Steven Montez calls playing “Colorado football.”

“[It’s] tough, physical football,” Montez said. “Physical, at the end of the day, is the keyword and that’s kind of a word we’ve been focused on all week. Physical football, we know we have to play that upfront and at all skill positions as well, if we want a chance to be successful.”

Montez and the rest of the Buffs’ offense have looked lethargic during the team’s current five-game losing streak, and they’ll need to iron out the kinks playing against a formidable foe like Utah.

“We’ve been playing hard — this whole entire season we’ve been playing our butts off,” Montez said. “We just need to get back to those small, minute details; and if we get back to doing those right and getting on the same page, I think we’ll be in a good spot.”

Montez was the first player up to the podium to talk at the press conference. Naturally, he was asked a multitude of MacIntyre-related questions from the eager media who were chomping at the bit. Many asked Montez what MacIntyre had said to the team when he addressed them early Tuesday morning.

“I’m going to keep what we said as a team private,” Montez said. “As for the rumors, that’s what I’ve heard they are, just rumors. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really change how we feel as players and how we feel about this season. … We’re just going to go out there on Saturday and just try to play our best football regardless of the situation.”

Montez did reveal that in light of the talk that coach MacIntyre delivered to the players, the team held a very upbeat, spirited practice.

“Today’s practice, I think, was probably some of the best energy we’ve had all season,” Montez said. “Guys went out there, they had a chip on their shoulder, they’re hungry and practiced really hard and really well today … we’re locked in and we’re ready to go for Saturday and for Utah to come here to Folsom.”

For the 2018 Colorado Buffaloes, it all comes down to this. For some, they’re playing in what is their final game here in Boulder. For others, they’re even potentially playing for their jobs.

“I don’t think my job is in jeopardy, but you got to win games,” MacIntyre said. “I do know this: when I came here two years ago this was the worst power football program, the laughing stock of college football … then we came here, the gold helmet is not tarnished anymore … but success is measured in wins and losses too.”

Saturday’s game is forecasted to be cold and snowy. According to MacIntyre, for him and many of his players, it’ll be their first game played in such weather. The forecast provides a poetic, eerily-perfect comparison to the framed picture of the snow-covered buffalo that he showed the media on Tuesday.

For MacIntyre and his Buffaloes, it’s been a storm of a season thus far. Despite Monday’s rumors and the turmoil of this turbulent season, they’re still charging head first into it. They’ll face the storm together. That’s the buffalo way, after all.

Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Scott MacDonald at scma0899@colorado.edu and follow him on Twitter @ScottTopics.

Scott MacDonald

SCOTT MACDONALD IS THE ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR FOR THE CU INDEPENDENT. ORIGINALLY HAILING FROM MELBOURNE, FLORIDA, AT THE AGE OF FIVE, SCOTT AND HIS FAMILY MOVED TO COLORADO (BEFORE IT WAS COOL). IT WAS HERE IN COLORADO THAT SCOTT GREW INTO HIS OBSESSION FOR SPORTS, AND HE'S NOW EXCITED TO BE ABLE TO SCRIBE THAT PASSION THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF THE CUI. SCOTT IS MAJORING IN COMMUNICATION WITH A MINOR IN BUSINESS. FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER @SCOTTTOPICS.

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