BOULDER, Colo. – The University of Colorado has to be happy with their first year performance in the Pac-12 Conference. Looking back, there were a variety of pleasant surprises, a few reality checks, and a lot of gray area in-between.
CU had success in several areas, but there is no denying Colorado football struggled in their first year in the Pac-12. Colorado has to get their football program right to be considered a top collegiate athletic program.
Mike Bohn, the University of Colorado athletic director, has had to deal with a football program that has had little success since he took over in 2005. But, he is optimistic that the Buffs will turn the corner. He has strong opinions about what Colorado has to do to compete in the upper echelons of college football.
“We have to do what we have always done to be successful,” said Bohn. “We have to recruit good athletes and count on good, quality coaching. Our recruiting class is in the top-30 this year, and it needs to stay there year in and year out. We are one of the top-five toughest places in the country to play and win. That is why we beat teams like Georgia at home.”
Bohn thinks he has the mix of athletes and coaches to get the job done.
“I feel good about our coaching staff,” added the CU athletic director. “So, we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Bohn says he is not surprised by the strength and depth of Pac-12 Conference non-revenue producing sport teams. The conference won nine NCAA titles in Colorado’s first year.
“We knew coming into the conference how much depth there was,” stated Bohn. “So, no, we weren’t surprised at how tough it is in all sports.”
One thing about Bohn is he believes in his school, and in his conference. He sees the Pac-12 as having clout nationally and there is no question he is proud to be a part of the conference decision makers.
One of the biggest decisions to come across the conference in years is where the Pac-12 fits in a college football playoff. The conference athletic directors, including Bohn, have made themselves heard to Larry Scott, the Pac-12 Conference Commissioner.
“If conference champions and strength of schedule are part of it, then I am all for it,” said Bohn when asked where he stands of a Divison I football playoff. “I have yet to see a model that emphasizes strength of schedule, but if they do I am on board. I think we are on the right track.”
“Look at Oregon as an example,” Bohn continued. “They went on the road to play a top quality opponent in LSU, lost, but still went to the Rose Bowl and finished ranked in the top five.”
Clearly, the proposal approved by the college Presidents – a four team playoff – is a start.
Now, Colorado looks to improve on a quality first year that saw a Pac-12 tournament title in basketball and a conference championship in cross country. Certainly, along the way, Bohn and his Buffaloes expect improvement in all areas.
“We recognize the significant opportunity before us, and we know we have our work cut out for us,” said Bohn, when asked to give a statement of where Colorado fit in the future. “This is the Conference of Champions for a reason, and we are excited to be the eastern border anchor for the conference. We’re excited to be here.”
Here is some grades for Colorado’s first year in the Pac-12.
Basketball – Grade: A
The men’s basketball program gave the Buff fans a lot to cheer about as they made an improbable run to the inaugural Pac-12 tournament title. Colorado beat fellow newcomer Utah in the first round, then beat a solid Oregon team to advance to the semis. They followed a win over Oregon with a surprise victory against Cal, and then topped off their championship run by beating Arizona to advance to the NCAA tournament. Their tournament win against UNLV in New Mexico solidified that, for certain, Colorado’s run in hoops was no fluke.
The women’s team wasn’t as lucky. Stanford has dominated the Pac-12 women’s basketball scene for what seems like forever, and this year was no different. Colorado struggled to find their groove in a conference that has been – top to bottom – traditionally solid in women’s hoops. Now, the Buffs must rebound from a 2012 season that saw them go 7-11 in conference play.
Cross Country – Grade: A
The women’s cross country team excelled in the Pac-12 this season. Besides winning the Pac-12 title, they tied with New Mexico to win the regionals. Eventually, their season ended with an 11th place finish in the NCAA championships.
Colorado is unique in the sense that their athletes gain the benefits of training at high altitude. Couple that with outstanding talent and it is a recipe for success. When it comes to distance running, expect Colorado to do well for years to come.
The men’s team did well too. They have won three national titles, and their status as an elite cross country program will not lose its luster with top quality cross country programs, top to bottom, in the Pac-12.
Football – Grade: D
Colorado won two Pac-12 games in their first season, including a surprising final game upset of fellow newcomer Utah. But, clearly, the Buffs are a long way from their national championship form of 1990.
Golf – Grade: C
Golf had its ups and downs at CU. The women made it to the NCAA tournament, while the men finished eighth in the Pac-12 tournament at Oregon State’s Trysting Tree.
The Buffalo women played consistently all year, and then saw stars Alex Stewart and Emily Talley have tough finishes. Expect them to excel in the future.
The men are a different story. The Pac-12 is consistently strong in golf, and this year the conference flexed their muscle again. Colorado seemed a bit out of place in the top heavy Pac-12. Six Pac-12 teams qualified for the NCAA tournament, and the Pac-12 had four first-team All-Americans.
Tennis – Grade: F
It was no surprise that the Buffalo women went 0-10 during the Pac-12 tennis season. Traditionally, the Pac-12 fields the best teams in the country, and UCLA was dominant again this season. The Colorado women have their hands full as they find a way to compete in the strongest tennis conference in America.
Track and Field – Grade: C
Both the men’s and women’s teams struggled in their first year of conference track and field, but that is no surprise with national power Oregon in the mix. UCLA, USC, and Washington State field outstanding teams as well. Colorado did have a bright spot when Jessica Tebo won the women’s 5,000 meters at the Pac-12 championships in Eugene, but – surprisingly – the high altitude training didn’t seem to do much to help Colorado track and field bridge the talent gap. Clearly, they need to get better to compete at the highest level within the conference.
All in all, it was a decent year for Colorado athletics. They now have to look to the future, get better in football, and recruit better athletes – top to bottom – to compete in all sports. Mike Bohn and his staff are up for the challenge and, clearly, they believe they have a bright, bright future in the expanded Pac-12 Conference.