Colorado suffered its fourth consecutive blowout loss to a Pac-12 opponent today in Eugene, falling to 1-7 on the season.
Three days ago, Chaparral High School tight end Mitch Parsons, one of the state’s top recruits, withdrew his verbal commitment to CU.
Parsons posted his announcement (sans punctuation) on Twitter: “Well Im no longer committed to Colorado still going to stay in contact with the coaches but I need to figure some things out #SoMuchOnMyMind”
Parsons was one of three in-state commitments for the recruiting class of 2013, along with running back Phillip Lindsay of Denver South and offensive lineman John Lisella of Columbine.
Two days before Saturday’s loss in Eugene, I asked second-year CU coach Jon Embree if he would consider a radical change in philosophy similar to the one Bill McCartney adopted in 1985 after the Buffs went 1-10 in 1984 with a conventional offense.
McCartney moved his freshman tailback, Mark Hatcher, to quarterback and installed the wishbone. In McCartney’s fourth season, the Buffs improved immediately, and dramatically, finishing 7-4 and earning an invitation to a bowl game, the Freedom Bowl, for the first time in eight years. McCartney never presided over a losing season again.
“We were 1-10,” McCartney explained at the time. “At that point, we were ready to sink our teeth into something new.”
As his talent improved, McCartney’s offense morphed into a variation of the wishbone he called the I-bone in 1988 and finally back to a pro set for the 1991 Blockbuster Bowl as he looked ahead to the 1992 season.
Embree, who is now 4-17 in a season and a half as CU’s coach, remembers the feeling. He was midway through his Buffs playing career at the time.
“Coach Mac went to the wishbone the spring going into my junior year,” he recalled. “When you run option-type football, whether it’s the spread (or another kind), it does help you because you don’t have to block people. You read people. It gets you in space and allows you, if they make a mistake, a chance to make a good play.
“Last week against USC I put in some spread principles and we were able to move the ball. We moved it better. And we’ll do some of that this week also.”
The Buffs managed 150 yards rushing against Oregon, small consolation next to the Ducks’ 439 yards on the ground and 618 overall.
For years, the Air Force Academy has used a run-heavy attack based on some form of option football to compensate for generally smaller linemen and a smaller pool of potential recruits given the service commitment required of Air Force cadets. Not only does it force opponents to prepare for a style of play they are likely to see only once all season, it also eats clock and deprives opponents of possessions.
The Falcons rushed for 461 yards Saturday in a win over Nevada that improved their record on the season to 5-3. They came into the weekend ranked second in the country in rushing.
In another case, Bill Snyder has Kansas State ranked among the top five teams in the country just four years after his return to the Wildcats. He’s done it behind a read-option attack built around quarterback Collin Klein of Loveland, Colorado, who is suddenly a serious candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
Without any star performers and a stable of uninspiring drop-back passers, the Buffaloes’ pro-style offense has floundered against faster, more talented Pac-12 opponents. In their last three conference games, the Buffs have given up 51 points to Arizona State, 50 to Southern Cal and 70 to Oregon, not to mention the 69 Fresno State piled up back in September.
Given these dispiriting results and their likely effect on recruiting, I asked Embree if he would consider going back to the future, as McCartney did nearly 30 years ago, and adopting some form of option offense for next year in an effort to restore the Buffs’ competitiveness. He didn’t rule it out.
“At the end of the season, we’ll sit there and evaluate everything that we’re doing on offense, defense and special teams and see what it is that we can do with the people we have and get an idea of really where we are and whether it’s wholesale changes or just implementing a little more or less, whatever it is, get those issues addressed,” Embree said.
Inevitably, seasons like this one sap strength from a program and support from a coaching staff. After going 7-25-1 in his first three seasons in Boulder, McCartney was ready to sink his teeth into something new. When this season is finally over, will Embree feel the same?