I'm just old enough that I can remember when Colorado was a power program in college football. I'm not talking about a couple of good Gary Barnett years. I'm talking about Kordell Stewart throwing to Michael Westbrook and Rashaan Salaam winning the Heisman. It's been a really, really long time since those days.
The Buffs are climbing out of a big hole caused by a number of factors, but bad coaching hires were definitely a major reason for the collapse from respectability. Finally it seems like they have the right man for the job though in Mike MacIntyre. He's got the Buffs competitive on the field despite lacking the depth and talent of other teams in the conference. They appear to be on the verge of climbing out of the Pac-12 cellar and joining the next tier of teams as early as next season.
To get further than that next tier is going to be the ultimate challenge for MacIntyre though. Saying it's tough to recruit at Colorado is an understatement. There isn't a ton of talent in the state either and the two top players this year are both committed to Nebraska. And when you're not winning, which Colorado hasn't done in a long time, it's tough to win recruiting battles for out of state prospects despite Boulder being a great place to go to school.
There are 14 commitments in the current recruiting class and it's ranked second from the bottom in the Pac-12. I wouldn't expect Stanford to stay at the bottom as they add more commitments, so unfortunately it looks like the cellar for Colorado in recruiting as well.
The good news is that there is some talent in this class that can help them get out of the cellar on the field both immediately and in future years. There are several players in the current group of commitments that have the chance to outplay their current rankings when they get to the next level.
Instant impact commit(s)
Two players stand out to me that I feel can help out on the field right away when they get to Boulder. The first is running back Donald Gordon. I wrote about him when he committed and I really like what I have seen from him on film.
The 3 star back has good speed and is a very good inside runner. He should be physically ready to contribute from day one when he steps on campus.
The second player that I think can make an immediate contribution is 3 star defensive end commit TJ Fehoko. This kid is a 3 star because he's listed at 6'1" and he might not even be that tall. If he was a couple of inches taller, he would easily be listed as a top 300 player in the nation.
He's explosive off the ball. He's got rare quickness and can be extremely disruptive in the right scheme. He's listed at 245 right now, but he has room to add more weight. I think he can play somewhere along the defensive line as a freshman, but will likely move inside to play defensive tackle once he adds more weight and strength. In his first year I see him as a rotational player, but he's got the potential be an All Pac-12 performer later in his career if he develops like I think he can.
Don't sleep on ______
Tight end/offensive tackle/defensive end Aaron Haigler is going to be a very interesting player to watch as he develops. He has great size (6'7" 250) and is a good athlete that plays multiple sports in high school. He has so much room to add weight to his frame that I wouldn't be shocked to see him play at over 300 pounds when he concentrates on football full time at Colorado.
He's listed at a different position by just about every major recruiting site, but the one position I don't see him playing is tight end. I think he's going to be too big to play the position. I see him growing into a big defensive lineman that could play inside or at end or being a left tackle for the Buffs. He plays for a very good high school program in California (Sherman Oaks Notre Dame) and is nowhere close to the player he is going to eventually be.
He's exactly the type of kid that a program like Colorado should target and could be the kind of player that turns into a steal in a couple years.
Big fish still on the reel
There really isn't any highly ranked players out there that Colorado is seriously in contention for at this time so I probably could have left this section blank. Instead, I'll use it to talk about another sleeper that Colorado is in the running for. 3 star linebacker Jay Hockaday is a recent offer for a player that is under the radar in Tennessee. He showed some flashes as a physical inside linebacker as a junior and looks faster in his senior film. He won't move the needle in the overall rankings, but he'd be a solid pickup that could develop into a good player down the road.
This class is not going to be making any headlines nationally in terms of the talent they are bringing in, but I like the potential of the class overall. I didn't mention in-state offensive lineman Tim Lynott as an instant impact player because offensive linemen rarely contribute early in their careers, but he's a player that could eventually develop into a starter for any team in the conference. He's violent off the ball and is going to be a nasty interior lineman. He's one to watch in the coming years.
Recruiting can be like a chicken and the egg type of deal. Teams need to recruit better to win, but in order to recruit better, teams need to win some games to attract some players. In other words, when a program has dug itself into a hole, it can be really difficult to dig itself out of it.
Colorado is likely not going to climb into the upper half of the recruiting rankings in the conference until they can climb into the upper half of the conference in terms of winning on the field. Until then, Mike MacIntyre and his staff are going to keep doing what they are doing and working to find players that can develop into much better players in college than they are in high school like Aaron Haigler. I think the Buffs have the right man for the job. It's just not going to be an easy job to pull off.