First-year Colorado football coach Mike Macintyre has been on the biting end of an underdog.
A couple of years ago, he was coaching at Temple, a team that was 0-7 and had earlier been routed, 44-7, by William & Mary. Temple was a 36-point underdog to 7-0 Virginia Tech.
“We went there to play them and we upset them on homecoming and I realized right then and there that anybody can beat anybody on any given day,” said MacIntyre, a 22-year coaching veteran, during his weekly news conference this week. “And we outplayed them, outhustled them, outscraped them, stopped them on a fourth down goal-line stand. From then on, I realized anybody can beat anybody on a given day because when we got beat by William & Mary a few weeks before, 44-7, and we played more like Mary than we did like William that day and we ended up beating Virginia Tech two weeks later. So I never take or will ever allow any of our players to take anything lightly or our coaching staff.”
The Buffaloes, a one-win team a year ago that prompted a coaching change, take on the University of Central Arkansas Saturday night in Boulder. Buoyed by seven Football Championship Subdivision teams defeating Football Bowl Subdivision teams last weekend (including conference champions of a year ago, Oregon State and Kansas State going down), the Bears and Bear fans have for weeks held hopes of an benchmark victory over the Pac-12 opponents.
Colorado’s season-opening, 41-27 victory over Colorado State on Sunday threw a caution flag into those hopes.
“It’s a different team and a different culture and different schemes and their players seemed to be engaged and more focused,” said UCA coach Clint Conque. “It will be a huge challenge in all three phases. I don’t think any FCS teams is going to sneak up on anybody this week.”
MacIntyre echoed that.
“I think for their (the Bears’) situation, they’re going to get to play in front of a big crowd, They’re going to get to play on a national television audience (Pac-12 TV) and I think that’s a big deal for them. I coached in FCS (UT Martin) for six years of my life and I enjoyed every moment of it and to me I felt no different when we beat Murray State than when we beat Colorado State and that was our big rival. I mean that because you put the same amount of time, the same heart ... all the kids are giving all they have. They’re just not as many people watching but when you get in between those white lines it’s game on and it’s a passionate awesome time.”
MacIntyre added, “I think also some of those FCS teams, they don’t have as many scholarships so a lot of those kids play younger and they stay the whole time so they (the Bears) have a senior quarterback (Wynrick Smothers). He was player of the year in his conference last year and he was a junior so now he’s back again. They just have so much experience and have had so many reps they’ve played in so many games and their own team ends up happening like that. I think that’s why you see that happening and some the FBS schools graduate some guys and you might have a younger team than the FCS school coming in.”
Since they have been in NCAA Division I, the Bears have been competitive against FBC teams, including leading Ole Miss at the half last season and taking the game deep into the third quarter before the Rebels pulled away.
“You want to take the game into the fourth quarter with an opportunity to win,” said Conque, who has a deep team with 16 returning starters. “Our players are embracing the challenge. But we are going to have to play well, limit turnovers and win the kicking game.”
MacIntyre has been high in his praise for the Bears.
“Central Arkansas, I’m telling you and I am not blowing smoke, is fifth in the country and has one of the best quarterbacks (Smothers) in the FCS,” he said at his news conference. “He’s the best in their league and they can run. They’re quick and athletic. And they’re a spread football team, throwing it and doing and running options, so they’re going to have us in space so we’re going to have to leverage the football and tackle really, really well in open space. It’s going to get a great test for us.”
In order to get somewhat acclimated to the altitude and drier air, the Bears traveled to Colorado Thursday, a day earlier than normal. Conque said there will be oxygen available for the players although the effects of a higher altitude varies by player. The coaches have stressed hydration throughout the week.
“Another concern is logistics,” he said. “Since we don’t have much time for practice in Colorado, we had to have all the details of our game plan and pretty much do all our preparations before we left.”
UCA is receiving a $390,000 payout for the contest, the largest in its history.