With Helfrich calling the plays as CU's offensive coordinator, the Buffs lost to the Cornhuskers that day thanks in large part to a 57-yard field goal in the final minutes from Nebraska kicker Alex Henery, who had never made such a kick in his career to that point.
The loss dropped the Buffs to 5-7 and kept them from a second consecutive bowl game and who knows what else? Within a year, head coach Dan Hawkins was on the hot seat and his assistants were leaving for more job security, including Helfrich who joined the Ducks.
Helfrich was named Oregon's head coach in February shortly after Chip Kelly bolted for the NFL. Now he's leading the team picked as the favorite to win the Pac-12 Conference with two Heisman Trophy candidates. Meanwhile, Colorado is coming off a 1-11 season with another new coaching staff and has earned little respect entering its third season in the league.
"If they don't make that field goal, what happens?" Helfrich said, acknowledging he might not have left for Oregon. "It's a pretty amazing progression of events. You get a little momentum. You get to another bowl game and things start to happen. You never know. It's amazing how stuff like that happens, a bounce here, a knock there."
Count Helfrich among those who believe it's "only a matter of time," as he put it, before the Buffs become competitive in the Pac-12 and on a national level once again. He believes this because he is certain the Buffs were on the verge before that kick somehow cleared the crossbar in Lincoln, Neb.
It is now coach Mike MacIntyre's job to boost the Buffs over a few bars and bring the program back to respectability. MacIntyre and two of his players participated in Pac-12 media day Friday at Sony Studios along with representatives of every other program in the conference.
The Buffs have been blown out of a majority of the games they have played since joining the league prior to the 2011 season and that has left them in last place in the preseason media poll and not much of a worry to fans of other Pac-12 teams.
UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr., believes the Buffs will be more difficult to beat in the future than they were last season when the Bruins rolled up 492 yards of total offense in 42-14 win in Boulder. Mora says Colorado hired a coaching staff capable of directing such a turnaround.
"He's a good man and really good football coach," Mora said. "Humble. Confident. I like him a lot. I like him on a personal level and I respect him a lot as a coach. ... I think you will see him do a tremendous job there."
Most of the coaches in the league are doing some guessing when it comes to what they might see from MacIntyre's Buffs this fall and beyond. Stanford coach David Shaw probably knows best of all of them because his team nearly lost to MacIntyre's San Jose State Spartans early last year.
Shaw said he will never forget the looks he received during that postgame press conference. People wondered whether his program was slipping but he knew it had just faced a team on its way to a special season.
"He built that program with good kids, with tough kids and had some great coaches who are great teachers and motivators and the end of that three-year project was something that took them to 10 wins and a bowl game," Shaw said. "So I anticipate the same thing happening in short order at Colorado."
During last season's nightmare, the Buffs often found themselves in games with a chance to win at halftime only to end up losing by double-digit margins with poor second halves. One of those games came against Arizona State and defensive tackle Will Sutton, the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year in the Pac-12.
Sutton said he hasn't spent much time thinking about what is missing in the CU program, but he does remember the Buffs seemed to lack the same spark and stamina in the second half that they had in the first half.
"I think it's just a mental thing and how they condition and work out," Sutton said. "It's a long game and you come out there in the second half and maybe it's mental because they're coming out flat. They get too far behind to where they can't bring it back and it's like, 'Here we go again. We can't do anything about it.' The main thing is they just got to come out with the fight like they come out with in the beginning of the game."
The CU program has been plagued by that kind of inconsistent play for years, and it has happened under both of the past two coaching staffs. But perhaps MacIntyre is the man to fix that problem. Shaw was asked what comes to mind when he thinks of a Mike MacIntyre coached team.
"Consistent," he said. "You're going to see consistent effort. You're going to see consistent playmaking. Of course there is some building there that needs to happen but he is going to put the time in and build a consistent program."
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