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Can MacIntyre Replicate O’Brien’s Magic?

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Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, center, did a good job of weathering the storm in Happy Valley when many of the team's best players either transferred or decommitted in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal. With many of the Colorado Buffaloes' players exiting the program for various reasons, can first-year coach Mike MacIntyre do the same in Boulder? Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, center, did a good job of weathering the storm in Happy Valley when many of the team's best players either transferred or decommitted in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal. With many of the Colorado Buffaloes' players exiting the program for various reasons, can first-year coach Mike MacIntyre do the same in Boulder? Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Welcome to Colorado football, Mr. MacIntyre. You didn’t think this was going to be easy, did you?

Let’s start by stating the obvious: Colorado’s football program is in a bad place — well, a good place if you ask anyone from cities called Fort Collins and Lincoln — and has been for a while now. Coach Mike MacIntyre was well aware of that when he put the ink to his snazzy five-year, $10-million contract in December.

The former San Jose State coach probably didn’t know several situations would unfold many months before the start of his first season at the control pad that would make his already-complicated program rebuilder role a little trickier.

Let’s review.

Not a lot of good came out of the Buffs' latest campaign. When a team hobbles to a program-worst 1-11 record and sees its coach cut loose after two years, one has to forage and scrape for any positives.

But if CU fans had to pick an encouraging statistic after the wreckage that was the 2012 season, it was that all five of the Buffs’ big boys in the offensive trenches would return the following year. These linemen would be bigger, stronger, faster and have some good experience under their 40-inch belts.

That hopeful evaluation has since evaporated.

In January, David Bakhtiari, who would’ve anchored this unit from the left tackle position, skipped his senior season in Boulder and declared for the NFL Draft.

Picked up in the fourth round by the Green Bay Packers, the 6-foot-4, 295-pound Bakhtiari was a three-year starter for the Buffs.

That was blow No. 1.

Blow No. 2 to CU’s offensive line came four months later, on a Friday, when starting left guard Alex Lewis said he was transferring to Nebraska. A little more than 24 hours later, Lewis was involved in an altercation in Boulder that earned him second-degree assault charges.

Just like that, the strength of the Buffs’ team turned into a glaring question mark.

Now let’s turn to those who are protected by the big fellas: quarterbacks.

At the end of spring practices, Connor Wood and Nick Hirschman were declared by coaches to be in a dead-heat for the starting job.

This apparently didn’t sit well with Hirschman, who decided in late April to transfer to Akron.

“I felt at this time that it has been three years, a great three years, but with no decision made at the end of spring ball, it was a personal choice that it was time for me to move on,” Hirschman said in a university press release.

Oh, and remember the Alex Lewis situation? Quarterback Jordan Webb was there, too. Webb, the primary starter under center last season, was charged with second-degree assault in the incident as well. He was also recovering from an ACL tear that he experienced during a non-contact drill in early April.

Needless to say, MacIntyre has all the challenges in front of him that a coach could ever want.

The question is, how will he respond to these challenges?

Some coaches seem to do better when the odds against them are stacked as tall as a Colorado mountain. Think Bill O’Brien, the coach at Penn State, whose talent pool shrank enormously before the start of the Nittany Lions’ 2012 campaign after 10 players, including five-star Silas Redd and five other four-star athletes, transferred to other programs in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal in Happy Valley. Many more highly-rated recruits also yanked back their pledges to Penn State and committed elsewhere.

The Nittany Lions lost their home opener to Ohio but rebounded to win eight of their last 11 games. Those who groaned when O’Brien was hired rejoiced. The coach got looks from a couple of NFL teams, but decided to stay put. He now has a 2013 recruiting class that features 17 players, including a five-star prospect whom Rivals.com rates as the second-best quarterback in the nation, and a trio of four-star players.

The challenges have knocked hard on O’Brien’s door, and the 43-year-old has answered. Happy Valley is happy once again.

Others, however, don’t do as well as O’Brien when the road gets windy. In fact, most don’t.

How well MacIntyre is able to command a creaky ship amid choppy waters will set the stage for how long he is able to call Boulder his home. If he can weather the storm, he’ll be wearing the headset below the Flatirons for a while. If he can’t, he’ll be cast overboard like many others who have gone before him.