The top 10 Colorado football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
CB Chidobe Awuzie, Sr.
Awuzie is the standard by which every other Colorado defender will be measured this fall. He’s a do-it-all cornerback, defending the run like a hard-hitting safety, while serving as one of the Buffaloes’ most dependable cover guys. The 6-0, 205-pounder is also savvy and smart enough to play any position in the secondary, a luxury for the staff. In a statistical reflection of his skill set, Awuzie racked up 90 tackles, nine stops for loss, four sacks and 10 pass breakups to earn a spot on the All-Pac-12 Second Team.
QB Sefo Liufau, Sr.
Liufau is Colorado’s most important offensive player. However, whether or not he plays in 2016 remains to be seen, a level of uncertainty tied to a tricky foot injury. A harried Liufau struggled before getting hurt last year, his production plummeting to nine touchdowns and 2,401 yards on 213-of-344 passing. But the 6-4, 230-pound veteran knows the system and has nearly three seasons of starting experience. If Liufau is not healthy enough to suit up, he could redshirt and temporarily serve as a mentor for the other options.
SS Tedric Thompson, Sr.
Thompson has quietly evolved into one of the more complete Colorado players on either side of the ball. Playing as a full-timer for the first time in his career, he was steady in both key phases of the safety position. At 6-0 and 205 pounds, Thompson possesses the size and strength to fill running lanes, yet he’s also capable in coverage. The All-Pac-12 honorable mention pick’s versatility was born out in his personal box score, 80 tackles, five stops for loss and nine pass breakups.
LB Kenneth Olugbode, Sr.
Olugbode missed time with a leg injury last season, yet still managed to tie for third on the Buffs with 80 tackles. He was especially adept at forcing punts, the trademark of a clutch leader who can step up when his team needs the ball back. Just 6-1 and 215 pounds, Olugbode can cover a large area of the field from middle linebacker, both as a run stopper and a pass defender.
LB Derek McCartney, Jr.
McCartney is an edge guy, whether that means he’s lining up at D-end or outside linebacker. At 6-3 and 240 pounds, he’s built more for the second level, though he’ll put his hand in the dirt and lock horns with offensive linemen. McCartney has been one of the program’s steadiest pass rushers the last two seasons, collecting 70 tackles, 10 stops for loss, five sacks and a team-high 16 pressures in 2015. The staff wants to move around No. 95 to best utilize his range and athleticism.
RB Phillip Lindsay, Jr.
Lindsay is one of the hardest working and most dedicated athletes in Boulder. And it’s beginning to show in the results. Despite being only 5-8 and 180 pounds, he graded out well in all three phases of his position, as a rusher, a receiver and a blocker. Lindsay led the 2015 team with 653 rushing yards and six scores on 140 carries, while also adding 26 catches and a TD reception. And he’s tougher than assumed for a player of his stature.
LB Rick Gamboa, Soph.
When oft-injured Addison Gillam went down last season, Gamboa stepped up to far exceed expectations for a rookie. Lightly recruited out of high school, Gamboa was supposed to watch and learn from the bench. Instead, he went on to lead the Buffs with 96 tackles. Yeah, the 6-0, 230-pound Gamboa needs to become a lot more consistent, but the ground floor of his future is down now that he’s been a starter for almost a full year.
LB Jimmie Gilbert, Sr.
With Gilbert on one side and Derek McCartney on the other, the Buffaloes boast an underrated bookend at outside linebacker. The former, an athletic 6-5, 225-pounder, led the team with six sacks a season ago. He also chipped in with 47 tackles, displaying an ability to support against the run. Gilbert is the kind of athlete Colorado can move around, allowing him to freelance and impact the game in a number of different areas.
WR Shay Fields, Jr.
All-timer Nelson Spruce is headed to the NFL, which means Fields will get a chance to be the new No. 1 receiver in the Colorado passing game. Fields has been a steady target in each of his first two seasons, ranking second to Spruce in 2015 with 42 receptions for 598 yards and four touchdowns. The 5-11, 180-pounder flashes big-play potential, whereas junior Bryce Bobo has similar size on the outside as Spruce did in Boulder.
OT Jeromy Irwin, Sr.
The Colorado O-line wasn’t the same after Irwin was lost for the season in Week 2 to a knee injury. Besides Stephane Nembot, who has now exhausted his eligibility, Irwin was the Buffaloes’ most competent overall blocker. He’s a tenacious 6-5, 300-pounder who was just beginning to emerge into a fringe all-league performer when he went down in the game with UMass.