Colorado football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Buffaloes, best players and season prediction.
What You Need to Know About the Colorado Offense
The Buffalo offense trended south in 2015, a bona fide concern that needs to be addressed quickly. After early showing signs of progress running the modified Pistol offense, Colorado suffered a dip in scoring and yards per play.
Explosiveness was virtually non-existent, and now the attack will regroup without its most feared weapon, all-league WR Nelson Spruce. Among the many issues facing co-coordinators Brian Lindgren and Darrin Chiaverini is an absence of sure things. The Buffs’ closest thing to a lock is veteran starting QB Sefo Liufau, and he’s been rehabbing a foot injury since last November.
Otherwise, this unit is a collection of undersized skill players, such as backs Phillip Lindsay and Patrick Carr and receivers Shay Fields and Devin Ross, and a sketchy offensive line. A year ago, Colorado was No. 11 in the Pac-12 in yards per carry and sacks allowed, a direct indictment of a middling lot of blockers.
Biggest Key To The Colorado Offense
Who’s on the mound opening day? When it comes to quarterback, uncertainty is the offseason buzzword in Boulder. The incumbent, Sefo Liufau, missed spring and is still recovering from a difficult foot injury. While senior Jordan Gehrke has nicely held down the fort, his experience—and his upside—is limited. More than any other position, the QB battle will be front and center when the Buffs reconvene in August.
What You Need to Know About the Colorado Defense
Jim Leavitt, you’ve still got it. The one-time architect of South Florida Bulls football proved in 2015 he can still coach up talent. Despite joining Mike MacIntyre’s staff just before the start of spring practice, Leavitt was a difference-maker as Colorado’s new coordinator.
The Buffs, sans any preseason hype, allowed their fewest points per game in nine years. And now that the 3-4 base is fully installed, no one is playing catch-up and nine starters return, anything less than additional progress would be a disappointment. If, and it’s a big ask, this D can remain healthy from front to back, the parts are in place for it be one of the four or five toughest units in the Pac-12.
If there’s an area that needs to be further stress-tested, it’s a run defense that yielded more than five yards a carry in 2015. Now more than ever, Leavitt will ask safeties Tedric Thompson and Ryan Moeller and inside linebackers Kenneth Olugbode and Rick Gamboa to pitch in closing running lanes.
Biggest Key To The Colorado Defense
Front seven potential. Defense has been an ongoing problem for the Buffaloes, and still might be in 2016. But while depth remains an issue, the Buffs are not without returning talent, especially in the front seven. Kenneth Olugbode headlines a productive group of linebackers, and the three-man line boasts good size. Still, the D needs to be fully staffed in 2016, which means oft-injured LB Addison Gillam finally playing an entire season and valuable run-stopping DE Samson Kafovalu returning from an April suspension.
Colorado Will Be Much Better If …
it learns how to close. The Buffaloes are improving under Mike MacIntyre, though an inability to finish games resulted in last year’s 4-9 mark, including 1-8 in Pac-12 play. Against Arizona, UCLA, USC and Utah, league opponents that bowled in 2015, Colorado lost by an average of only five points. Those four painful defeats exhibited just how close the team is to becoming more competitive … and how far it is from actually getting over the hump.
Best Offensive Player
Senior QB Sefo Liufau. Colorado’s best offensive player is still not 100% certain he’ll be 100% healthy this season. And therein lies a major worry for the Buffs this offseason. The program needs Liufau, a three-year starter behind center, to be whole again after he suffered a Lisfranc foot injury last November. It needs to once again see the confident playmaker who accounted for 28 touchdowns and 3,200 yards through the air just a couple of seasons ago.
Best Defensive Player
Senior CB Chidobe Awuzie. Awuzie is Colorado’s top all-around defensive player and a candidate to be drafted next April for his coverage skills. But he’s also one of the team’s most visible and important leaders, an essential intangible for a defense that’s struggled for so many years. After earning All-Pac-12 honors in 2015, Awuzie could be even tougher to throw on now that he’s surrounded by so many fellow experienced Buffaloes.
Key Players to a Successful Season
Junior RB Phillip Lindsay and sophomore Patrick Carr. The quarterback situation is uncertain. The defense, while distinctly improved in 2015, still has holes. The Buffaloes can support both areas with a more consistent running game. Whether it’s Lindsay or Carr who gets the starting nod is somewhat irrelevant, because both are going to see snaps in 2016. The hope is that both backs can spark a ground game that hasn’t finished higher than ninth in the Pac-12 since joining the conference in 2011.
The Season Will Be a Success If …
the Buffaloes find the right formula to snap their nine-year bowl drought. It will not be easy, and it will require an upset or two along the way. But Colorado is a veteran squad with a fourth-year coach and the knowledge that it almost knocked off a few Pac-12 heavyweights in 2016. The road schedule is a bear, including trips to Michigan, Oregon, USC and Stanford, but the Buffs have a puncher’s shot at six wins if they can take care of business when playing inside the state borders.
Sept. 2 vs. Colorado State. Saddled with a five-game losing streak, the Buffs can use a fast start in 2016, and the annual Rocky Mountain Showdown is always rife with meaning and intensity. September is going to be crucial for a program faced with a shortage of confidence and momentum. And since the back end of the month features treks to Ann Arbor and Eugene, Colorado must capture a tailwind in its first two games with the Rams and Idaho State.
2015 Fun Stats
– Yards per carry: Colorado 3.7 – Opponents 5.0
– Sacks: Colorado 28 – Opponents 41
– Passes broken up: Colorado 63 – Opponents 34