The rebuild of Colorado football has been a storyline in Boulder for the greater part of a decade and now that the Buffaloes have found success in the Pac-12, what’s next?
Despite an offseason scattered with off-the-field issues, Athletic Director Rick George hasn’t wavered in his support of National Coach of the Year Mike MacIntyre and his staff. The focus remains on competing for a Pac-12 championship.
The two postseason defeats in the Pac-12 Championship game and the Alamo Bowl certainly put a stop to momentum that continued to build. BUT it was still incredible season with a ton of pieces in place for the future.
So now what?
MacIntyre will have a talented roster to work with in his fifth season and recruiting has picked up consistently. The game changer to all of this is Co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini with his ability to bring in players from unlikely recruiting pools in southern regions of SEC country and the talent hotbed of Texas. ‘Chiv’ along with Klayton Adams and Darian Hagan have remained steady forces in bringing talent to CU. Mac’s staff remains strong with the addition of new defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot and assistant/special teams coordinator Ross Els with the clear philosophy towards upgrading talent and heavy development.
A new cycle
MacIntyre’s fifth season at CU will be focused on the Buffaloes as Pac-12 contenders, which is uncharted waters for the Buffs. The work of the past four years has become a benchmark that Mac and his staff continue to build from. A new look team in 2017 means a new recruiting cycle leading into the season. Continuing to improve will be a difficult process coming off the heals of a banner season, but will show MacIntyre’s ability to coach through the sustained development of a program. The follow-up season might have critics buzzing about how far CU football has really come after the mid 2000’s.
Working across the line
Klayton Adams enters his second season as Colorado’s offensive line coach with a group that improved overall. The Buffs allowed an average of three sacks per game and ranked 116th in the nation in 2015 under then coach Gary Bernardi. Adams’ guidance helped lower that mark to just two per contest last season. The offensive front led by seniors Jeromy Irwin, Gerrad Kough, and Jonathan Huckins are most experienced in recent memory. Injuries have plagued CU’s O-line over the past couple season, leading to inconsistencies in protecting the quarterback. Another year for Tim Lynott and Aaron Haigler to develop along with reserves Jake Moretti and Dillon Middlemiss will pay huge dividends. Adams will once again have his work cut out for him.
A new look offense behind Steven Montez has the potential to light up the scoreboard. The deep core of receivers led by Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo, Devin Ross and Jay MacIntyre could become a rotation with Kabion Ento, Johnny Huntley, Lee Walker, K.D. Nixon and Juwann Winfree. A total of five receivers could play No. 1 and will be the deepest position for the Buffs.
Fields’ breakout season has yet to come. Will his senior campaign be the one to set him apart even further in the minds of NFL scouts? He developed into a go-to option for Sefo Liufau and will likely be a true No. 1 for Montez. Ross and Bobo’s production will become a valuable part of the success of the offense for CU, who ranked 63rd in 2015 and improved that mark to 25th last season with 6,120 yards of total offense. The trio finished with over 500 yards receiving each in 2016.
The Buffs running back rotation has been reduced to Phillip Lindsay, Michael Adkins II and Beau Bisharat. Lindsay has carried the load throughout the past two seasons, and Adkins has to prove he can stay healthy. Bisharat has played sparingly, but he was highly recruited. And don’t forget about dependable Kyle Evans. Darian Hagan will be looking to expand in his second season coaching the running backs. Expect Lindsay to be a leader of the entire offense along with making a push at CU’s record book. He’s currently third in all-purpose yards (4,029) and needs 800 more to break Rodney Stewart’s mark (4,828) for first all-time.
CU found consistency on the defensive side of the ball anchored by Jim Leavitt’s smash-mouth style and will look to continue that trend with new defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot. The problem will be replacing 12 graduating seniors that brought senior leadership mostly in the secondary of Chidobe Awuzie, Tedric Thompson, and Ahkello Witherspoon. Depth at most positions could force adjustments for Eliot in his first season. Afolabi Laguda and Ryan Moeller will have the opportunity to solidify the safety position along with Nick Fisher. Isaiah Oliver is locked-in at one of the corner spots with underclassmen Trey Udoffia, Anthony Julmisse and Dante Wigley competing for the other.
The interior of the defense will be the most underrated with Javier Edwards, Timothy Coleman and Leo Jackson working up a pass rushing attack. Rick Gamboa leads an outstanding corps of linebackers along with Derek McCartney, N.J. Falo, and Drew Lewis. Moeller and Fisher could fill in the gaps by playing up toward the line in MacIntyres’s “hybrid” 3-4 defense.
What to expect & an early prediction
Colorado will finish the season with a 9-3 record and continue to build.
A more competitive outlook from years past under MacIntyre will have CU bowl bound again. A favorable schedule starts with Colorado State (W) in the Rocky Mountain Showdown (Denver), Texas State (W), and Northern Colorado (W) in non-conference play.
No “Power 5” opponent could hurt the Buffs strength of schedule at the end of the season. Washington (L) early in the year at home plays into CU’s favor as being the first true test of the season. The bulk of the conference schedule concludes with Arizona (W), California (W) and USC (L) as remaining home games. The Buffs head back on the road with UCLA (W), Oregon State (W), Washington State (L), Arizona State (W) and Utah (W), with a late bye week right before the “rivalry” matchup with the Utes.