With the calendar already flipped over to August, college football will be upon us sooner than later. Although the Colorado Buffaloes had an underwhelming 2017 campaign following the Rise, with so many fresh faces on the roster and coaching staff, it’s a new season with new expectations. The Buffs have a mix of talented veterans and promising underclassman on their roster as they try to turn things around in 2018. Here’s a preview of what to look for with media day a week from Saturday:
Heading into 2018, the wide receiver position looks to be one of Colorado’s strong points. Kabion Ento is back and stronger than ever after redshirting last year, senior Juwann Winfree excelled in a lesser role last year while recovering from a torn ACL in training camp the prior year (he recorded the best individual performance for a wide receiver when he caught five passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns against USC in week 11), and sophomores Laviska Shenault and KD Nixon both have a ton of potential. Shenault in particular seems like a candidate for a breakout campaign as he has the combination of size, speed, and route running ability that impressed many in limited action last season. Nixon is an electric player who can be used all over the field. There’s also senior Jay MacIntyre, a solid slot receiver and proven team leader. Ultimately, this should be a position of strength for the Buffs that allows them put points on the scoreboard.
Colorado has two of the best linebackers in the Pac-12 in seniors Drew Lewis and Rick Gamboa. Lewis led the team with 119 tackles a year ago and is a solid enforcer in the middle at the “jack” position. Gamboa has shown exceptional leadership during his time in Boulder and should be one of the centerpieces of the team this season. Buff Backer Davion Taylor was ranked one as a top-10 linebacker at the Junior College level, and should provide some much needed help to a run defense that struggled mightily in 2017. Colorado will also benefit from the return of Nu’umoto Falo, and the presence of Nate Landman - who emerged as a difference maker in the later part of last season.
A season ago Colorado ranked third to last in the conference in run defense, allowing a pedestrian 208 yards per game on the ground. Needless to say, the Buffs are going to have to get more from their defensive line if they want any shot at improving in 2018. The good news for the team is that they were able to hire one of the best up-and-coming young coaches at the position in 32-year-old Kwahn Drake, who should be a breath of fresh air following the departure of Jim Jeffcoat.
One of the players they’ll need to get more out of is nose tackle Javier Edwards. Edwards who struggled to be the big body in the middle that the team needed. After experiencing growing pains in his first year playing in the Pac-12, the former Blinn College transfer should see improvement. The Buffs have some promising players on the defensive line in senior Chris Mulumba, junior Lyle Tuiloma, and Modesto Junior College transfer Mustafa Johnson. Both Mulumba and Tuiloma showed improvement in their game over the course of last season. Johnson was one of the top ranked defensive lineman at the Junior College last season. Redshirt freshman Terrance Lang and true freshman Israel Antwine could also make an impact as rotational players. However, given the lack of experience in this group, the defensive line remains one of the Buffs weaker links heading into the season.
Area to Improve Upon
Following the early departure of Isaiah Oliver for the NFL, CU’s depth chart at cornerback remains a big unknown. Both Dante Wigley and Trey Udoffia had up-and-down stretches last season and redshirt freshman Chris Miller has yet to take a snap in the black-and-gold. Transfer Delrick Abrams has promise with his 6-3 frame — not unlike Ahkello Witherspoon — but he could take time to adjust to playing in the Pac-12. Due to unproveness at the cornerback position, opposing teams might look to throw the ball and test them early and often in one of the most pass-happy conferences in the country. The major brightspot in the secondary is free safety Evan Worthington, who looks to have NFL potential. After missing all of 2016, Worthington led the Buffs in interceptions and solo tackles last year. He alone should be able to elevate the unit’s performance with his ballhawking abilities and nose for the football. Overall though, this is a unit that should take a step back in 2018 after losing their best player.
Games to Watch
September 8th, @ Nebraska
This will be the first meeting between the two teams in eight years. As you know, this was one of the most renowned rivalries in college football for decades. The Buffs will come into this game with a chip on their shoulder having not won a game in Lincoln since 2004. The Cornhuskers also head into 2018 with lofty expectations after hiring Scott Frost, who was the Coach of the Year at UCF in 2017. This early season matchup could prove to be a pivotal game for both teams as they head into conference play. Can the Buffs make a statement and show that they’re back for real, or will the weight of the old rivalry, playing on the road at the historic Memorial Stadium prove to be too much for them? Remember, Colorado is used to having several “warm-up” games against FCS teams to begin the season. Last year they faced CSU, Northern Colorado, and Texas State before having to face Washington. This time around they’ll be jumping right into big time competition against Nebraska.
October 20th, @ Washington
The Washington Huskies come into this season as the overwhelming favorite to win the Pac-12 and one of the leading contenders for the College Football Playoff as discussed on Ralphie Report in a previous article. Having been ranked in the top-10 in the country the past two years, the Huskies have established themselves as a national powerhouse behind head coach Chris Pederson. Washington has also had the Buffs number the past few seasons, blowing them out in the Pac-12 title game in 2016 and again in Boulder last season. In fact the Huskies have beaten the Buffs by two touchdowns or more in the last six meetings between the schools dating back to 2011, albeit those years include the lowest of lows for the Colorado program. This will be a huge game for the Buffs as they face off against one of the Pac-12’s goliaths looking to pull off a big upset.
November 2nd, @ Arizona
Last season, the Buffs lost a shootout to the Wildcats in Boulder. In what turned out to be Quarterback Khalil Tate’s coming out party, the speedy sophomore set an FBS record as he ran for 328 yards on just 14 carries. This all came after he replaced Brandon Dawkins in the first series of the contest, when Ryan Moeller’s late hit changed Arizona’s season. This game was also seen as the momentum shifter of last season for the Buffs, being the team’s third straight loss after starting 3-0. After being named to the preseason Heisman watch list, the hype surrounding Tate is officially in full swing. In order to have a chance at winning this game, the Buffs run defense - which struggled mightily last year - is going to need to find a way to slow Tate down. With Arizona emerging as the early front runner in the Pac-12 South - and one of the teams predicted to finish ahead of the Buffs - this will be a huge divisional matchup for them as they seek redemption. Additionally the cat-and-mouse game between one of the best players in college football in Tate and the Colorado defense, combined with the hostile environment of Arizona in November will make this game worthwhile for any true college football fan.