Who else could have been #1?
Not that Steven Montez is unaware of this fact, but the success or failure of the Colorado Buffaloes is inexplicably tied to his performance. If he struggles, the Buffs have no other options if they’re going to be competitive in the Pac-12. Many fans have in the past clamored for Sam Noyer, but should Noyer become the starter, something has gone terribly wrong. And if Montez doesn’t improve from his up-and-down 2017 season, the Buffs suddenly have a hard cap on how effective their offense can be, which combined with the inexperience on the defense, the offense kind of needs to be humming for the team to make a bowl game.
Now we can get past the pessimism.
This past offseason saw offensive coordinator and QB coach Brian Lindgren leave the program. In his stead, Colorado promoted Darrin Chiaverini to play-calling duties and hired Kurt Roper as QB coach. Chiv is former Buffaloes receiver and cut his teeth coaching in Texas Tech’s air raid system. With him leading the offense, the Buffs are going to play at a hellish pace that has Montez slinging the ball on quick hitters on simpler reads. For the offense to be efficient, he would have to improve his accuracy, downfield vision and pocket presence. That’s where Roper comes into play. He’s known as a quarterback whisperer who has helped polished numerous future pros, most notably Eli Manning at Ole Miss. Chiv and Roper have worked extensively with a refocused Montez to help polish his ridiculous tools.
We have yet to see the potential of Montez. The closest thing we have was his jaw-dropping performance against Oregon in 2016, a game he had 333 passing yards and 135 rushing yards for 4 total touchdowns. He showcased that his combination of athleticism, elusiveness and arm strength can make him indefensible. And even in that game, he made freshman mistakes that he has since worked to improve upon. Not every game will be against that porous Oregon defense, but the quarterback Montez can be is tantalizing.
I could be completely wrong, but besides Phillip Lindsay’s absence, Montez should have a better supporting cast in 2018. All due respect to Shay Fields, Devin Ross and Bryce Bobo, but as prolific as they were, the current receiving corps is better suited for the offense Chiv will call. Juwann Winfree will be the primary option, but beyond him, there will be as many as five high-quality receivers rotating in and out in platoon swaps. They have deep threats in Laviska Shenault and Tony Brown, possession receivers in Kabion Ento and Jay MacIntyre, and a speedy wildcard in K.D. Nixon. Then there’s tight end Chris Bounds waiting in reserve for whenever the Buffs decide to use his diverse skillset. And should the offensive line stay healthy, they have a blend of experience and talent that could form a solid group.
For the Buffs to get the most out of their supporting cast, and thus for them to have an offense capable of carrying them in Pac-12 play, the importance of Montez’s development cannot be overstated. He doesn’t have to reach his potential for the Buffs to be good, but it’s hard to see Colorado make a bowl game unless he takes a step forward.