The 2019 football season is quickly approaching, so today we have a quick Q&A preview to give a general preview for the Colorado Buffaloes. This is designed for more casual fans and fans of other teams, so bare with me if I don’t discuss the importance of the tight end rotation.
1) Who is your most important player on offense this season?
After breaking out last year, Laviska Shenault, Jr. isn’t going to surprise anyone again. The junior receiver is a freak of nature who is absurdly productive as the fulcrum to the Buffaloes’ offense. Despite dealing with injuries and despite the defense keying in on his every step, Viska put up monster numbers that had him as a midseason Heisman contender. In fewer than 9 games, he had 86 catches for 1,011 yards, plus 11 total touchdowns. When the offense was scuffling, the coaches could just press the Viska button and hope for a big play. The only question with Viska is health, but only because he’s so big that everyone tries to knock him out, or because he’s such a workhorse that coaches can’t help themselves but overuse him.
2) Who is your most important player on defense this season?
Nate Landman, a junior inside linebacker, is far and away the best player on this defense. He’s a heat seeking missile who’s football IQ and vision combine with ridiculous athleticism. He makes quick reads against the run and he’s a playmaker in coverage; if he has any weakness, it’s that he keeps getting called for (unfair) targeting penalties. Landman, the best Zimbabwe-born football player in the world (I assume), might be the best linebacker in the Pac-12. Landman is one of four starters on defense who we know are good: Mustafa Johnson on the line, Delrick Abrams at cornerback, and Davion Taylor at the Star position, a hybrid safety-linebacker role. Everyone else on the defense is a question mark, but it does help to have an elite talent in the middle.
3) What should be the biggest change between last year and this year?
The biggest change is in the coaching staff. Former head coach Mike MacIntyre, who was named Coach of the Year in 2016, was fired after two disappointing seasons in the years following ‘the Rise.’ After being linked to Ryan Day (current Ohio State HC), Jimmy Lake (Washington DC) and Matt Wells (Texas Tech HC), the Buffs went with a dark horse candidate in former Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
There are high expectations for Tucker after having seen what his defense did to Tua Tagovailoa and the Alabama offense in the 2018 SEC Championship. (Georgia’s defense fell apart against Texas, after Tucker left for CU.) He’s a football guy in the best way, he has brought in a culture of accountability, and he’s forming a wonderful friendship with CU’s head basketball coach.
Tucker will focus on the defense, so he brought in a high-level offensive coordinator who would reimagine the offense. Jay Johnson, formerly an OC at Minnesota and UL-Lafayette, will change the offense from a spread attack to a pistol offense. CU has a loaded passing attack, but they will emphasize balance in Johnson’s run-friendly offensive scheme. He’s a creative coach, which should be a change from last year’s almost comical predictability.
4) What is the most important game on this schedule, and why?
Colorado’s schedule is loaded, but there is no question that the most important game is against the Nebraska Cornhuskers on September 7. Why? Because it’s Nebraska.
Mel Tucker said at Media Day that ever since he was hired, people have not stopped telling him how important it is to beat the Nubs. Colorado has struggled finding rivalries since moving to the Pac-12 — Utah was a failed experiment, although USC and UCLA are becoming good candidates — so this is everything for the fans. (Colorado State is less of a rivalry on the Boulder side of things, for what it’s worth.) The Buffs beat Nebraska last year in Lincoln in a wild game, so we expect to sweep the home-and-home.
Other critical games for the Buffs: at Oregon on 10/11 (perhaps a repeat of 2016?), vs. USC on 10/25 (second most important home game) and vs. Washington on 11/23 (CU has struggled badly against UW in recent years).
5) What is your prediction for W/L record and postseason destination?
The schedule is tricky this year. CU has five Pac-12 away games, hosts USC and Washington, and has two difficult non-conference games against Air Force (sneaky good) and Nebraska. Off the cuff, my guess would be:
vs. Colorado State (in Denver) — W
vs. Air Force — W
vs. Nebraska — W
at Arizona State — 50/50 W/L
vs. Arizona — W
at Oregon — L
at Washington State — L
vs. USC — 50/50 W/L
at UCLA — W
vs. Stanford — W
vs. Washington — L
at Utah — L
I could convince myself of 6 wins realistically, maybe 8 if I’m feeling good after the first three games. There is only one or two sure wins, seven or eight that feel like they could go either way, and a few likely losses. I’ll temper my expectations and say 6-6 with a low-level bowl appearance (I’m hoping for the Cheez-It Bowl, because I want the merch), but potential for 8-4 and better bowl (the Holiday Bowl would be fun).