The Colorado Buffaloes begin the 2019 season on Friday when they take on the Colorado State Rams (8:00 p.m., ESPN). Before we discuss the Rocky Mountain Showdown, we should take a step back and discuss the season as a whole.
This article is fairly straightforward: everyone on staff has to explain their best case scenario for the season, as well as their worst case. Keep in mind that Sam predicted The Rise because he saw that only a few pieces had to fall in line to make that season unforgettable. Sam also thought the Buffs were actually good last year, before they collapses to seven straight losses in what was basically their worst case scenario.
Best Case Scenario
8-4 — Holiday Bowl
Last week I broke down the Buffs’ schedule and found that there is a minimal gap between success and disappointment. CU only has one or two easy wins (CSU and maybe Air Force) and three or four likely losses (@ Oregon, @ Wazzu, vs. Washington and @ Utah). The other six are 50-50 or close to it. My lukewarm take is that CU goes 5-7 or 6-6, depending on USC and @ Arizona State. My best case take is that they go 8-4 against a very difficult schedule, make it to the Holiday Bowl, win it, and finish the season in the AP Top 25.
In order for that best case scenario to happen, we need at least four things to go right:
(1) Steven Montez takes the next step. He doesn’t have to become a star or fulfill all his potential, but it would help immensely if he found consistency and improved his field vision. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how ludicrously talented your receivers are if you can’t find them in traffic. That’s not an indictment of Montez as much as it a reminder that he needs to improve if the offense is to get the most out of its receiving corps.
(2) The offensive line has to be competent, if not good. The line has been mostly disastrous in 2017 and 2018 and that has meant an inconsistent rushing attack and happy feet for Montez. Jay Johnson’s run-friendly scheme should help the former, even with inexperienced running backs, but the latter can only happen if the OL truly improves. If healthy, the Buffs look solid, with only one major question mark at left guard, where freshman Casey Roddick is projected to start.
(3) The secondary improves on the fly, becomes a quality unit. The 2018 secondary was woeful, especially compared to the elite units we saw in years past. Only Delrick Abrams returns from that group and he was the best one. Mikial Onu, a graduate transfer from SMU, is the presumed starter at free safety. Elsewhere, Chris Miller-Slaughter and Mekhi Blackmon are both talented, but they will have to improve if the Buffs are to have steady cornerbacks. I have no idea who’s going to start at strong safety, as Aaron Maddox, Mark Perry and Trey Udoffia are all vying for time. However the secondary shakes out, only one player is proven and it’s anyone’s guess whether or not this team can match up with Washington State’s air raid or USC’s freak receivers.
(4) Get lucky. Even if CU sees improvement in those three position groups, they have to stay healthy, catch breaks and steal one or two games they probably shouldn’t win. Even the 2016 Buffs needed multiple great plays to beat Oregon, numerous turnovers to beat Stanford, and Isaiah Oliver’s punt return to beat UCLA. It goes without saying they need injury luck as well.
— Sam Metivier
7-5 — Hyundai Sun Bowl
As Sam mentioned, the Buffaloes have one of the toughest schedules in the FBS this season. That said, assuming they aren’t bitten by the injury bug, a 7-5 record and a trip to the Hyundai Sun Bowl would be the best-case scenario for first-year head coach Mel Tucker and the Buffs in 2019. Offensively, the Buffs should be able to compete with any team on their schedule; it’s the questions on defense, specifically the secondary, that really concern me. With Tucker’s coaching pedigree, I have no doubt this year’s defense will be even more physical than the past two seasons. And if the secondary can show improvements week over week, finishing 2.5 wins over Vegas’ projected win total is a realistic projection.
— Anthony Kazmierczak
8-4 — 3rd in the South
This would require an undefeated run through a pretty tough non-conference schedule but it’s not out of the realm of possibility (see last year). I’d call losses to Utah, Washington, Oregon and Washington State, which would still leave a number of big wins on the slate for CU. The offense would click with Viska staying healthy throughout the year and the running game providing a nice complement. The defense would need to stay healthy, especially in the secondary and Mustafa Johnson would turn out to be one of the best defensive linemen in the country. Optimism would be at peak levels for the start of the Mel Tucker era.
— Jon Woods
7-5 — 3rd in the South
CU wins a shootout against Nebraska and waltzes through the local Mountain West bottom dwellers en route to a 3-0 start. A hard fought win on the road against Arizona State takes them to 4-0 and on the edge of a ranking. A bye before Arizona gives them time to heal up before trouncing the Wildcats at home, as Mel Tucker’s physical, ball-control style pays off. The young running backs join up Tranformers-style to equal one Travon McMillian, the WR corps is better, and Steven Montez is less maddening than last year. Tough road trips to Wazzu and Oregon, as well as Utah, make up three of the losses, and Washington and Stanford escape Boulder with a win. CU beats the LA schools to get to seven wins and the season is a resounding success on the recruiting trail.
— Jack Barsch
Worst Case Scenario
5-7 — But there’s a twist
It’s easy to write a 2-10 or 3-9 finish, but there’s another scenario that’s cruel in another way. There is an uncomfortably high chance that Colorado goes 5-0 to start the season... and 0-7 to finish. The Buffs’ easiest games are front-loaded: CSU, Air Force, Nebraska, @ Arizona State and Arizona. After that, they don’t have a single game they will be favored in; maybe @ UCLA is their best chance, unless they upset someone at home. Starting 5-0 and finishing 5-7 would be brutal a year after it happened. It would be even worse because Mel Tucker has spent the offseason trying to reverse the mental damages of that collapse.
— Sam, who now regrets making a ‘best case, worst case’ article
2-10 — Let’s not even think about this scenario
Oddsmakers have set the Buffaloes 2019 win total at 4.5. Even worse, ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) has the Buffs favored in only two games, Colorado State and Air Force. Entering this season with seven game losing streak, a new head coach and an extremely tough schedule, there's no doubt the Buffs have an uphill climb. It pains me to say it, but a 2-10 record is not out of the question. I just hope my worst-case scenario doesn’t come to fruition.
2-10 — Everything sucks
Offense stinks, defense stinks. Teams can key in on Viska and keep him from doing what he does best. The running game is non-existent and the o-line can’t keep Montez clean. The defense suffers some key injuries and opponents are able to throw the ball at will. The Buffs enter conference play at 1-2 and somehow pull off a conference win to finish at 2-10. Please let nothing close to this happen.
3-9 — Last in the South
The new schemes take too long to install and this young team is lost from the get go. Narrow wins over CSU and Air Force save this from being disastrous, but a brutal schedule offers no reprieve for a team that tried to run before it could crawl. Laviska is blanketed every game and no one can fill those shoes, the defense has no depth to carry it for 30 minutes, and last year’s problems are exacerbated by a thin roster and line of scrimmage. Yikes.