There are more questions than answers in college football right now. This damn virus shut down all Spring practices and the Spring Game, it threatens Fall camp, and we don’t know if the season will even start on time. It’s also making recruiting almost entirely virtual, grad transfers can’t visit before committing, and incoming freshmen won’t be seen until August, if at all.
For the Buffs, this all hits at strange timing. The offense has promise, but they have to replace Steven Montez, Laviska Shenault and Tony Brown with mostly unproven options. Karl Dorrell is a head coach for the first time since 2007 and Darrin Chiaverini is back as offensive coordinator with who knows what offensive scheme. For all the questions we have about the offense, we only have a handful of answers.
QB1 — Tyler Lytle, Jr.
QB2 — Brendon Lewis, Fr.
There’s almost no experience anywhere in the QB room, and an emergency grad transfer QB may still come in and swoop the job in the summer. Lytle is the presumed starter right now, but his experience is theoretical, as he’s throw just 6 passes in three years here. In a battle like this, the most talented player might win out. It’s not difficult to imagine Brendon Lewis beating him for the job. The true freshman has impressed people since he enrolled in January and he seems poised to shine whenever Fall camp begins.
RB1 — Alex Fontenot, Jr.
RB2 — Jaren Mangham, So.
RB3 — Ashaad Clayton, Fr.
RB4 — Deion Smith, So.
The overall talent in this running back room is probably the best it has been in over a decade, but this group is light on experience. Alex Fontenot will have every opportunity to keep his starting spot, as he should, but young bucks like Jaren Mangham and Ashaad Clayton are nipping at his heels.
Fontenot seems like a sure bet to lead the team in carries, as his vision and elusiveness make for efficient running. Mangham impressed during his freshman year, so he should continue to work as a power back. Incoming freshman Clayton is a power-speed back who can break off chunk plays, so he will likely earn a few carries. Deion Smith probably won’t be part of that committee, but he is intriguing as a potential third down back.
X WR — K.D. Nixon, Sr.
Y WR — Dimitri Stanley, So.
Z WR — Maurice Bell, Jr.
WR4 — Jaylon Jackson, Jr.
WR5 — Daniel Arias, Jr.
WR6 — La’Vontae Shenault, rFr.
We don’t know yet what offense Karl Dorrell and Darrin Chiaverini, so it’s hard to tell if the offense will be more run-oriented like in 2019, or more spread-heavy like in 2018. I hope they lean towards the run because CU has a first-year starting QB and a group of receivers that is talented but mostly unproven.
K.D. Nixon will likely be the number-1 option. The 5’7 receiver might not look like most primary options, but he’s had huge games in the past that suggest he could pop off on occasion. The rest of the receiver rotation is completely up for grabs. I would bet on Dimitri Stanley rising above the others as the top slot option because he’s such a fluid athlete and has terrific hands.
As for the third receiver, Maurice Bell is the likeliest starter, as he was very impressive last summer and would have contended for targets if not for Laviska Shenault and Tony Brown. Bell is as fluid as they come, with clean breaks in and out of routes and deceiving speed. Much like Brown, he will get open deep more than you expect him while giving you first downs whenever you need them. He doesn’t have the eye-popping speed or size, but Bell will move you down the field.
Rounding out the rotation, Jaylon Johnson is mostly a speed threat who can develop into something more, health permitting. Daniel Arias has been inconsistent in his CU career, but he has a lot of promise as a big-bodied target who can challenge the secondary on deep routes. If he can fix his drops, he will earn himself much more playing time. Then there’s Vontae Shenault, Viska’s little brother who plays nothing like him. Vontae is more of a pure receiver who’s long, lean and fluid.
TE1 — Brady Russell, Jr.
TE2 — Jake Peters, Jr.
TE3 — Matt Lynch, Sr.
After a breakout 2019 season, there’s no doubt that Brady Russell will be starting at TE/FB. He’s just such a clean blocker and is always open underneath. After him, it’s anyone’s guess as who else will see playing time. The Buffs had to replace almost the entire position group from last season, so they brought in Jake Peters and Matt Lynch, transfers from Arizona and UCLA, respectively. Both are big bodies who can play right away, and even better, both are walk-ons that were on scholarship at their previous schools. If freshman Caleb Fauria can recover from his leg injury, he is the most natural receiver in the group and the biggest threat down the field. His 6’5 frame will be needed sooner rather than later.
LT — Frank Fillip, So.
LG — Kary Kutsch, Sr.
C — Colby Pursell, Jr.
RG — Casey Roddick, So.; Kanan Ray, Jr.
RT — Will Sherman, Jr.
The Buffs are bringing back three starters from an offensive line that was quite impressive in 2019. Will Sherman was their best lineman last season and he should continue to grow. Kary Kutsch was an underrated performer and he should be solid again at guard. Colby Pursell will presumably move from guard to center, where he started as a freshman.
As far as the new starters are concerned, the Buffs have a ready replacement for left tackle Arlington Hambright, and they have a couple promising guards ready to compete. Frank Fillip should start at tackle, as he’s an athletic prospect who redshirted last year to build strength. Replacing Tim Lynott will be more difficult. Pursell is moving from guard to center, but that leaves a gap that either Casey Roddick or Kanan Ray will fill. Roddick is a massive man who saw action as a redshirt freshman last year, while Ray is a more polished blocker who has been hampered by injuries.
After those main six players, the Buffs’ depth lacks clarity. There’s Jake Wray, Austin Johnson, Valentin Senn and Carson Lee, but all are freshmen who are very much unproven. August camp, if it happens, should help sort that out.