It’s been a minute since the Buffs were even scheduled to play football. Ever since July we thought Colorado wouldn’t have a season until Spring 2021, if at all. Football is coming back, despite it all. The Pac-12 will begin just five weeks from now, with their projected starting date November 6th.
Everyone in the Pac-12 will play six scheduled conference games, five against each team in their division, and one against the opposite division. Without analyzing a schedule that has yet to be released, the Buffs should benefit only because they had a very difficult original schedule, as they would have played on the road against Oregon, Washington and Stanford.
Now that the Buffs are returning, we should refresh ourselves with some long-overdue season preview material. First up, the projected offensive depth chart.
QB1 — Brendon Lewis (Fr.)
QB2 — Tyler Lytle (Jr.)
No one really knows who will start at QB this season. We don’t even know what offense Karl Dorrell and Darrin Chiaverini will even run. Neither of these quarterbacks have any tangible experience, so I default to picking the more talented player. Brendon Lewis is a dynamic playmaker, who lacks some polish but is so poised and creative for his age. Lytle, if he wins it, is probably the better pure passer but lacks the dual-threat dynamism of Lewis.
It’s also worth noting that the Buffs have brought back Sam Noyer as a quarterback. Originally a backup to Steven Montez, Noyer switched to emergency safety as a junior, thought about grad-transferring somewhere he could play QB, and is now returning to CU.
RB1 — Alex Fontenot, Jr.
RB2 — Jaren Mangham, So.
RB3 — Ashaad Clayton, Fr.
RB4 — Deion Smith, So.
This will be a running back by committee in which the top three options all see significant playing time. Alex Fontenot deserves to be the leader of the group after his 874-yard performance in 2019. While Fontenot is patient and elusive, Jaren Mangham and Ashaad Clayton are physical bullies. Mangham is a power back who should continue to eat near the goal-line. Clayton — who will debut the #0 — is a highly touted freshman with elite speed and strength; it would surprise no one if he becomes the focal point of the offense as a true freshman.
X WR — K.D. Nixon, Sr.
Y WR — Dimitri Stanley, So.
Z WR — Daniel Arias, Jr.
WR4 — Maurice Bell, Jr.
WR5 — Jaylon Jackson, Jr.
WR6 — La’Vontae Shenault, rFr.
The Buffs will likely lean on the running game most of the 2020 season. Part of that is the lack of experience at QB, the talent in the running back room, and how unproven this receiving corps is.
Honestly, even K.D. Nixon is still a question mark, because he’s always had Laviska Shenault to distract defenses and there are questions about how durable he can be with heavy usage. Still, Nixon will be the primary target for now. We know how quick and elusive he is, and we know about his surprising ability to make contested catches.
After Nixon, the other returning receivers have 53 career catches combined. Dimitri Stanley has 35 of those. Stanley is also the best route runner and has the most consistent hands of anyone in this young group. He’s the clear #2 receiver and could very well supplant Nixon as Lewis or Lytle’s primary option.
It’s anyone’s guess which other receivers even see the field, much less who has the most targets. Daniel Arias has so much hype for someone with only 3 career catches, but he’s a speed-size athlete who could be a significant outside threat. Maurice Bell should compete for playing time as someone who excels at finding open space and moving the chains. Jaylon Johnson is mostly a speed threat who can develop into something more, health permitting. Finally, La’Vontae Shenault is an entirely different player than his brother, as the younger is 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.
Peters still hasn’t been approved for a transfer waive, so he may not be eligible. That shouldn’t be an issue if freshman Caleb Fauria can recover from his leg injury, as 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.