It’s weird to think it, but we are less than three weeks from the start of the season. The long dark is ending. So when I woke up yesterday and realized this, I started to freak out. Because I had not even LOOKED at CU’s opponents this year. I knew the big news, but I didn’t know depth charts, starters, schedules. All important things when looking at a season. So I started looking deeper and this is the result. A quick run-down of each team on the schedule.
CSU (Neutral), 9/1, 6:00 PM
2016 Record: 7-6. Projected 2017 Record: 9-4.
This is a game that CU fans should be well-acquainted with. The dreaded RMS returns again this year, one of the three last times this game is played in Denver. Last year, CU alleviated all concerns about the game early - it was 21-0 at the end of the first quarter. This year, it won’t be as decisive. CSU returns a lot from an exciting offense and could put points up on an uncertain Buff defense.
But the Rams also gave up 61 points to Idaho near the end of last year. The defense was never that stout, and they return many of the same pieces and the same coordinator. Maybe the defense was just young last year and learning, maybe not. Either way, CU will be able to score on them, presumably at will.
Texas State, 9/9, Noon
2016 Record: 2-10. Projected 2017 Record: 1-11.
Texas State is an unenviable position. Before head coach Everett Withers stepped in last year, they were undisciplined on and off the field. Dennis Franchione had some success at TSU, but they were 3-9 in 2015 and had a lot of off the field troubles. The new coach, Withers, promised discipline if nothing else. So, they booted some players off the team and played the ones who stayed. They finished a predictable last in the conference. They roll into Folsom after losing their projected starting QB to more discipline. I’m rooting for the Bobcats, and Withers is changing the culture of the program. CU fans know how hard that can be. But the Buffs are now past the point where they have to worry too much about these games.
Northern Colorado, 9/16, Noon
2016 Record: 6-5. Projected 2017 Record: 5-6.
Northern Colorado is an FCS team, similar to Idaho State last year. However, UNC is a little more historically successful. One could argue that they have had better quarterbacks than CU over the last 10 years (I wouldn’t argue that, though). The Big Sky is one of the hardest FCS conferences in the country, and UNC is facing a lot of legit teams on their schedule, including CU and Florida. They finished a respectable 6-5 last year, but their OOC schedule is much harder this year. Based purely on experience, it seems as if Jacob Knipp and Brandon Cartagena are the starting backfield (QB and RB). Once again, CU should be just fine.
Washington, 9/23, TBD
2016 Record: 12-2. Projected 2017 Record: 12-1.
We finally get to the meat of the schedule. After three straight weeks in the state of Colorado, the Buffs welcome Washington to Boulder. The last time they met, the Huskies steamrolled their way to a 41-10 victory in the PAC-12 title. This year, both teams have changed their makeup a bit. Udub returns Jake Browning at QB, who will continue to make good decisions and move the ball. They return all their RBs (Lavon Coleman in particular scares me). The only big loss is John Ross, who took the top off of defenses. Even the offensive line is still somehow intact.
On defense, they lose a little more. They somehow held on to all-everything MLB Azeem Victor, who will be a force in the middle. Up front, they lose Joe Mathis and Elijah Qualls, who were both elite. But they keep big man Vita Vea and Greg Gaines does just fine on the outside. The oft-praised Washington secondary reloads too, somehow. They keep Taylor Rapp, who was as fun to watch as anybody at safety last year (as a freshman) and JoJo McIntosh, but they lose Kevin King and Budda Baker. They won’t be as insane as last year, just like CU, but they’ll be above average to elite. All in all? Chris Peterson is a wizard. They lose huge pieces, but they keep just as many. They will be fantastic once again. If CU can somehow beat them in Boulder, that would be a warning shot across the bow of the rest of the conference.
@UCLA, 9/30, TBD
2016 Record: 4-8. 2017 Record: 8-5.
I never feel comfortable sussing out where UCLA will fall. Last year’s team had talent and experience that a lot of teams would kill for, and they went 4-8. Who knows what goes on in Westwood? This year, they have less experience, just as much talent, and Josh Rosen is back. Does that mean they vault to where they should be, near the top of the conference? I say no. They’ll be better, but they’ve had talent before. Brett Hundley scared me much more than Rosen does. On offense, they are returning a stupid amount of OL starts (who were awful last year, it should be pointed out) and they have experience at the skill position slots. Can Soso Jamabo finally live up to his amazing name? It would help if they could block.
Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley was a rock star at Penn State and he added some salt to last year’s unit. They lose one of my favorite PAC players last year in Takk McKinley, who was a terror off the edge. However, they return plenty of talent and add the #1 recruit in the country in edge rusher Jaelen Phillips. The one unit that doesn’t scare me on defense is the linebackers. Kenny Young is a tackling machine, but they have almost no experience in the two-deep. UCLA will always be a tough out because they can figure it out at any time. But it’s hard for me to say that they do.
Arizona, 10/7, TBD
2016 Record: 3-9. 2017 Record: 4-8.
Arizona is a lot easier to figure out. Rich Rodriguez took them to heights Zona hadn’t seen since the Dezert Swarm defenses in the 90s. But then his recruiting started to slip, the opponents figured out his offense, and he didn’t have the stellar QB play required for his offense. So here we are, looking at a Wildcat team that went 3-9 last year. It didn’t help that they were decimated by injuries. One of my favorite RBs in the conference, Nick Wilson, is back as a senior. He runs hard and angry, and is fast enough to bounce outside. The receivers lost multiple starters, but that matters less when the QB can’t get them the ball. Brandon Dawkins functions as a second RB that can throw the ball sometimes, so look for a run-heavy offense again this year. Khalil Tate showed some promise a true frosh last year, and he’s built like a truck, but the game was too fast for him and he threw a lot of INTs. An interesting name is Donovan Tate, the 25 year-old freshman coming off an extended stay in the minor leagues. He has a cannon arm and he obviously has maturity, but he hasn’t played football in a long time.
Moving over to the other side of the ball, Arizona tried really hard to get bigger. The D line was abysmally small last year, so they added a big boy nose tackle in JuCo Sione Taufahema (310 pounds). In Marcel Yates’ ultra aggressive 3-3-5, that’s about the max weight allowed. The Wildcats lose a lot out of the linebackers, including Paul Magloire, who was great in the middle. However, they return all the pieces from a young and poor-performing secondary, which could be good or bad. Overall, if Arizona stays healthy, they will improve tremendously and challenge some teams. Unfortunately, improving tremendously means losing by 10 or less rather than 20 or more, so it could be a long year. CU’s been there.
@Oregon State, 10/14, TBD
2016 Record: 4-8. Projected 2017 Record: 6-7.
Gary Andersen finally has this team where he wants it. Oregon State is in the fun part of the rebuild now. In his 3rd year, Andersen has his guys at most positions and they showed some flashes last year. Now, they’re looking to go over the hump, from close losses to close wins. Sound familiar? They are following the CU blueprint. With some differences, of course. They have a brand new QB in towering statue Jake Luton, who can make all the throws. He’s throwing to Jordan Villamin, who is similarly tall, but they are losing all around weapon Victor Bolden. He will be missed. Tight end Noah Togiai might be the biggest difference through the air. On the ground, they have the Wrecking Nall. Ryan Nall is all of 6-2 and 240, with some wiggle to boot. He just wears defenses down, and with the massive line that OSU has, Nall will scare some teams.
They are just big on the defensive line, too. They average just over 300 pounds per starter, which is good for the 3-4 that DC Kevin Clune runs. Former Michigan State NT Craig Evans may be their best starter. Their linebackers have experience and depth, but they lose great starting DBs in Devin Chappell and Treston Decoud. They will take a step back in pass defense, but should be much better against the run. This team is big, physical, and surprisingly deep. Plus they have two bye weeks thanks to CSU moving up their matchup to August 26th. OSU is about to break through to their first bowl game since 2013.
@Washington State, 10/21, TBD
2016 Record: 8-5. Projected 2017 Record: 8-5
HOW IS LUKE FALK STILL IN COLLEGE? I swear, that man is 35 years old. I am so sick of him throwing dimes everywhere. CU did relatively well against him last year and HE STILL HAD 325 YARDS. I don’t understand. Washington State starts and ends with Luke Falk. He is engine of the team, and he runs well 99% of the time. However, for the first time since he’s been at Washington State, the Dread Pirate Mike Leach may have built a respectable defense. Sorry, I’m getting ahead of my self. Let’s go the offense first. The trio of James Williams, Gerard Wicks, and Jamal Morrow is a good mix of agility, power, and receiving. At receiver, they lose River Cracraft and Gabe Marks (who broke Nelson Spruce’s catch record). BUT, they keep Tavares Martin and Robert Lewis, who should be deadly as ever on the outside. The offensive line continues to massive and is led by All-American Cody O’Connell. The offense will be similar to last year, and they’ll move the ball like they always do.
But let’s talk about the defense. Boy it looks fun. They return almost everybody, with the only significant loss being MLB Shalom Luani. They keep Hercules Mata’afa at DE, one of the best in the conference, and they keep the entire starting secondary, including freshman phenom Jalen Thompson at safety. They are experienced, talented, and salty. It’s a little strange. The problem is, their schedule gets a little harder. The game against Boise State in Week 2 should tell us a lot.
Cal, 10/28, TBD
2016 Record: 5-7. Projected 2017 Record: 2-10.
I am not bullish on the California Golden Bears. Replacing a QB is tough, but replacing a QB with an inexperienced QB is harder. Replacing a coach is hard, but replacing a coach with a coach that has an entirely different philosophy is harder. Cal is picking the hardest route. It may pay off, but it won’t this year. Ross Bowers takes over at QB, but he has never taken significant snaps. He’s a pocket passer that emphasizes accuracy. At RB, Vic Enwere is another one of my faveorite RBs. He’s a Jerome Bettis lite. They should be set at WR with specimen Demetris Robinson and lightning bug Melquise Stovall, despite losing Chad Hansen. Their offensive line only has 25 returning starts as a unit, so expect a big step back there, especially with a new scheme.
The defense should be a bit more solid. DC Tim DeRuyter leads the transition to a 3-4, and has some pieces. On the line, they are missing a nose tackle, but that’s about it. DE James Looney is a playmaker. The linebacker corps has a smattering of experience and talent, and the defensive backfield returns three starters, including QB convert Luke Rubenzer. Justin Wilcox has his work cut for him.
@Arizona State, 11/4, TBD
2016 Record: 5-7. Projected 2017 Record: 4-8.
I am also unbullish (not a word, but whatever) on the Sun Devils. They return a lot of their talent and upgrade at QB, but their schedule is absolutely brutal. The easiest conference game is probably the home contest against UA, which is a rivalry game. Other than that, it’s maybe @ Oregon State? Woof. ASU will have to step up. The nice thing is they should finally have a QB depth chart. Manny Wilkins was taped together by the end of last year. This year, Blake Barnett steps in from Alabama and provides some huge measurable. However, he’s only played in one college game. Can he string together solid starts for the Sun Devils? If not, they can turn to Manny Wilkins or either talented sophomore on their bench. They return everyone at RB, including Colorado native Kalen Ballage. He is a touchdown machine, while Demario Richard is an all around threat. Their best unit is probably the receivers, with physical N’keal Harry leading the way. He shined as a freshman last year. They also added two transfers from Texas and Oklahoma (Ryan Newsome and John Humphrey, respectively). While they’re both small, they have gamebreaking speed. Their offensive line returns three starters and is led by center Sam Jones, another Colorado native.
In true Todd Graham fashion, this defense is all-or-nothing, with plenty of potential for both. The Sun Devils hired Baylor’s DC, Phil Bennett, who brings tons of baggage. However, he coached some good units in Waco. ASU has 6 returning starters, but most of the departures hit where it hurts the most. They return JoJo Wicker, who is a disruptive force along the defensive line, and Koron Crump, who turned into a sack master near the end of last year. In the linebacking corps, DJ Calhoun is the leading returning tackler, but none of the names are scary to me. Finally, we get to the secondary, which has been decimated two years in a row. Going into 2017, they lose three starters and two more heavy rotation players. The entire depth chart is on the smaller side, and they will have to lean on talented freshman to make a difference back there. ASU will need to put up points to win any games they plan on winning. But things don’t look great for Todd Graham’s team from over here.
USC, 11/11, TBD
2016 Record: 10-3. Projected 2017 Record: 13-1 (lose in Playoff).
It pains me to say this, but I am way too high on the Trojans this year. I’ve been blinded by the talent and Sam Darnold. Plus, they miss Washington and Oregon from the PAC-12 North this year, setting up a favorable schedule. It should be fun in LA. It all starts with Sam Darnold, who may be my favorite non-CU QB in the country this year. He has all the tools plus the mental acuity to be special. Bheind him is Ronald Jones, or RoJo, who is now an upperclassman running back that can do it all. Jones can run with power, speed, or agility, plus he’s a good blocker for his size. The receiving corps may have the most question marks of any unit on the team after losing JuJu Smith- Schuster, who was a treat to watch. But USC just reloads with more talent, and it’s helped by one of the best receiving tight ends in the country, Daniel Imatorbhebhe. He killed the Buffs last year. The offensive line loses a pair of massive tackled in Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner, but they keep two interior starters and they have plenty of experience coming back.
On defense, they get even scarier. DC Clancy Pendergast is in his second year leading the defense, so they should really pick up steam. Up front, Rasheem Green and Porter Gustin are as disruptive as they come, but they are missing a true nose tackle. The linebacking corps is one of the best in the conference. Cameron Smith returns from injury to reclaim his throne as the best MLB in the conference, and he is flanked by playmakers. The secondary is an interesting case. They lose Jim Thorpe award winner Adoree Jackson, but they return three starters that were thrown into the fire last year and they add some overwhelming talent. It pains me to say this, but USC is back. I love Sam Darnold, I love the linebacking corps, and I think Clay Helton will get out of the way and let them work. I don’t think they lose in the regular season, with the main tossup being Stanford.
@Utah, 11/25, TBD
2016 Record: 9-4. Projected 2017 Record: 6-6.
Utah may be shakier than we are used to. Kyle Whittingham reloads with the talent available better than almost any coach in the country, but I don’t know if he’s had to replace this much since the move to the PAC-12. And, for better or worse, they will be very different on offense. Let’s start with the quarterback. Troy Williams returns for his second year as a starter after an erratic first. He has talent and can run, but his accuracy was inconsistent and liked the deep ball. The depth chart is deep here, with Bama transfer Cooper Bateman waiting to step in if things go awry. For the first time in a while, the RB situation looks a bit shaky. Losing “retiree” Joe Williams hurts, as he was a revelation last year, and he’s replaced by Zack Moss and Armand Shyne. Both are all-around backs that lack the breakaway speed of Williams, and with Shyne’s recent injury, the depth hurts even more. I was not terribly impressed by either back, but they did play well at times last year. The takeaway is that Whittingham lacks a true horse in the backfield for the first time in a while. No receiver on their depth chart is too scary, and they lose two starters. Raelon Singleton is a physical specimen that turned it on last year, and he could be worrisome, but the other names have yet to prove themselves. Keep an eye on utility player Troy McCormick, who has speed to burn. The offensive line also lost a lot. With only 27 starts returning, this is the greenest OL since 2012 at least. The most intriguing name is Jordan Agasiva Jr, who comes in from junior college and is a massive 6’4, 345.
If there’s one thing you can take to the bank, it’s that Utah will have a great defensive line. Kylie Fitts somehow has eligibility left, and he will carry on the mantle now that Hunter Dimick is finally done. The starting pair of defensive tackles, Lowell Lotuleilei and Filipo Mokofisi, is better than almost anybody save Clemson, and they have depth again. In Utah’s strange 4-2-5 defense, the linebackers are in short supply. Kavika Luafatasaga is a disruptive force as a Troy Polamalu type rover. The secondary is very concerning to me. Utah lost four out of five starters and backup safety Jordan Fogal moved to CSU. They replaced these starters with JuCo players, which signals to me that they weren’t comfortable with the returning depth. Junior college players are never a sure thing, so this experiment may not work out well for the Utes. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the best player of the team, Aussie punter Mitch Wishnowsky. The All-American returns for his senior year and will be the best in the country again. The biggest change Utah has is at OC, where air-it-out disciple Troy Taylor takes over. The Utes will be much more open than we’ve seen in the past, which means they may rely less on ball-control tactics than years past. It’ll be fun to watch, but who knows if it’ll work.
Stanford (11-1 with L to USC and W over Washington) vs. USC (12-0)