The 2014 season is almost upon us. I can taste the low expectations and smell the seven straight losing seasons like they are in the room next to me. There is a perception about this season, that this is the penultimate step towards relevance, that 2015 is CU football's time to break out. While 2015 will undoubtedly be a big year for the program, I'm here to pump sunshine and blow rainbows. I'm here to tell you that it is possible, POSSIBLE, for CU to have a winning season in 2014. The Buffs may not be great yet, or even good yet, but dammit, we can be mediocre and that's something to be celebrated after this recent history of hellish falls and horrendous winters. We will take steps forward in 2014, but how many is yet to be determined. I say a bowl is possible, but the team is not held to that standard for me. Rather, I just want to be competitive for at least three quarters in all of the Buffs games. We have plenty of young talent, whether it is developed enough remains to be seen. 2014 is an incubator, which we may not escape from until the next season. Let's dig in.
Buffs Preview 2014
This year hinges on Sefo Liufau. The Throwin' Samoan (2.0) showed flashes last year. The offense was more efficient under him than Connor Wood and the game against Cal was a thing of beauty. Liufau embodies the hope that Coach Mac has brought to the program, as he has the potential to be a four-year starter and CU legend. He will be the first to admit that he has quite a bit to work on. Comparing the Utah game and the spring game, the biggest difference is deep ball velocity and accuracy. When he steps into his throws, it seems like the ball gets there quicker. In the spread offense, especially the West Coast variant the team will run next year, timing is the most important thing in the offense, and all of Sefo's mechanical improvements should help fix that. He still does not have the biggest arm, and his mobility leaves something to be desired, but for Brian Lindgren's offense, expect nothing but improvement out of Sefo next year.
Stat Prediction: 62% Completion Percentage, 3,400 yds, 21 TDs, 10 INTs
Next up is the group that Sefo will throw to, the WR's and TE's. Honestly, I will only devote a sentence to the tight ends because they have been so irrelevant recently to the Buffs, so here is my one sentence. Irwin looks like an in-line tight end that might catch double-digit passes. Prove me wrong, Buffs, make the tight ends relevant. Back to the main point, the wide receivers. We obviously lost a giant of Colorado football in Paul Richardson, who is expanding the CU brand to the ranks of the NFL. However, in my opinion, the skill positions will be better than last year. Hear me out. The offense is designed to spread the ball around. No one will put up P-Rich numbers next year, and no one should try. However, with no one for the defense to key in on, and with multiple competent targets (finally), the overall production will rise. Expect Nelson Spruce to hover around 70 catches, as the go-to receiver and safety valve, but as to the other targets, I cannot guess their stats. Bryce Bobo, Shay Fields (stud freshman, 4-star), D.D. Goodson, and Lee Walker all have Pac-12 talent and should be able to garner some catches this season. The key to this group, other than Spruce, is development. The receivers, more than any other position on the team, embody the Buffaloes' current situation. If they develop fully enough this year, they could be special. If not, then 2015 is set up to be a fantastic year for this group with another season under their belts. Expect Bobo to show out this season and beyond, the Bobo Mojo cannot be denied.
Spruce Stat Prediction: 70 Rec, 850 yds, 8 TDs
The running backs present an interesting situation. It's definitely the deepest position on the offensive side of the ball, and maybe on the whole team (DB's are very deep). Christian Powell, Tony Jones, Michael Adkins, and Phillip Lindsay are all capable of leading the team in carries any given week. Powell is more of a bruiser, capable of eating up yards, and generally being a bigger back. Adkins, my personal favorite, is a do-it-all back. He's explosive, runs through tackles, and just runs hard. He has the potential to be an all-conference back in one or two years. Jones is the veteran senior, who is far and away the best pass protector of the group, so he should get some third-down snaps. Phillip Lindsay is an enigma. He runs hard, is a CO recruit, and has the right attitude. He'll probably just get garbage time, but will be a good complement to Adkins down the road. I'm not going to predict the stats on this backfield, but I will say expect more than the worst in the Pac-12 (we're coming for you, Washington State).
The offensive line was rough last year, as it has been for quite a while. While 2014 may not fix all, or even most of the problems, the starting five should be much improved, especially since a certain transfer from Auburn was granted immediate eligibility. Jeromey Irwin has seemingly had the Madden curse since he's been at CU, never being on the field for extended periods of time. This year, his feet should finally hold and the LT spot will be given to him (unless Callahan lives up to his billing). Moving left to right, Kaiwi Crabb will hold down the left guard spot well. As a 5th year senior, one of two, he has the physical maturity, strength, and experience to generate push on the OL, though he may not be able to pull well. Alex Kelley has moved into the starting center spot, taking over for the graudated Gus Handler. A 4th year sophmore (grayshirt plus redshirt), he could be a three year starter on the offensive line. Daniel Munyer is the more nimble of the two guards. While having a slighter frame, he can pull better than Crabb can, which should lead to more outside runs on the left side than right this year. However, running on the right has one gigantic advantage by the name of Stephane Nembot. The Buff's best run blocker, and the worst pass blocker, is a Cameroonian puzzle that has yet to be solved. He has the frame and athleticism to join the long line of CU tackles in the NFL, he just can't seem to get it, which is why he has been so disappointing to Colorado faithful. His initial kick is good enough, but he doesn't react well to counter moves or any swims or rips inside. Overall, the CU line should be much improved in 2014, but not Pac-12 caliber yet.
What to say about this defense? It has the potential to be a top 6 defense in the Pac-12. All of it starts up front. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint), the DL is the group that's most in flux. Josh Tupou will continue being a star for us in the middle, and should be all-Pac, but after that, it gets a little more iffy. Justin Solis and Juda Parker should make a fine tackle rotation, but Solis must first prove himself eligible. From there, we go to the edge. At the end positions, 2014 is about development. Jimmie Gilbert, Markeis Reed, Tyler Henington, and Derek McCartney should be the two deep, and none of them have spent significant time on the Buffaloes. If they can get consistent pass rush out of the young guns, suddenly the entire defense is better improved. At this point, you may be saying, "Jack, you idiot, what about Samson?" Well, I'll tell you about Samson. It seems unlikely that he will play the season at this point. So, Buffs fans, treat his presence as a pleasant surprise rather than an expectation. The biggest breakthrough with this group may be a very under-reported move. Andy Larussa is now coaching defensive ends for the time being, with Coach Mac shifting over to DB's. This allows Jeffcoat and Larussa to focus solely on their position groups on the d-line, improving both of their development. Keep an eye on McCartney, he could surprise many. He's a freshman with three years of college strength and conditioning. I would also like to see Coach Baer switch things up and go to a wide-9 on some series. This gives the ends a chance to pin their ears back and go, while allowing the sub-package DTs (Norgard and Parker, most likely) to push the pocket. I must give a late metion to Leo Jackson, a juco transfer who joined the Class of 2014 late. He is a hybrid DE/DT who should be stout against the run, though I believe he won't be joining the team until January.
Stat line for McCartney: 30 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 13 TFL
Moving up the front seven, we take a look at the linebackers. While not as deep as the running backs or as stacked as the secondary, this position group probably has the most pro potential and athleticism. And it all starts with the golden god in the middle. Addison Gillam. What can we say about Gillam that hasn't been said. He hearkens back to the glory days, when we churned out Matt Russell, Jordan Dizon, and Alfred Williams. Not to sound too starstruck, but he is a pillar that the CU program can build off. With his body getting more mature and spending a year more in the system, expect better play out of Gillam. He may not get better stats, hopefully because he doesn't have to cover for as many mistakes, but he should be just as big of a force, if not bigger. Let's move on to some other linebackers. Woodson Greer should finally be able to showcase his talent as a senior, after being hobbled by injuries, or he will be replaced by Deaysean Rippy, a four-star transfer from Pittsburgh. At the other OLB spot, Kenneth Olugbode has garnered high praise from the coaching staff and took hold of the starting position. He looks the part of a Pac-12 linebacker, having an undersized frame but he can fly around the field. The reserves don't look too shabby either, with the aforementioned Rippy, Brady Daigh, and some interesting freshmen that may get a chance to play, like Rick Gamboa or Terran Hasslebach. Overall this group can grow into something special, but there is a significant drop off from 1st and 2nd string.
Stat line prediction for Gillam: 85 tackles, 10 TFL, 3 INTs
To end on a good note, here come the defensive backs. This unit has the most talent, depth, and experience of any on the CU roster. To keep working front to back, I'll start with the cornerbacks. On one side you have Greg Henderson, a four-year starter and as lockdown as they come for CU. He should finish his Colorado career near the top of the great defensive backs to go to this school. The other side is a little more questionable. Right now, the co-starters at that position are Ahkello Witherspoon and Kenneth Crawley. They are both long, lanky, and are athletic enough to cover most anyone in the conference. However, Witherspoon is much more aggressive than Crawley, and seems to have better ball skills, while Crawley has more starting experience and gets beat less often. My preference goes to Witherspoon, he has a nasty streak that I like and all you need to do is watch the spring game to see how he can help us. I think Crawley will improve from the competition, and if he shows up to summer training with the right mindset, I think he can take the job and run with it as well. He is one of the few players on this team that has NFL-starting potential if he gets past his mental blocks. At the slot corner, Coach Mac found another diamond in Chidobe Awuzie. As a freshman last year, he looked more physically developed than most of the players on the team and he showed that on the field. There was a play against CSU (I think) where he just threw his receiver down, and the ball popped out. If he stays at nickel back, he will be a force against the pass-heavy offenses of the Pac, as he has size that few other slot cornerbacks possess. The two-deep is impressive too, with either WItherspoon or Crawley, Yuri Wright, a much-balleyhooed four-star a couple years ago, and John Walker, a solid-depth player. Moving up the ranks, safeties. CU is in a much better position now than they were a year ago. Jered Bell was above average throughout most of the year, and expect the 5th year senior to do a much better job of roaming. He can already diagnose plays, but when he's deep in a cover 1, expect him to react quicker. At the other position, it seems as if Tedric Thompson has the spot on lock down. While he's only going to be a sophomore, he is a beast. He's big, fast, and while not good at coverage (yet), he will thump you. .Also, look for Fairview High product Evan White to get some snaps as a freshman. He was blessed with unreal physical abilities and he can play deep safety too. I would like to see Baer try to bring Thompson in the box more often, especially on the early downs. He can function as an extra linebacker or pick up the tight ends early, while also letting Bell play to his strengths. Just a thought.
Coming on Thursday, a look at the newcomers to the roster. Until then, leave your comments below.