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Season in Review: The Big Uglies

The final part of the Season in Review series takes a look at the unheralded contributors on the team, the players that muck it up in the middle, the offensive and defensive line.

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The Buffalo trenches have been a significant point of concern since the 2008 season. Really, it's been the biggest on-field issue plaguing this program since Gary Barnett's exit in 2005 . (2007's success came with some of his linemen playing big roles.) Since the departure of George "The Rabid Goldfish" Hypolite following that 6-7 campaign, CU has not had a dominant pass rusher on the defensive line, or really any significant pass rush to speak of, and their efforts at stopping the run have been fairly horrendous. On the offensive side of the ball, the Buffs have placed a couple of solid starters in the NFL (Nate Solder and David Bakhtiari) but haven't been able to provide a truly consistent push to get this offense humming. Until, of course, this season when the offense came alive through the air and finally posed a legitimate threat to Pac-12 defenses. The big boys up front have a long ways to go on both sides of the ball, but incremental improvement was evident in 2014 and the future, even immediately, looks much brighter.

PG: Jack, who for you was the crucial piece that did the most to help make CU's offensive line come together to more effectively protect the quarterback this year?

JB: Stephane Nembot, no question. Daniel Munyer was solid as always, Kaiwi Crabb a little less so, and Alex Kelley improved throughout the year. All contributions were expected in the preseason and could be accounted for. What couldn't be accounted for was Nembot's mercurial rise from disappointing to fantastic. After the CSU game where Stephane was a revolving door, many Buff fans saw more of the same on the horizon. Then, like coach Bernardi found his switch and turned him on, he put his guy on lockdown. He was a terror in the run game and more than held his own in the pass game. One person I haven't talked about is Jeromey Irwin, the on-again, off-again LT that had spotty play, partly due to injuries. Really, the only person on this unit that was remarkable in his play, good or bad, was Stephane Nembot, and seeing as he is coming back for his 4th year of eligibility in his 5th season, I saw nothing but brighter things on the horizon for Nembot and company. Coach Mac has put an emphasis on the trenches in his short time here. Did we see a difference in the play of the big uglies for CU or was it more of the same for the Buffs?

PG: I think we saw a marginal difference. The offensive line certainly improved, Sefo was given more time more often and the offense clearly benefited as a result. This line had far fewer critical breakdowns over the course of the season, many of the backbreaking turnovers and mistakes came on plays where they took care of their assignments. The number of QB hurries and sacks allowed ended up fairly similar to last season, (65/20 in 2013, 62/23 in 2014) but that belies the improvement that was shown. The steadier play of the line was one of the main factors CU was in a position to win more often. The biggest factor in that steady play was continuity, the main crew of five guys (Munyer, Nembot, Crabb, Irwin, and Kelley) saw nearly 700 snaps together, with only Kaiwi and Jeromy missing significant time. Beyond talent and time in the weight room, continuity is the most important component to success up front and if this unit can find similar stability in 2015 they stand to continue progressing. I agree with you that Nembot's improvement was a massive factor in the success that this unit found in 2014, but for me Munyer was the biggest reason this line helped their playmakers move the ball more effectively. He'll be missed and it'll be interesting to see how well his shoes are filled this coming season. Who, for you, will step up and be a difference maker this coming season? How do you see the early portion of Timmy Lynott's career playing out? I can't wait to see him suit up in the black and gold.

JB: No offense to Timmy, who is a massive get for the program, but hopefully his career is pretty quiet for the first two years. Given that this program has finally accrued some depth and talent on the offensive line, the first time in over a decade if you ask me, I would hope that CU has finally afforded themselves the luxury of letting a talent like Lynott redshirt for a year and then grow the next before stepping onto the field for the first time as a redshirt sophomore, ready to dominate. While it's entirely possible that Lynott could step in and be a starter for the Buffs, I think the interior offensive line has plenty of young, talented players who have already patiently waited their turn, like Gerrard Kough, Shane Callahan, Jonathan Huckins, and the aforementioned Alex Kelley. Tim Lynott is a great get, but I feel like he couldn't unseat any of those fine young men just yet. What I love about Tim is his nastiness. Both he and Dillon Middlemiss, the other in-state offensive line recruit, finish their blocks, which more often than not ends with their guy being in the turf. More of that attitude is needed on this Buffs squad, and Tim has it in spades. As for players who step up next year, I think Irwin takes a big step forward, as he has a lot of talent and his health has been stable for a while now. After shoring up the tackle spots, we move inside. Kough and Callahan look to slide in and immediately replace Munyer and Crabb, which may to be possible due to the former group's size and athleticism. Callahan has a lot of talent, as evidenced by his stint at Auburn, and Kough played well in Crabb's absence last year. Really, almost every position on the O-line looks like it could be as good or better than last season, which is probably true for every other 2-10 in the country, as it's hard to get much worse. So, to finally stop dancing around the question and answer, I think Kelly could be a difference maker and an All-PAC center when it's all said and done next year. Tim Lynott seems to be the lynchpin of this 2015 recruiting class, though T.J. Fehoko on the defensive side gives him a run for his money. A one man wrecking crew, he could be a huge asset for CU if they can keep him. What makes T.J. so good, and who else looks promising coming into 2015 on the D-line? (P.S., please make sure to somehow let me talk about Michael Mathewes because he's amazing)

PG: Defensively, the Buffs stand to improve a lot on the line. I'd argue that the defensive line is the most important position (aside from the quarterback of course) in the PAC-12 and the Buffs' struggle to produce consistent pressure and achieve stops up front has played a significant role in the outcomes of the past two seasons. Fortunately, CU will be returning a couple of key guys from injury and ineligibility and MacIntyre has signed a few bright prospects. If Samson Kafovalu can find his form after a year off, he can be a very dangerous piece to the pressure puzzle. I'm also really looking forward to having Tyler Henington back, I think a few of those close games turn out a bit differently if he and Samson, as well as Markeis Reed, had been available and contributing. You mentioned Fehoko, he could become a massive contributor. He's got a great burst, he's got the size you'd want in a pass rusher, and he uses his hands effectively to beat blocks. We'll see how soon this translates to Pac-12 play but Buff fans should be excited about TJ's future in Boulder. I'm also intrigued by Boogie Sewell's potential, and I'm very much looking forward to screaming BOOOOOOOGIE every time he stuffs a run, or really any time he's on the field. For the first time in a long time real depth will exist along the defensive front, more substitutions will be available and more skill sets are on hand, which should help this unit make a much more positive difference this coming season. Who, in addition to Michael Mathewes, are you high on going into next season? We can't discount Tupou, McCartney, and the other young guys who saw significant time this past season, can they elevate their games? Just how important will this unit's play ultimately be to winning 6 or 7 games this coming fall?

JB: I'm glad you brought up Michael Mathewes, as I don't think he gets talked about enough. Call it a man crush, call it unreasonable bias, call it what you want, but I LOVE this kid's potential on the football field. According to Coach Mac, Oklahoma offered before he said he was fully committed to the Buffs and that should tell the dear readers something about his prospects. He was 250 pounds BEFORE his redshirt season started, he was a three sport athlete in high school, he led his team and sacks and tackles for loss ( who played in a very competitive Southern California league), and he has perfect size for the defensive end at 6'4. Most of all, and my personal favorite quality of Mathewes, is he is absolutely relentless. His highlight reel on Hudl isn't that impressive to the naked eye, as there is no throw downs are ridiculous plays. However, it's filled with plays that he makes that Mathewes has no business making. He bends around the edge well and never stops pursuing, which translates in the highlight reel as making broken plays stay that away. I could go on and on, but he should make an impact as a freshman next year, and be a big player by the time his senior year rolls around. On the same line as Mathewes, Derek McCartney has the frame and tenacity needed to make an impact, as the Buff faithful saw last year. Originally thought of as a waste of a scholarship and a gift to the McCartney family, he has proved to be an asset for the program in a big way. I like him to make another big jump for us in 2015. Markeis Reed is an intriguing name, though I posit that him and Jimmie Gilbert might be turned into linebackers. I think Christian Shaver could make some noise too, he was close last year a couple of times. But the biggest impact will be from the JuCo transfers Jordan Carrell and Leo Jackson, specifically Carrell. Carrell is a high energy, technical defensive tackle that should bring a huge boon to the interior pass rush and Leo Jackson is a hybrid end/tackle. As you touched on, the defensive line is huge in PAC-12 play. With all the pressure on the back 7 due to hurry up offenses and ridonkulous athletes, the main way to relieve said pressure is to shift it back to the quarterback through creating sacks and hurrying his decisions. CU had precious little of that this year, and many of Coach Mac's recruiting focuses on correcting that problem. I think a huge jump in wins, that is somewhat expected from this fanbase, predicates on a huge jump in defensive line play. The Buffs have the players, the potential, and finally the depth. It's time to turn that potential into productivity. We've talked a lot about the future of the defensive line, but this is a review after all. How did they look to you this year? Who was the biggest positive surprise? Disappointment? Your personal favorite?

PG: The revolving door that was the 2014 defensive line has to be considered a disappointment overall, even as expectations weren't high following training camp. But, there were some positives, beginning with the play of Derek McCartney who was a pleasant surprise and my favorite lineman. He led the team in sacks with 4.5 and generally made the guards he was up against work hard to protect their passer. I thought the fumble that he forced from Garrett Grayson's hands was going to be much more important, but alas he and his compatriots were then gashed throughout the 2nd half and Derek only caused one more turnover the rest of the season. He's an athlete with sound instincts and I imagine he'll continue to be a factor going forward. Moving inwards, Juda Parker turned in a steady albeit quiet senior campaign while continuing in his role as a leader on this team. He's another guy who has laid the foundation with his attitude and who's impact will be felt through the play of the younger guys. Josh Tupou was the true workhorse of the line, leading the unit both in tackles (42) and snaps played (642). He was also responsible for 3 sacks and generally clogged up the middle. But, as we all know it wasn't enough and the interior of the line, specifically, will have to do better this coming season. On the other edge I also enjoyed the play of Jimmie Gilbert, he showed some speed in chasing down ball carriers a time or two and finished with 38 tackles and 2.5 sacks of his own. He's another guy who could possibly grow into a playmaker. It really will be fascinating to see who earns starting nods come kickoff in Honolulu, the competition is wide open.

So Jack, now that we've spilled thousands of words about the 2014 Buffs (I'm not sure what that says about us) what are your final thoughts on the season just past?

JB: I think 2014 is just about as bad of a calendar year for CU athletics that there's been in quite some time, and that's more of a praise of the high floor of this university rather than a criticism of Rick George and company. There's not much about this season that hasn't been said. This team was so consistently close to breaking through that I've exhausted all of my thoughts on the overall feeling of the season. Every week they found a new way to break my heart, every week they forced me to exercise on Saturday (yes, pacing is exercising). The overwhelming feeling this season brought me is bittersweetness, but not because of what could have been, though that's part of it. The bitterness is what is, the 9 underclassmen starters on defense and a turnover prone quarterback, the 2-10 season. But the sweetness is what could be as those underclassmen turn into leaders and Sefo works harder than ever to correct his mistakes. The indisputable fact is that the Colorado Buffaloes were a double digit loss team that went winless in conference play. That's what the opposing coaches will use to recruit against the Buffs and that's what the media will focus as the hype for next season ramps up. When you dig deeper, however, you find massive statistical improvements, a halftime lead in more than half of the conference games, and the effort level raised tenfold over previous seasons. No other 2 win team has as bright a future as the Buffs, that's for sure. Patrick, I dub 2014 as the Year of Penultimation, with 2015 as the year of Reclamation. Now I pose the same question to you. Sum up the 2014 Buffs as best you can, and, one last time, would you rather be able to lift 100 lbs telekinetically or 10,000 lbs physically?

PG: Coming into to 2014, I believed this team was capable of 5 wins, and either winning a shocker to claim their 6th or dropping a heartbreaker that would deny them a bowl trip. As it turned out they certainly were capable of winning five games, but as we all know they ended up losing five (six if you count @ ‘Zona) winnable conference games in that trademark slow-burn heartbreaking fashion. You could see it coming each and every week, the question was always how would they fall short this time? But the good news is, that's all over. 2014 is done, dusted, and behind us. Some key reinforcements are arriving in 2015 and the Buffs appear to be trending steadily upwards. This coming fall, it'll be time to make things happen late in games and turn those narrow losses into close victories. Let the so-dubbed Year of Reclamation begin.

This is another tough one, but I think it's gotta be 100 lbs telekinetically because when the remote control is across the room and you don't feel like getting up, it's good to be a Jedi. Lifting 10,000 lbs physically would be cool but how many things are you going to need to move that are that big? I guess you could get some serious contracting work with construction firms but otherwise no one needs the Hulk around all the time. If you're moving to a new place, you can just lift everything under 100 lbs right on into the truck with your mind, which is most everything save for the large furniture. It's so much more efficient. Give me Jedi capabilities every time. Take us home Jack, what would you go with?

JB: Real world practicality says 10,000 lbs, because as the only person in the superhuman market, you get to name your price. You'll be the hero of all moving trips and you could have an active hand in building CU's new facilities. But there's no way you can give up telekinesis. There's a reason George Lucas gave Jedi the Force instead of super strength, and it's because it's dope. So I'll choose the 100 lbs. and regret it every morning traffic jam. Oh, if only I could lift the other cars out of the way.