There's something in the air in Boulder, and no, it is not April 20th. You can feel it walking around the new Champions Center, and no, it’s not the smell of the new facilities. You can sense it on the practice fields, and no, it’s not freshly-sodded grass. There’s an aura of hope around the football program these days, and for the first time in a while it’s realistic. Every year, fans are optimistic, it’s our nature. Every year is the year on the way back, and every year is better than the last. However, given how beleaguered this fan base has been, that feeling has faded in the last 10 years. The diehards stay, but the general unconsumed fans have tried to hold on to any positive thing, which have not arrived in bunches. Last year was the ultimate Sisyphean season for the Buffs. In all but two games (USC and Oregon) did this team outplay the other for a half or even three quarters, and in all but two games (this time discounting the wins) all of that work was invisible on the scoreboard and on the W-L record. So it goes in the cruel world of sports.
This year, the expectations ratchet up with the fan’s hopes. The Buffs have an experienced team, which cannot be overstated. They have an amazing defensive coordinator in Jim Leavitt, who’s tasked with rehabbing one of the saddest units in CFB (though that could change drastically), and they have depth. Real depth. The two deep no longer makes the fans weep when they are done reading. Now, these are all factors going for us. CU also has to play the toughest conference schedule in the country. Go ahead, challenge me. 6 top-25 teams, with everyone else on the road. Plus, they don’t get to play the Buffs. Not to mention, just because a team’s in the Top 25 in the preseason, doesn’t mean they will finish there. Josh Tupou was a huge, unexpected loss that may turn out to be a blessing if he comes back (please come back, Josh) in 2016. We’ll see what happens with George Frazier. Time will tell on that situation. Breaking in a brand new defense has its benefits when run by Leavitt, but obviously it’s not great in terms of continuity. And the fact that this is our most athletic team for the Buffs in a while, and they're still not even in the middle of the conference in terms of athleticism is worrisome. But this is all part of the intrigue when looking at a team before the season starts. The records are wiped clean, and all we have is speculation.
In the spirit of such speculation, let's put the 2015 schedule in front of us and see where CU lands. As mentioned before, this is a brutal offering for the Buffs.
13 weeks with no bye weeks in the Pac-12 is concerning to any fan. The good news is, the non-conference schedule is as easy as the conference schedule is hard. Hawaii is on the rock, yes, but that program is also on the rocks (heh). UMass is the oldest team in the country according to Phil Steele, but experience may not mean much if the players aren't good. CSU is the toughest outing by far, but they're breaking in a new everything and the third week of the year makes me pause a lot less than the first. Nicholls State is now mentioned, and that's all we should have to say about that. Let's dig in!
at Hawaii, September 3, 11 (!) p.m. Mountain, TV: CBS Sports Network, Radio: 850 KOA
#PAC12AfterDark to start the college football season, could anything be better? Hawaii has been floundering under Norm Chow, and many say that this could be his last year to prove something to the AD. His star defensive coordinator, Kevin Clune, bolted for Utah State, and in his place comes Tom Mason, who spent the last 7 years at SMU (The check's in the mail). They didn't do too well on defense last year, or anywhere really. CU made short work of the Warriors 21-12, last season at Folsom. Clune got the best of his unit for the Bows, and that was with experienced starters everywhere. Mason has a lot of work to do on that defense to make it worrisome for the Buffs.
On the offensive side, this is where things get tricky. Some of you may remember that the Buffs kept Hawaii out of the end zone in last year's matchup, which ultimately may have won the game. They'll have a harder time doing that this year. Don Bailey joins Chow as offensive coordinator, and he should instantly jolt some life out of that side of the ball. Bailey's partial to the air-raid attack, and at his offense put some insane numbers up at his previous stop of Idaho State. The leader of this air attack will be Max Wittek, the much maligned transfer from USC. Now, I'll top myself before I get too in-depth, save some thoughts for the preview before the season opener, but this game has a lot of unknowns to it. Both teams went through major coaching changes, and the wackiness of the Rock might hit this Buffs team hard. Remember, it could be 3am mountain time before this game come to a finish. However, CU is the better team and should play like it.
Bottom Line: Buffs win by multiple touchdowns. Also, we wear the all-whites and look sweet.
vs. Massachusetts, September 12, Noon Mountain, TV: Pac-12 Network, Radio: 850 KOA
The Minutemen come to Boulder after CU barely escaped Gillette Stadium with a win last year. U-mass didn't lose much, just as the Buffs didn't, but what they have back is even more experienced. In fact, they are the most experienced returning team in the nation, according to CFB guru Phil Steele. That should be enough to give any fan pause before he yells, "I don't care about your FCS team". Mark Whipple has this team playing big boy football now, and they should do very well for themselves in the MAC.
Blake Frohnapfel (sp?) is one of the best quarterbacks in the country (and a 6th year senior), Jovan Santos-Knox is a special player at middle linebacker, and Tajae Sharpe is a top 25 wide receiver in the country. That's the bad news. The good news is that the drop-off is pretty severe after that. The rest of the roster resembles what the team actually is-- a new player in FBS with plenty of room to grow, to put it kindly. They have athletes, but nowhere near the caliber or talent on the Buffs roster. Plus, super tight end Jean Sifrin, who KILLED the Buffs downfield last year, declared early for the NFL draft, which gives Jim Leavitt one less Pepsi-induced headache going into his second ever game with this team. The Minutemen are a much better offensive team than defensive, as is CU, so expect a shootout. However, it seems like the muskets just won't load fast enough for U-mass.
Bottom Line: Buffs win by 1-2 touchdowns, ground game takes off, CU fans get crazy optimistic
Colorado State (at Denver), September 19, 5 p.m. Mountain, TV: CBS Sports Network, Radio: 850 KOA
Rocky Mountain Showdown. *sigh*. Here we go again. The annual, tired showdown with in-state foe CSU. The most nerve-wracking game for Buffs fans, as a loss means another year of hateful vitriol from the Ram fans, who wish the Buffs a never-ending sentence in the dregs of college football. That happens with a win, but it's easier to discount the acid when you sit on top of the scoreboard. Now, that isn't to say CU fans are innocent. The fan base is split between mostly older alums who treat the Rams like fleas to be ignored (which incites a mob in Fort Collins), and the mostly younger alums who think of Colorado State as a rival, and then yell at them for not being in a major conference (which incites an even bigger mob). There are those of us who wish well for the Rams, and hope they win every game but this one.
Anyways, all of this talk between both sides leads up to this game, which is important for both sides this year. CSU looks to keep the momentum going from a great season last year, but they lost even more than Hawaii did. CU's toughest out of conference opponent this year is the Rams, and a win here could mean the difference between a bowl game or a losing season. A lot is on the line here, more so than usual in this contest. Another wrinkle to add to this is the brilliant move by Rick George to let season ticket holders opt out of their tickets for the RMS. This increases attendance when it matters financially (at Folsom home games), and might trigger the rumored attendance clause in the contract for this game, which would let the Buffs opt out early and schedule games on more beneficial terms, with CSU or otherwise. Phew, all of this talk and we haven't even gotten to the game yet.
The Rams have a top 5 wide receiver in the country in Rashard Higgins, a legit 1st round prospect and a dangerous weapon from deep. He hasn't had much luck facing off with Kenneth Crawley in his career, and hope to God that this streak continues. Expect Higgins to face double coverage throughout the game. CSU also will have a new quarterback under center, along with a new running back (Dee Hart crushed last year), though Treyous Jarrells returns (he also did well). A new look coaching staff with freshly appointed offensive and defense coordinators under head coach Mike Bobo's staff.
The changes are massive for the Rams. They do return most of the supporting cast, and that should help ease the transition for QB Nick Stevens. On defense, they switched up the scheme, going from a 3-4 to a 4-3, though it will probably be nickel most of the time. They lose a big chunk of the linebacking corps in Max Morgan and Aaron Davis, both multi-year starters and tackling machines. They do keep Cory James, who should be a force off the edge if they keep him there in the MW, and someone to key on. Up front, their defensive line is solid, not spectacular, and anchored by Joe Kawulok, who is a bear of a man. Their secondary retains Trent Matthews, a better pro prospect than player, and pretty much everyone else save Bernard Blake. That may not be a good thing given how poorly the secondary performed last year. The Rams are relying on Tyson Summers to work the same magic he did with UCF's defense, and transform it into an uber-aggressive unit. The opportunity is there for CU to win this game, but this will be the biggest test yet. It does help that it's the third game, rather than the first, as CSU plays Minnesota the week before. They could have a major conference hangover two weeks in a row.
Bottom Line: Very tough game up front for CU. I'll be more optimistic if/when the Buffs actually enter this game 2-0. Right now I'm calling it a loss. Talented Rams team that has a lot of firepower. A lot of unknowns. Buffs lose by TD or less.
vs. Nicholls State, September 26, TBA, TV: Pac-12 Network, Radio: 850 KOA
History can't repeat itself. Yes, MacIntyre has played lesser FCS opponents with ease, but the nightmares of Montana State, Eastern Washington, Toledo and Sacramento State still haunt Buffs' fans. Don't expect the same with Nicholls State, who's riding an 18-game losing streak from two years ago. The Buffs should win this game by double-digits.
Bottom Line: It's conference time, baby!
vs. Oregon, October 3, TBA , TV: Pac-12 Networks, Radio: 850 KOA
There's a very real chance that both teams could start 4-0 and enter into this game, and if that happens, Folsom will be absolutely electric. Part of the reason this game would be so anticipated is the seemingly impossible task of replacing Marcus Mariota. Sure, the Ducks have waaayyyy too much speed and amazing athletes, but Mariota made them play to the max. Who knows if Vernon Adams or Jeff Lockie can do the same? Adams brings the most excitement to the Ducks' offense and the Eastern Washington transfer has been the Walter Payton award (Division II Heisman) runner-up for the past two season. He's likely to be playing second fiddle behind Lockie.
The Buffs have a history of big upsets in Boulder, and fans feel that this year, they might be able to add Oregon to the list. This reviewer? Not so much. Oregon returns EVERYBODY on offense, including people they didn't have last year, like Bralon Addison. Their receiving corps is near the top in the country, and Royce Freeman remains one of my favorite players to watch. The biggest, and only, question mark is who delivers the ball to these playmakers, but I'm pretty sure that Riley Curry with a whip and some Nae Nae could strap on some pads and get 9 wins pretty easily on this team. I'm not here to go in-depth on this roster, that comes later, but their starting 22 rivals pretty much everyone out there, save Ohio State. It's going to take a monumental effort for the Buffs to escape 5-0, but hey, it's happened before, right?
Bottom Line: CU is improving, Oregon should regress, but that only moves the canyon between them a little closer. CU loses by multiple touchdowns.
at Arizona State, October 10, TBA, TV: Pac-12 Networks, Radio: 850 KOA
This is CU's first game outside of the state in more than a month. And it's against the hated Sun Devils. Why do they have to be good? What did they do to deserve all of these winning seasons when CU is/was stuck at the bottom? And they have Todd Graham, who's more than earned his reputation as a mercenary coach. Yuck. If I could pick a team to be CU's rival in the PAC, this would be the choice.
Unfortunately, that won't happen this year. ASU is deep, talented, athletic, and ready to rumble with the top dogs. They don't have a lot of question marks, and it looks like they'll have a lot of exclamation points. One particular player of interest is Kalen Ballage, the one who got away from Colorado. Graham recently said he's going to play three ways (including special teams), and that he has had a tremendous offseason. *sigh*. What could've been. In any case, this matchup does not look pretty for Colorado. Demario Richard and Ballage make a great RB tandem, Bercovicci (sp?) adds another dynamic to that offense, and the defense looks like a classic Graham turnover machine. 0-2 in conference play to start.
Bottom Line: CU doesn't have the horses to compete in this horse race, especially in Tempe. Buffs lose by multiple touchdowns.
vs. Arizona, October 17, TBA, TV: Pac-12 Networks, Radio: 850 KOA (UPSET ALERT)
Somehow the Wildcats went to the conference championship last year, and that's not an indictment on them, that just means that they beat UCLA, USC, Utah, and ASU to have the privilege of being dissected by Mariota and Oregon. Rich Rodriguez can't sneak up on anyone this year, and maybe a few bounces or Hill Marys don't go their way. Regression towards the mean is a likely bet. Still, this team can be gooooood.
Scooby Wright exploded and made QB's his Scooby Snacks (sorry). Nick Wilson is a great young talent at RB, and calling Anu Solomon a good game-manager is doing him a major disservice. To Solomon's credit, he was the best freshman in the conference last season. It was unfortunate he was no where to be found in the championship game vs. Oregon. Skill position wise, they have one of the best receiving corps in the country. Their offensive line is an interesting mix of inexperienced, undersized (on purpose?), and huge. The JuCos they have recruited also slot in really well. They do lose a lot in their secondary, and in a 3-3-5 that can be a problem. Their defensive line has always been undersized, but it seems even more pronounced this year. Really, their unit revolves around Scooby and his unit. And that's as safe a bet as there is in the wacky world of college football.
Bottom Line: Plenty of fans expect this to be a win for CU, but I don't see it. Anu might hit a sophomore slump, and that increases Colorado's chances. But don't count on it. Buffs lose by 1-2 touchdowns.
at Oregon State, October 24, TBA, TV: Pac-12 Networks, Radio: 850 KOA
Mike Riley bolted to Nebraska, and somehow the Beavers nabbed one of the great young coaches in the country in Gary Andersen. The former Wisconsin coach wants to bring some nasty to Corvallis, and while that's an admirable goal, that roster is not built to win like that, or win at all. They've had a few defections this offseason, and a lot of graduation. Super senior Sean Mannion, the Atlas of their offense, finally exhausted all of his seemingly 30 years of eligibility, and plenty of their starters have moved on with their program.
All of this piggybacks off of the new defensive coordinator (Sitake from Utah, a great hire), a new offensive coordinator , and of course the new head coach. Even worse for OSU, after Denver's own Luke Del Rio transferred, it seems as if they're stuck with a freshman starting QB no matter what. Not a great position to be in. But hey, they have some pieces returning. Storm Woods-Barr is a nice quick back, Victor Bolden is a shifty target, and they have some nice depth up front on the d-line. Their center, Isaac Seumalo, is one of the best in the country and they have experience at the rest of the experience. The short and long of it is this happens to be a rebuilding year for OSU, and a major one at that. The Buffs should walk into this game expecting a win and walk out with their first conference victory in two seasons.
Bottom Line: The Beavers lost a lot and their gains won't be realized this year. Buffs win by 1-2 touchdowns.
at UCLA, October 31, TBA, TV: Pac-12 Networks, Radio: 850 KOA
This game is very much in the same vein as the Arizona State game. It would be closer at home, but even then, a win is not shown in the cards. Both of those teams carry too much depth, too much talent, and too little question marks. It's hard to say that his game won't be close after last year's matchup, but I don't imagine the Bruins taking a step back. Jim Mora may not be everyone's favorite coach in the Conference of Champions, but he brings talent in like nobody's business. The trouble with this team is that they don't always live up to it. They, along with the Trojans, should have the best secondary in the conference, and one of the best in the nation.
UCLA also brings the bodies up front to make life hell for opposing offensive lines, and their linebacking corps still has Myles Jack wreaking havoc somewhere. On the other side of the ball, the OL went through their growing pains last year to have a great year this year, and you will struggle to find a better supporting cast. Paul Perkins has been criminally underrated, and he still has another year to go buckwild over the conference. Finally, we get to their one MAJOR question mark: quarterback. Brett Hundley was what he was, and that turned out to be wildly erratic. The winning bet is on Josh Rosen to win the job, and if he does, expect some hiccups. Therein lies Colorado's best shot at an upset. Josh Rosen has an off game, CU capitalizes (something they didn't do last year), and turnovers decide the game. Trick or treat?
Bottom Line: Barring a terrible game from the super-frosh, this games looks like another loss on the schedule. Buffs lose by multiple touchdowns.
vs. Stanford, November 7, TBA, TV: Pac-12 Networks, Radio: 850 KOA (UPSET ALERT)
Many fans are calling this a blowout on par with the Oregon or USC games at home, but I just don't see it from this Cardinal squad. Talented, yes, they always are, but also flawed in some major ways. They lost a ton of starters on defense and I'm not sure the pipeline is as well stocked as it used to be in Palo Alto. They will favored in this game by multiple touchdowns, but it's the second road game in a back-to-back, and I like dreaming about big wins. This is the one "WTF" prediction, if you will. Kevin Hogan SHOULD be one of the best QB's in the conference, but he SHOULD've been that the last two years, too. At this point, it's a better bet to say he's going to be the same, inconsistent signal-caller. The one guy that Buff fans should watch out for is Christian McCaffrey, the one that got away (again). He's got the speed and the power to be one of the best backs in the country as a sophomore, and he shined in limited action last year. CU will have to key in on him during his homecoming, or it could be a long game.
The biggest loss defensively is Wayne Lyons, who transferred to Michigan to reunite the Jim himself. Otherwise, they lose plenty of experience on the defensive line, and the linebackers don't have a Shane Skov waiting in the wings. David Shaw is going to need to work some of his magic on these guys to make them as formidable as they once were. Long story short, Stanford looks beatable, however unlikely that is. Maybe it's wishful thinking, maybe it's the kool-aid, maybe it's Maybelline, but I'm calling this one a close win (No band marching on the field, hopefully).
Bottom Line: The Buffs pull of a nice-looking upset against a sputtering Stanford. Win by touchdown or less.
vs. USC, November 13, 7 p.m. Mountain, TV: ESPN2, Radio: 850 KOA
This game, while a little bit more magical, does not carry the upset potential of the other home games. If I recall correctly, CU has never beaten USC, and I don't expect that to change this year. They are too talented and their quarterback is too good for this to be anything other than a fun way for Larry Zimmer to go out. I wish that I could just say "screw it" and put this as a win, but then I'd have to do that for the other 12 and that's a lot of work. The Trojans have all sorts of talent on both sides of the ball, more than enough to overcome Seven Win Steve Sarkisian. Adoree Jackson is a five star talent that plays on both sides of the ball extremely well, JuJu Smith is an amazing receiver, and Su'a Cravens is a one man wrecking crew. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Iman Marshall should come in immediately and make some noise, as should Damien Mama and a few more of their superfrosh. And all of that without mentioning Cody Kessler, bona fide Heisman candidate and the man who eviscerated the Buffs last year. He looks to build on a great season, albeit without some of his toys, but don't count him out as one of the best players in the country. One thing they don't have is a Leonard Williams on the defensive line, and they look to be only pedestrian there. CU should play hard in this one, and that's all we can expect in Larry Zimmer's send-off. Thanks Zim for 42 years of greatness!
Bottom Line: ESPN shows the game where CU looks the worst, and the Buffs lose by multiple touchdowns.
at Washington State, November 21, TBA, TV: Pac-12 Networks, Radio 850 KOA
8 conference games, and this is only the 2nd game in which the Buffs should be favored. Obviously, that depends a lot on Wazzu's performance, but man, the PAC-12 is just brutal. This is one of the more intriguing matchups of the year, as both of these programs look to be at about the same level. No more Connor Halladay on the Dread Pirate Leach's team, which is a shame, because they were a match made in heaven. In his place sits boring old Luke Falk, who put up some nice numbers in his stead, and made USC sweat bullets. Falk looks like a good fit in Leach's Air Raid, but the limited experience we have with him doesn't tell us much. He's promising, that much is true, and he's got a really nice offensive line in front of him. Wazzu loses a few good receivers, especially Vince Mayle, but Gabe Marks and River Cracraft should another solid corps for the Cougars. The backfield is questionable, but the best part about the Leach system is the complete marginalization of positions like running back or the entire defense. If we're being honest, I couldn't tell you one player on the defensive side of the ball for them now that Deone Buchanon graduated, but I know they hired Mizzouri safeties coach Alex Grinch to lead the unit. It's a bold strategy, and one that may not pay off.
The Buffs hired a former HC as a DC and a former DC as a safety coach, while WSU tried to hire one of the up-and-comers. Let's hope that the hype was not to be believed. Anyways, this is a classic shootout, and one that the Buffs should win. It might come down to who's defense can make that one extra play that stops a drive or saves a touchdown, and in that case, I have faith that Leavitt can make it happen.
Bottom Line: Buffs win by 1-2 touchdowns, and contribute a game to the #PAC12AfterDark schedule
at Utah, November 28, TBA, TV: Pac-12 Networks, Radio: 850 KOA
Ah, the dreaded rivalry with the Utes. This forced Thanksgiving match up might provide some real life drama if CU enters with only one win needed for bowl eligibility, like this preview suggests. It's been a long time since the Buffs have had something to play for in the last game, and that might add a little bit of motivation for these players. Unfortunately, want-to is not the only factor in play here. Utah retains a lot of the talent they had last year, and Travis Wilson/Kendal Thompson still scare the crap out of me. Also, these past few games is really where the no bye week thing can have an impact, and that might rear its head here with Kyle Whittingham's physical lines. I don't expect Wazzu to overpower the Buffs, so fatigue may be less of a factor there, but Utah can beat you up without 12 straight weeks of football wearing on you, so this should be pretty interesting. Devonta Booker is a freight train, as CSU fans can attest, and the fringe Heisman candidate should continue to roll this year. The receivers are less of a known commodity, and Wilson isn't the best game manager there is.
Defensively, the secondary is the biggest, and really the only, question mark. They lose a lot of experienced players, and then Dominique Hatfield got himself arrested over an Xbox, so we'll see how they do. As of now, I don't feel comfortable calling this a win, but that could change if the Utes fall apart with their new DC/OCs. *sigh* bowl-gameless again. But hope for the future!
Bottom Line: The Utes are a tough out to end the season with, and I believe they truly will end CU's season. More fuel for the "rivalry" fire. Buffs lose by 1-2 touchdowns.