After posting a 2-10 (0-9 Pac-12) record last season, the Colorado Buffaloes come into 2015 with a different outlook in Head Coach Mike MacIntyre's third year at the helm. A deeper roster, additions to the coaching staff and new state-of-the-art facilities on campus have the Buffs heading into the season with a new kind of confidence. Colorado opens this year's campaign on the rock against the Hawaii Warriors, who finished 4-8 (3-5 Mountain West) in 2014. The two teams are familiar with each other, as the Buffs won the first game of the home and away series, 21-12 last year in Boulder. Norm Chow enters his fourth season at Hawaii, having accumlated a 8-29 record during his tenure. The legendary coach seems to be at tail end of his career. The brunt of a full schedule will test both Colorado and Hawaii, as they're the only two teams in the nation to play 13 weeks without a bye.
The fifth all-time meeting between the two schools will be a tiebreaker, with the series notched at 2-2 dating back to 1925. CU has never escaped the island with a win and remains undefeated against Hawaii at home. The non-conference game also marks the third time the Buffs have opened the season outside the state of Colorado in the past 20 seasons.
Junior captain Sefo Liufau returns to lead the Buffs on offense this season. After setting the single season passing mark with 3,200 yards and 28 touchdowns last season, he hopes to take the next step and start turning stats into wins. He threw 15 interceptions, often at crucial times in the game, but a year of wisdom and growth should help the quarterback make better decisions in the pocket. A stronger, more resilient Liufau has looked poised under center during the spring.
There's no doubt the deep corps of wide receivers with Nelson Spruce, Shay Fields, Devin Ross, and Bryce Bobo will be a major contributing factor to the offense. The Warriors ranked 109th (418.1 ypg, 26.8 ppg) nationally on defense last year and first year defensive coordinator Tom Mason's 3-4 scheme has shown improvement throughout Hawaii's spring and fall ball. His first test of the season will be finding a way to contain the Buffs' play making wideouts. Hawaii's deepest unit is a returning secondary with Trayvon Henderson and Ne'Quan Phillips leading the charge. The two starters combine for just three interceptions and six pass deflections and aren't expected to make significant progress this season.
The interior of the Warrior's defense will play a major factor in the success, or lack there of, that the Buffaloes have moving the ball. Defensive lineman Kennedy Tulimasealii and linebacker Simon Poti go up against Stephane Nembot and the rest of Colorado's offensive front. It's likely that the Buffs rushing attack by committee will be able to exploit the gaps against Hawaii's defense. The Warriors gave up 4.2 yards per carry on the ground last season. Christian Powell, Michael Adkins II and Phillip Lindsay will split the load in the backfield, giving Brian Lindgren plenty of options and fresh legs.
CU's defense was lackluster against their last season, ranking 112th (461.0 ypg, 39.0 ppg) at the end of the year. However, the Buffs may have a trump card with the addition of new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. Knowing the top priority in the offseason was focused on improving the defense, hiring a coach with a resume and experience like Leavitt's could give the Buffs the push they need to form a respectable defensive unit. He helped rejuvenate the San Francisco 49ers awful defense and turned them into a Super Bowl contender. Before landing in the Bay Area, he instituted the University of South Florida's football program out of a trailer from scratch. He led the Bulls to ten winning seasons in his 13 year tenure. Leavitt gives the defense a better direction with multiple schemes to keep opponents guessing. CU has ran a 4-3 base defense over the past couple seasons and will likely divert by operating mixed formations. The match up with Hawaii will be the first time to see how spring ball and summer practices have paid off for the Buffs.
The athletic staffs from both schools are keeping a watchful eye on the weather. Hurricane Ignacio isn't expected to make direct landfall but could create significant rainfall with a possible risk of flooding. The worst of the storm will pass the island before game day. Colorado will travel to Hawaii for the rare Thursday night (9/3) meeting at 11 p.m. Mountain time. The game will be televised nationally on CBS Sports Network.