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Colorado Football as Leicester City

How Colorado could pull off a stunning championship run.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

I swear this is not a troll, click bait article. I mean, thanks for clicking, but this is supposed to be #content with #integrity.

This week at the Ralphie Report, we're going to play a game of entertaining not the impossible, but the near impossible, the 2,500:1 against. We're going to see what Colorado has to do to win a college football championship in the 2,016th year since people stopped counting backwards.

As I write, the other tabs open are my notes for this article,  Renato Sanches highlights and a recap from Leicester City's 3-1 victory of lowly Everton. Leicester winning on the 37th match of a 38-match schedule doesn't matter in the standings. If I told you that in August, you would have assumed the Foxes were already set to be relegated. As I'm sure you've heard, that's not the case. With odds as high as 2,500:1 against, the east Midlands side has already clinched the Premier League title. Their latest victory was a way of running up the score, in a way.

The reason I'm writing is because Colorado football is essentially an English soccer team that was this close to being relegated last season. And yes, I believe the Buffs would've been relegated to the Mountain West if rules permitted it. No matter, Colorado has potential to rise from obscurity and shock the college football world with a championship run. All they need is for everything to go exactly right, and then some.

1. The offense needs to find balance, consistency

No matter how paltry the defense or how ghastly the scoreboard, the Buffaloes under Mike MacIntyre have always been able to score, home and away. There have been times where the offense is to blame for a loss (hello, Wazzu), but it was never blamed for a lost season. For Colorado football to take the next step -- which is bowl relevancy, not winning the College Football Playoff -- they need to find a balance between the air and ground and be able to trust either enough to game plan heavily around one or the other, based on the opponent. With health, that offense would win some games and keep others within reach. With a passable defense, that offense would carry a team to a bowl game, a la 2015 Arizona State.

The next step after that would be finding consistency. The offense would have to avoid slow starts, squandered quarters and, most importantly, avoid collapses. With a passable defense, that offense would carry a team into conference contention, a la 2015 Cal.

The next step after that, which is the Leicester surprise that we're striving for, requires a great defense in addition to having a great offense. We'll focus first on the great offense and how the Buffs can achieve it.

2. Whoever the quarterback is, they need to not suck

The other way I could word that: I have no idea who will play quarterback, but whoever gets the job should probably be good at that job. I'm no Bill Barnwell, but good football players on good football teams should be good at their very specific job.

As of today, there are three viable options at quarterback, but depending on injuries and fickleness, only one of whom may be available to play.

The injured is Sefo Liufau. After Lisfranc surgery, his pigskin-flinging future is up in the air. If he's physically able to play without risking permanent or chronic injury, he's my personal preference to win the gig. With him healthy, Colorado could only pull off a Leicester if he plays as well as we all dreamed of. Colorado would need him to be more Cal shootout of 2014 than "I can't find a wide-open receiver for the life in me, even though there are three wide-open receivers" of 2015.

Liufau's projected stat line*: 3,952 yards, 29 passing touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 4 rushing touchdowns

The fickle is Davis WebbWe're getting closer to knowing for sure, but no one really knows at this point. Talk about having a decision maker at quarterback!


If Webb decides on CU, Liufau won't be pressured to play and could take a redshirt year. With Webb on the field, powerhouse Colorado would need him to be the passer who won the Holiday Bowl MVP as a freshman, not the one who lost his job to Patrick Mahomes after lackluster performances.

Since Webb will bring in some locker room questions, he can possibly be what Jamie Vardy is for Leicester City.

Sidebar: The most recent Holiday Bowl Offensive MVPs are Joel Stave, Cody Kessler, Webb and David Ash. The next most previous QB to win it was Jeremiah Masoli. If that list doesn't make you laugh, you should watch more college football.

Webb's projected stat line*: 3,451 yards, 27 touchdowns, 10 interceptions

The possible only option is Steven Montez, the freshman out of El Paso. Montez is incredibly talented and toolsy, but he's raw and could use a year or two of development. If he's forced into action, we could see a performance similar to Liufau's freshman year in which injuries forced the coaches to burn his redshirt. Liufau wasn't exactly perfect, but he showed oodles of potential.

Colorado won't contend if Montez plays like a freshman. For Colorado to contend with Montez, he doesn't have to play like noted super freshman Jameis Winston, but he needs to be just good enough for the Buffs to have a balanced offense.

Montez's projected stat line*: 2,898 yards, 22 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 5 rushing touchdowns

*If he starts.

3. Nelson Spruce's production is met, surpassed

Spruce graduated as one of the most prolific wide receivers in Pac-12 history. Over the past two seasons, Spruce caught nearly 200 passes for more than 2,200 yards and found pay-dirt 16 times. To expect any one player to replicate that kind of production is absurd.

Those targets aren't going anywhere and while there isn't a Spruce-type talent to take them, the Buffs have a deep group of receivers that can be counted on to share that load. Shay Fields, the presumptive top target, is ready to do great things. 70 catches, 985 yards and 8 touchdowns isn't out of the question for him. Juwann Winfree, the former Maryland prospect and JUCO recruit, is ridiculously athletic and can post solid numbers with a profound impact in a supporting role. 53 catches for 810 yards and 6 touchdowns is reasonable. If Devin Ross continues improving his hands, he too can be a weapon as a deep threat. 45 catches, 511 yards and 3 touchdowns can be had.

Of course, none of these receivers are as big or play as big as Spruce did. Smaller receivers tend to score less touchdowns than their larger counterparts, so there may be a need for someone who can score. Enter Sean Irwin, the block-first senior tight end. At 6'3, 245 lbs., Irwin has the size to box out in the end zone and soft hands. If Colorado somehow utilizes him as a receiver, he could be an asset to the tune of 38 catches, 429 yards and 7 touchdowns.

4. Ground game goes wild

The second part of having a balanced offense is having a dangerous running game. Thanks to injuries, inconsistency and general underwhelming play from running backs and linemen alike, Colorado hasn't had a good ground attack for awhile now. If Sam Kronshage and Alex Kelley lead the line while someone like Isaac Miller breaks out, solid o-line play will be found for the first time since Nate Solder and Ryan Miller mauled open running lanes for Rodney Stewart. With the passing game taken care of, the opposing defense will be on their heels and the running backs will have room to run amok.

The Buffs probably won't have ever have a running back duo as good as when they had Chris Brown and Bobby Purify, but they can certainly try to implement a two-headed or even three-headed attack once again. Phillip Lindsay is the obvious lead back right now, and a breakout season from him -- say, 1,178 rushing yards with 9 touchdowns and 40 receptions for 344 yards -- wouldn't be the least bit surprising. Leicester City had Riyad Mahrez bust out as a star, and Lindsay could be that guy for CU.

Having another running back in the Cerberus attack would require Michael Adkins II to get past his slew of injuries and contribute. He has all the physical gifts and vision to succeed, so 743 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns isn't ridiculous to imagine.

The third running back, if there is one, could be your pick of Donovan Lee, Patrick Carr or freshman Beau Bisharat. All have potential to be impact players and could step up into a leading role if Adkins is unable to.

5. Defense!

My biggest takeaway from last season was that the defense improved immensely. It wasn't great, or even average, but compared to the abysmal units of blowouts past, they looked terrific. According to S&P+ ratings from Football Outsiders, only Wazzu of the Pac-12 improved more on defense than Colorado did. Part of that can be attributed to improved play from the defensive backs and young players up front. Part of that can be attributed to Jim Leavitt coming in as defensive coordinator.

In order to contend with the big boys, they need their defense to go from passable to enviable. This will require the underclassmen to play like upperclassmen, the upperclassmen to play like NFL prospects and for the stars to play like All-Conference selections.

For this to happen, young players such as Rick Gamboa and Ryan Moeller will need to show they're for real. Kenneth Olugbode and Jimmie Gilbert have to establish themselves as dynamic playmakers. Addison Gillam and Josh Tupou -- two of Colorado's most talented defenders who combined to play only two games last year -- need to return to form. Tedric Thompson needs to realize his potential to be the one of the best safeties in the conference.

If everybody plays above what they showed last year and there's a breakout or two, Colorado will boast a tremendously deep defense with major contributors across the field.

Oh, I forgot to mention one player.

6. Chidobe Awuzie for Heisman

Chidobe Awuzie is far and away Colorado's best defensive player and he might be their best player overall. Everyone from here to Palo Alto knows Awuzie is defensive wrecker who can just as easily jet past some hapless offensive tackle for a sack as he can shutdown the opposition's best receiver. Colorado doesn't necessarily need Awuzie to become the best defensive player this side of Myles Garrett, but it would make up a lot of ground if Colorado were to make a surprise run.

This is probably where this article goes off the rails, but if Awuzie suddenly morphs into Tyrann Mathieu, I wouldn't be shocked. And if he becomes an omnipresent defensive playmaker and puts up a stat line like 102 total tackles (84 solo), 13.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 4 interceptions, 5 forced fumbles (2 recovered) and scores 2 defensive touchdowns, he could be invited to the Heisman ceremony.

7. Mike MacIntyre has the year of his life

Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri was only on the Foxes because he had a series of underwhelming and sometimes even catastrophic tenures. Of the former, Ranieri garnered a reputation for leading team-wide collapses after his Roma and Internazionale teams hit cold streaks at inopportune times. Of the latter, Ranieri was dismissed from his position with the Greece national team after losing to the Faroe Islands, an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark with a population of just under 50,000, which is about the same as Commerce City. I mean, Commerce City would probably challenge the Greeks, but only because they have the Rapids.

Leicester City took a chance on a flawed coach and it paid dividends. They wouldn't have sniffed the Premier League title if Ranieri hadn't found his own.

MacIntyre hasn't exactly been run out of town as Ranieri has, but his time in Boulder hasn't been a walk down Easy Street. As for the collapses and close losses, Li'l Mac can relate after losing various shouldas and couldas to Arizona, Oregon, UCLA, Utah, and so on.

To achieve the miracle of his Italian counterpart, MacIntyre would have to nail in-game strategies, hit big time with gambles, inspire the most of his players, and more of the like. Unlike Ranieri and his 38-match schedule, however, any slip up from MacIntyre in a 12- to 14-game schedule could see disaster for his team's chances. If you believe in the magic of Mac, this isn't impossible.

8. Colorado survives their schedule

To be blunt, Colorado's 2016 schedule is brutal.

Colorado might have the hardest road schedule the team has ever seen. The Buffs spend back-to-back weekends in Ann Arbor and Eugene with CFP hopefuls. After that, the Buffs flip home and aways with the latter against the likes of a resurgent USC, a battle with Christian McCaffrey in Palo Alto, and finally a duel with a boom-or-bust Arizona team.

If Colorado loses to Michigan or Oregon in a close loss, CU could still make the Playoff. Assuming neither team disappoints like 2015 Auburn, this would be similar to Notre Dame losing to Clemson and nearly making the Playoff. If they lose any other game, even the seemingly impossible matchup with Stanford in which Awuzie will have to focus 100% on McCaffrey, they're done. In order to contend, CU needs to beat five likely preseason top-15 teams (possibly even top-10), edge the always tough Wildcats, and then win a rematch with Oregon or Stanford, presumably, in the Pac-12 Championship.

Luckily for the Buffs, they face the easiest home schedule they've had in some time. After CU plays downtrodden Colorado State in Denver, they host Idaho State of the FCS, Oregon State, Arizona State, UCLA State, Washington State and Utah. The Rams, Bengals and Beavers all make for better zoo animals than football teams, so these should be wins, even if CU doesn't Leicester all over themselves.

Arizona State and UCLA could be contenders, but they're also an injury or two away from being essentially irrelevant. (Sidebar: While looking up ASU's roster, I found this glorious picture.) Wazzu appears to be on the way up, but it might be too early to tell if their defense is for real. Utah is in the same boat as the Sun Devils and Bruins, but if there's anyone who can survive that voyage, it's Pi them. Colorado has a fighter's chance in all of which, and they can't afford a loss in their championship run.

If everything breaks right and Colorado is able to go undefeated in a conference known for cannibalizing its contenders, there's nothing stopping the Buffs from winning it all. Except Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Alabama again. But hey, maybe they can all disappoint like Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.