Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it. -Edmund Burke
Spring is the time for optimism for almost every college football team. With the slate clean and everybody tied for first once again, teams will begin practice, integrate their new signees, and renew their hope for their quest to the top of the college football world. While it may be tempting to look forward to 2016 and project what we think will happen, it is first necessary to step back and identify key trends and numbers from the previous season that may ultimately help lead to a successful new campaign. In my first column for the Ralphie Report, I will identify 5 key numbers to be aware of heading into the 2016 season. Let's go!
11: Number of field goals missed by kicker Diego Gonzalez last season. In fairness to Gonzalez, six of his kicks were blocked so the blame at least partially lies with his blockers as well. That's 33 potential points taken off of the board and eleven drives that were killed with nothing to show for it. Seven of the misses occurred in games decided by a touchdown or less. If the 2016 Buffaloes hope to earn a bowl berth, then they have to sure up their special teams blocking and overall execution on field goals.
88: Number of opponent's tackles for loss (TFLs) in 2015. Those TFLs add up to 423 total yards lost, or another way to look at it, 26 yards more than the Buffs total offense per game average in 2015. Negative plays are drive killers for your offense. Once you're behind the chains, play calling becomes more and more restricted and good defenses are just too hard to beat when they know a pass is coming. While TFLs can be detrimental to your offense, they can be game changers for your defense. However, the CU defense totaled only 69 TFLs for 257 yards lost. This is a clear indicator that the Buffs lost the battle of the chains in 2015. To be a winning team this season, they must be able to flip this statistical category in their favor.
428:59: Number of minutes Colorado trailed in 2015. That time amounts to more than seven full games of being behind on the scoreboard. In contrast, they only led for 192:47 (just over three games in length) over the course of the season. The 2015 squad struggled mightily with getting off to good starts. They were outscored 108-73 in the first quarter last season, meaning that on average, Colorado ended the first quarter of every game trailing by just less than a field goal. Even that doesn't tell the full story; if you remove the game versus FCS opponent Nicholls State, the margin becomes 108-52. You just won't be able to sustain success over the long run if you're always playing from behind.
70.4%: Percentage of red zone drives that ended in a Colorado score, which ranked 120th out of 127 FBS teams. The Buffaloes failed to score on an astonishing 16 red zone drives last season; that's over one failed red zone trip per game for the entire season. It's not about being able to move the ball in between the 20s; it's about finishing once you are in prime scoring territory.
63: Number of passes broken up. The CU defense swatted and/or intercepted a robust 63 passes in 2015. Unfortunately, that didn't translate to huge positive turnover differential (+1 for the season) for Coach MacIntyre's defense, but those things tend to even out over the long run. As long as Coach MacIntyre and his staff can continue to train up guys who have a nose for the ball the Buffs can expect some of those passes defensed to eventually translate to more turnovers forced.
Even those some of those stats are just plain terrible, there are still plenty of reasons for Buffalo fans to be optimistic when it comes to 2016. While six blocked field goals and sixteen empty red zone trips indicate serious problems with finishing drives, those numbers may prove to be an aberration. It is extremely unlikely the 2016 season will play out with the team matching those numbers again. Although long term improvement is paramount, a simple short term regression to the mean in some key areas may be all the Buffaloes need to return to a bowl game in 2016.
All stats and information come from espn.com, ncaa.com, and cubuffs.com.