We've looked internally thus far at Ralphie Report. So far, we've talked about the offense and the defense, going through every player and every scheme. But, when you step outside the bubble of Boulder (hard, I know), other teams are doing things, too. Who knew? CU's schedule this year is the most traditional they have had in some time, with only twelve games, a bye week, and a varied non-conference schedule. A Thursday night game, a return trip to Michigan, and the easiest Pac-12 home slate since we entered the conference. It's a make-or-break year for the Buffs, and we'll go through each game to see if they'll make or break for Coach Mac and Co.
In this post, I'll be doing a 30-second flyover for each opponent for the Buffs, saving the hard analysis for closer to game time. I'll look at how the schedule shakes out and some precursor predictions for the games.
Game 1- Colorado State (ugh)
Only four more years that CU is locked into this game. I can't wait until 2020 when we don't have to make the silly pilgrimage to Sports Authority Field (or whatever it's called) to use one of the valuable home game and non-conference slots on a game where CU has to split revenue and play a Mountain West team (for now) annually. Now, the younger generation of Buff fans see CSU as the main rival for the Buffs, which shows how far they've fallen and the aftereffects of switching conferences. Hopefully, the games with Utah stay close and the rivalry blows up after CU gets out of the terrible Rocky Mountain Showdown contract. Until then, CU will be playing the Rams early in the year, every year, and better hope to win out. Otherwise, the narrative will be insufferable. Now, to the actual 2016 version.
CSU loses quite a bit of starters, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Half of the secondary is gone at least, which may be a good thing given their passing defense last year. The biggest question mark group, at least on the defensive side of the ball, seems to be the defensive line. A lot of new faces should be in that group, and resident bear Joe Kawulok finally left. Willie Colon, a late signee for the Rams, has a lot of potential, but it's hard for a true frosh to come in and dominate in the trenches. Another late signee, all-drama team member Devron Davis, recently got released from his Ram LOI and that could hurt their secondary depth. In short, a lot of new faces on the defensive side of the ball, including the coordinator (though he is a Colorado State vet). The strength, once again, should be the linebackers. The Rams have a lot of athleticism at that unit.
Offensively, the biggest loss is Rashard "Hollywood" Higgins. The lanky receiver has been one of the best in college football the past few years and he will be missed for their offense. Given the departure of Higgins, as well as Joe HANDSley (heh), as well as promising running backs Izzy Matthews and Dalyn Dawkins, the offense should be making a big shift to run first. Mike Bobo loves riding his running backs, and we will see how well that works when the running backs aren't named Todd Gurley. Their line always performs well, so the holes will be there. The real question mark is how the passing game will adjust. I assume quick, easy reads to their huge receivers will be the play, which means defenses can largely keep everything in front of them. We'll see if this piecemeal offense can shake out well.
The Rocky Mountain Showdown looks to be in CU's favor for the first time in a while, and the odds reflect that (last I saw, the line was -8). The Buffs are returning more players and have a more settled quarterback situation. That being said, I would be shocked if they cover. This game, unfortunately, has been close in the past decade. I bet that trend continues.
Game 2- Idaho State
Well, huh. I can't say too much about this one. At a minimum, CU should be 1-1 entering the Big House. Really, 2-0 is the only viable option for a successful season. This game better end with backups.
Game 3- @Michigan
Many in Buff nation are most excited for this game in the upcoming schedule. CU takes a return trip to the Big House, the first visit since 1994. What happened then? Let's all remember together:
*sigh* what a time. The Buffs were on top of the world, and some of the best athletes that ever walked through Folsom were a part of that play. Living in the 90s is practically a requirement for CU fans. This year, the position is a bit different. The Buffs will be double digit 'dogs for this game, and for good reason. The Jim is back.
The maniacal leader of the Maize and Blue has the Wolverines rocketing up preseason top-25s and even faster among the headlines. Jim Harbaugh is a walking Onion headline simulator, and his actions break the barrier between absurdity and reality. Harbaugh, quite simply, is part of why I love college football. Characters like him, as we've seen, can only exist in a space like college football, where personality helps rather than hinders. When CU visits Michigan, there will be more coverage of his wardrobe and pre-game routine than the Buffs' team, which is an indictment of CU's recent performance and an appraisal of Harbaugh's ability to garner attention. But Harbaugh knows what he's doing, and he's using the spotlight to help his team. Not that the Wolverines need help.
The offense, after being helmed by graduate transfer Jake Rudock, puts their fate into the hands of another transfer quarterback, John O'Korn. O'Korn hails from Houston, and is much more athletic than Rudock was. Handling him will be hard for CU to do, but he is largely unknown, even for Michigan. Early in the season, Michigan may struggle to mesh on offense, or so we can hope. He has weapons to throw to that are especially deadly in the open field. Joining him in the backfield is De'Veon Smith, who is a mammoth of a running back and tough to bring down. He should get the lion's share of the carries.
Defensively, Michigan loses their coordinator but has a lot of talent available. DJ Durkin left to coach Maryland, and Don Brown brings his vaunted Boston College pedigree to Ann Arbor. Like the offense, Michigan may take some time to adjust to the new coaching and truly mesh with each other, cracking the door open for an upset. Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers fill out the secondary, and both should challenge for All-American status next year. All across the front seven lies athleticism and talent. Rashan Gary, the number one recruit last cycle, is a monster in the middle. The Buffs must be wary.
I will be making the trip to Michigan for the game, so hopefully that game goes well.
Conference Play! @Oregon
This is probably the hardest two week stretch of the season. After getting beat up by Michigan, CU travels to Eugene to get outrun by Oregon. The Ducks lose Vernon Adams and DeForest Buckner, but they gain another FCS- transfer QB and a new defensive coordinator.
Offensively, Dakota Prukop takes the reins of an Oregon offense that was humming at the end of last year. Losing Vernon Adams hurts, as he was able to create some magic on the field, and I don’t know if Prukop has the same ability. Thankfully, he doesn’t need to. Taj Griffin and Royce Freeman return, bringing with them the second best backfield in the Pac-12. Freeman runs like a Rolls-Royce (heh) and hits like a train. Pharaoh Brown returns to be a weapon at the tight end spot, and the patented hurry-up offense remains intact. They should have no problem creating points.
On defense, they change coordinators, demoting Don Pellum to linebackers coach (where he should have stayed) and hiring the former Michigan Man, Brady Hoke. Hoke is a monster on the recruiting trail and should have them playing harder than they did last year. However, the perceived talent level looks lower than it has in year’s past. Oregon was porous and will continue to be porous, but the timing for CU sets up very poorly.
So CU just played their two hardest weeks of the year, and now they get to come home and play the one Pac-12 they have beaten in the last two years. Should set up very well for the Buffs. Playing angry after two expected losses in front of a packed home crowd (it is family weekend, after all) should do wonders for them.
Offensively, the Beavers bring a new quarterback into the fray, and should actually complete forward passes this year. Darrell Garretson transferred from Utah State and brings athleticism and a good arm. Garretson knows his new coach, Gary Anderson, from his USU days and they should have an immediate connections. Human bowling ball Ryan Nall returns and re-enters Buff fan nightmares. Victor Bolden, their leading receiver, returns. Oregon State has a lot of pieces returning and starting, and much like the Buffs in 2012, that may not be a good thing. They also lose All-everything center Isaac Seumalo.
Defensively, Kevin Clune leads his team with an experienced roster. Kilani Sitake left as soon as he got to Corvallis, and that should be very relieving news for Buff fans. Sitake was a great coordinator. Now, Clune gets to show what he can do. Oregon State has the least amount of natural talent to work with in the Conference of Champions, and Steven Nelson, their great corner, is finally out.
Another hard, hard game for the Buffs. The Trojans are fully loaded.
Cody Kessler leaving is a hard pill to swallow for the Trojans. He was a solid quarterback who never lost a game for USC, and behind him is a lot of unproven talent. Max Browne seems to be the next in line, but who knows? Only Clay Helton. Ronald Jones is one a few five-star talents in the backfield, and JuJu Smith will destroy secondaries once again. Their offensive line loses a gem in Max Tuerk, but their young talent will more than make up for. Damien Mama is too large to move that quick at guard. USC should do more than fine offensively.
Clancy Pendergast returns to helm the defense, and brings with him his aggressive hybrid 4-3. This scheme should highlight the talents of Cam Smith, their standout freshman linebacker who flies all over the field. The linebackers, other than Cam Smith, are unremarkable for USC standards, as is the defensive line. However, the secondary looks absolutely phenomenal. Iman Marshall and Adoree Jackson, both five stars, anchor the outside corner spots and have potential to be lockdown corners. CU should struggle to move the ball through the air against the Trojans.
Ah, the Scum Devils. CU still has somehow never beat the condiments from Tempe. THIS YEAR’S THE YEAR, BABY! They visit Boulder after a disappointing season in 2015 and they may slip even further in Todd Graham’s fifth year. As you can tell, I have no love lost for the Tempe Tryhards.
The offense looks like the Kalen Ballage show to me. DJ Foster is gone, Mike Bercovicci is gone, Christian Westerman is gone, and there's a lot of rebuilding going on. They have two main weapons to point to, Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage. Ballage is a hammer that can fly past you, and Richard can just fly past you, but both are high level Pac-12 talents. Brady White is most likely the starter at quarterback, but with exactly 0 snaps under his belt, his effectiveness is a mystery. Their wide receiving corps also have few catches under their collective belt.
Defensively, things are a little more stable. Todd Graham is always going to blitz the hell out of you and they have the athletes set up to do just that well. If you look at their depth chart, you’ll see more junior college players than high school players (slight exaggeration), which tells you how they can reload so quickly. Joeseph Wicker is an absolute beast, and he will eat some poor offensive lines alive next year. This team is beatable though. The Buffs have a chance.
Offensively, CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY.
Defensively, they have a lot of depth and taleCHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY. Oh my, that just popped up, sorry. He just seems to be everywhere.
Bye Week- Easy Win
No game on Halloween. Awww yiss.
UCLA - Thursday Night
The team that has escaped the Buffs for the last two years. Double overtime in 2014, heartbreaking collapse in 2015. UCLA has been so close to blowing it against CU two times, and both times they fall back on their talent and pull the win out. Jim Mora somehow keeps his job year after year (and even gets extensions!) and Josh Rosen is pretty much the only big name coming back for the Bruins. The biggest thing about this game is the situation surrounding it. UCLA shares the same bye week as us, but they don’t share the altitude. Coming in early for a game, a Thursday night game, where you have less time to adjust to the air, really changes the way you play the game. A golden opportunity for CU to take advantage.
Josh Rosen leads a group filled with new faces. The offensive line is really experienced, and Rosen himself should build on a great freshman year. The young quarterback is the second best quarterback in the conference and is auditioning for the NFL. Losing Paul Perkins hurts the Bruins, but they have depth and talent behind him (and everywhere else on their roster). Soso Jamabo, the former five star, steps into the starting role. He has speed, power, athleticism, and good hands out of the backfield. Perkins is still a large loss, as his vision was second to none and he owned the conference the last two years, but Jamabo should do just fine behind this offensive line. Nathan Starks, of Cherry Creek Bruin fame, provides thunder to Jamabo’s lightning, and should vulture quite a bit of touchdowns. On the outside, UCLA loses just about every big name they had. Thomas Duarte and Jordan Payton moved to the next level, and I don’t recognize any of the names they’re trotting out on the depth chart right now. Eldridge Massington sounds like a British royal officer, not a receiver.
Defensively, the names are a little more familiar. Eddie Vanderdoes returns to a defensive front that is not short on playmakers. Vanderdoes demand a double team every play, which could be a problem, given their other player. Deon Hollins returns at outside linebacker, and should push the pocket consistently, while Jaylon Brown takes over at middle linebacker with his range and athleticism. Much like USC, their real strength lies in their secondary. Randall Goforth and Ishmael Adams are two of the premier defensive backs in college football, and Jaleel Wadood ain’t bad, either. Like UCLA every year, they have great talent everywhere. Who knows how well they’ll execute?
Arizona is an interesting case. Rich Rod is somehow still in the desert and he’s putting together a respectable program. They completely shook up the defensive staff, probably a necessary move, but I don’t know if the new hires will be able to improve anything just yet. That leaves CU in a good position for this game. They have a few extra days to prepare for the Wildcats, who come back from a long trip to Pullman. For the second week in a row, things line up pretty well for the Buffs, they just have to execute.
This offense starts with Anu Solomon. He returns for his third year in Tuscon coming off a relatively disappointing sophomore slump. If he returns to his old form, they will be hard to stop, but that seems less likely that staying about where he was last year. Teams seemed to figure out that if you contain his legs, it’s hard for him to beat you with purely arm. He loses his best wideout in Cayleb Jones, but they have the depth to make up for that loss. The real strength of this offense is in the running backs. Nick Wilson is a scary, scary, man, and the best way to stop him is to make sure he doesn’t get the ball. Wilson is a complete bowling ball, and Buff fans should have nightmares of Kadeem Carey every time he touches the ball.
Marcel Yates moves from Boise to Tuscon to helm the defense. He has an attacking brand of defense, but you can be sure that Rich Rod will not abandon his 3-3-5 just yet. That leaves them susceptible down the middle of the defense, especially when Scooby Wright is gone. Wright was an absolute terror and he will be missed. Arizona is losing quite a bit of starters on this side of the ball, so they may be a bit vulnerable. Time for CU to finally take advantage.
CU returns home for the home stretch, as it were. The final two games are within the friendly confines of Boulder, the first of these being Wazzu. The Mad Pirate Mike Leach coached his team to a ridiculous level last year, winning nine games (including the bowl game). Nearly his whole staff returns, with the same characteristics as a normal Leach team: good quarterback, too many wideouts, and defense in short supply.
Luke Falk is the best. I said it. Falk is the best quarterback in the Pac-12 and probably top 5 in the country. You could say it’s because of the scheme, but I would say that only amplifies it. Falk runs the scheme, the air raid, to absolute perfection. Spreads the ball, timely passes, and knows when to chuck it. That’s my hot take, but I’m sticking by it. Falk is amazing. And he is made even more amazing by the return of Gabe Marks, their number one receiver and a version of Nelson Spruce. Marks should dominate the conference stat wise and be a nice security blanket for Falk. The offensive line outperformed expectations this year, but without Joe Dahl, we’ll see if they can continue to keep Falk relatively clean. The running game, like in this preview, is an afterthought.
Speaking of afterthoughts, Wazzu’s defense! Zing! But seriously, there’s not much to definitively point at here. Hercules Mata’afa is a name to watch, and he can wreak havoc up front, but after that, not much jumps out at me. It still boggles the mind how CU only managed to score three points against this team last year. Given that the offense will hopefully be much improved, I expect that number to jump.
And finally we arrive at the most heated rivalry in the country. The one that makes blood boil on both sides and cursing the other’s college 365 days a year. The Rumble in the Rockies. Utah (it hurts to even type it) has taken the belt every year against MacIntyre, but that changes this year! THIS YEAR! Lots of change over in Ute-land.
Travis Wilson, Devonta Booker, Kenneth Scott, and Brittain Covey left Utah this offseason, which means they have basically 99% of their production to replace. Booker was a fantastic running back, and I have doubts that Joe Williams can carry the rock 20 times successfully. Wilson started all four years, and left everything on the field. We’ll see if Troy Williams can lead the offense the same way. He’s more athletic, but does he have the arm or the decision-making? Furthermore, can he be trusted to stay eligible for all 12 games? CU fans should be seeing a lot of unfamiliar faces in this home finale. Perhaps most importantly, Tom Hackett is taking his super leg somewhere else. That punter might have been their best weapon the last three years.
Defensively, the Utes always seem to be solid. They tanked the loss of Nate Orchard like it was nothing. They switched coordinators and it seemed to be a seamless transition. We’ll see if they can do the same this year. They lose Gianni Paul, who was ridiculous from their MLB position and did it all. Hunter Dimick was a terror from the outside. With no immediate help coming that I can see, Utah has to rely on their depth to replace their production, which may be a tricky task. Their secondary is experienced, if not good, but they can be exposed by the quicker wideouts. For the first time in a long time, Utah’s D does not look like an automatic plus. CU may sneak a win out after all.