After finding success in 2016, the Colorado Buffaloes enter this season looking for a follow up with many questions and drastically increased expectations. This year will be a true indication of how far CU has come in the Pac-12 Conference. Here’s five things to watch for in Boulder during 2017.
1. Quarterback decisions
One of Coach Mike MacIntyre’s easier decisions of the season might be who’s taking the majority of snaps under center this season. The front-runner at quarterback remains sophomore Steven Montez, who looked like a polished veteran last season in relief of Sefo Liufau. The position will have great competition in camp with freshman phenoms Tyler Lytle and Sam Noyer both showing flashes in the spring game.
Lytle, a pro-style product from Anaheim, California, has tremendous qualities that co-offensive coordinators Darrin Chiaverini & Brian Lindgren can work with it. Unless MacIntyre is blown away in camp it’s unlikely that Lytle will see the field this season given MacIntyre’s previous stance on burning a redshirt.
As for Noyer, he’ll play a pivotal role this season as the “next man up” if Montez is unable to go. The 6-foot-4, 215 pound dual-threat quarterback has yet to be involved in a real game situation, but has had solid outings in practice. As of right now Montez should be the starting quarterback against Colorado State on Sept. 1.
2. New look defense
After being abandoned by Jim Leavitt prior to the Alamo Bowl and the fallout that ensued with Joe Tumpkin, the Buffaloes 2017 defense will be undergoing a lot of change. New defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot comes over from Kentucky with the same 3-4 scheme that Leavitt used. The difference between the two is Leavitt has spent decades perfecting defenses around the country and Eliot is a relative up-and-comer in the coaching ranks.
Another change to the defense is inside linebacker coach Ross Els taking over after Tumpkin’s resignation. Eliot and Els have returning talent at all three levels to help CU’s chances at being a dominate defense again in 2017.
3. Start of a new cycle
The start of MacIntyre’s second recruiting cycle comes at an opportune time during his tenure. Colorado had a banner year and proved that the team belonged in the national conversation. It’s now time for the follow-up to see if the Buffs can continue as Pac-12 contenders. A newly constructed team could endure a rough road this season behind some inexperienced players and new coaches. Either CU can maintain the success from The Rise or 2017 will become a rebuild for 2018 and beyond. It’s unclear at this point which team will show up going into fall camp.
4. Will the #BlackOutBoyz brotherhood show out?
If you thought 2016 was an exciting season for CU wide receivers, get ready for the encore. The excitement for the offense mainly rests on the shoulder of one of the nation’s best receiving corps with returning talents Shay Fields, Jay MacIntyre, Bryce Bobo, and Devin Ross. The additions of Juwann Winfree, Johnny Huntley, Kabion Ento, Lee Walker and Justin Jan will give Montez several options in the passing game. It also plays into Chiaverini’s system to have multiple weapons to use.
Winfree is coming off a knee injury last season and is the biggest wild card among Colorado’s receivers and could be a major surprise for the rest of the Pac-12.
5. Friendly schedule
Colorado’s schedule might be one of the easiest in recent memory with non-conference opponents like FCS Texas State and Northern Colorado.
The Pac-12 portion also benefits the Buffs’ with last year’s CFB Playoff teams Washington, USC, and Cal heading to Boulder. There’s no Oregon or Stanford on the schedule this year with Oregon State, Washington State, UCLA, Utah and Arizona State on the road. With a couple of bounces, CU could go 6-0 to start the season.