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Phil Steele names Colorado Buffaloes among ’Most Improved Teams’ for 2018

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Coming off a 5-7 season in 2017, the Buffs are looking to improve in a big way.

California v Colorado Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

If you’re looking for a team that could turn heads in the Pac-12 next season, Phil Steele believes it could be the Colorado Buffaloes.

Steele gave the Buffs high praise by ranking them fourth in his annual ‘Most Improved Teams‘ in the nation list and is projecting them to make a bowl game in 2018. Colorado came one win short of a bowl bid in 2017, but often found themselves being their own worst enemy by squandering leads in the fourth quarter.

Colorado was ranked behind Florida, Utah State and North Carolina as the top four teams on Steele’s list respectfully.

So why does Steele have faith there will be “Folsom Fire” in 2018?

“The Buffs were not far from a bowl last year at 5-7 with three and four point losses. I have great respect for coach MacIntyre and I feel he will get the most out of this squad. Quarterback Steven Montez will be much improved. Despite losing their top 3 WR’s, I still rate them in my top receiving units. The defense goes from three returning starters to six, and both the linebackers and defensive backs are in my top units. The Buffs also have my No. 13 special team (overall ranking).” -Phil Steele on CU Football in 2018

One reason why CU might find success next season are the offseason changes to MacIntyre’s staff. It’s a group lead by Kurt Roper, who has spent a majority of his 23-year career in the south with teams in the SEC and ACC, will spend his first year in the Pac-12 with the primary goal of aiding in Montez’s progression. Ashley Ambrose comes back to Colorado for a second coaching stint after having previously served on Dan Hawkins’ staff from 2008-10. The former NFL All-Pro cornerback is the newest position coach to assist CU’s ‘Money Gang’ secondary since ShaDon Brown was hired last season. Expectations are high because up to this point during Mac’s tenure there hasn’t been a more experienced group of assistants.

There are some other stats to note in Phil Steele’s 2018 College Football Preview (which you should pick up if you haven’t). Steele has the Buffs playing the 59th hardest schedule in the country, which is right around the middle. This sounds about right, given the balanced non-conference schedule and the middling success of the Pac-12.

He also has CU down as the 107th most experienced team in the country, which may seem like bad news. However, as we have covered for a while, much of that production is expected to be easily replaced and topped in some areas (please prove us right, wide receivers). This also bodes well for 2019 and 2020, when the roster turnover matures and these large classes of 2017 and 2018 become upperclassmen.

Finally, Phil Steele has CU 47th in his Power Poll, which is an amalgamation of his 9 power ranking systems and metrics. This places them squarely in the middle of the P5 teams rated. For comparison’s sake, here is where he ranked CU’s schedule (excluding FCS power New Hampshire):

  • Washington - 7th
  • USC - 14th
  • Utah - 22nd
  • Oregon - 26th
  • Arizona - 41st
  • Nebraska - 48th (one spot below CU)
  • Arizona State - 53rd
  • California - 58th
  • UCLA - 59th
  • WSU - 68th
  • CSU - 100th
  • OSU - 114th

Assuming that CU will lose to everyone ranked above them and beat everyone ranked below, the Buffs are looking at a solid 8-4 record. Of course, we know it doesn’t work like that and I myself have some doubts about that list (Utah in the top 25? ASU at 53? Cal that low?), but it’s positive nonetheless that the most accurate season prognosticator is predicting such a big season for the Buffs.

The journey for the Buffs postseason hopes starts with the Rocky Mountain Showdown vs. Colorado State on Friday, Aug. 31. This year marks the 90th edition of the in-state rivalry with the Buffaloes leading all-time 65-22-2. It is also the 20th year since the first game was played away from either campus at Denver’s Mile High Stadium in 1998.