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UCLA-Colorado Preview: Mike MacIntyre's Rebuilding Project and the Buffalo Special Teams Unit

For the second straight week, the Bruins will face a head coach in his first year at his new job, with this week's opponent being the Colorado Buffaloes and their new head coach, Mike MacIntyre. After the program completely tanked under Steve Alford Dan Hawkins, with two more years of mediocrity under Stone Hands' Dad Jon Embree, MacIntyre seems to have Colorado heading in the right direction. With the Buffs coming to the Rose Bowl this Saturday, we preview Colorado, beginning with a look at their head coach and their special teams.

Christian Petersen

Let me sum up Mike MacIntyre: #21-ranked San Jose State.

In case you forgot, the Spartans, a program that long served as the benchmark for futility, an often-used cupcake program, a program that once was on the chopping block, finished ranked at #21 in both the AP Top 25 Poll and the USA Today/Coaches' Poll. Our Bruins under Jim Mora? Finished the season below the Spartans, unranked in both polls.

Unlike Oregon's Helfrich, who served as Oregon's offensive coordinator under Chip Kelly, MacIntyre is new to the conference, coming to Colorado after turning a moribund San Jose State program into a 10-2 group of winners breaking into college football's top-25. How dramatic was the Spartans turnaround? In the final year (2009) of the Dick Tomey era, SJSU finished 2-10, with one of those wins coming over Division I-AA Cal Poly. Three seasons later, the Spartans were 10-2 and ranked in the BCS rankings for the first time in their history. So, what does that mean for Colorado? Well, the Buffaloes are a once-storied program, mired in the kind of mediocrity and inconsistency that many UCLA fans can readily identify with, and so far, in just seven games, Colorado seems to be on the mend. It's a slow rebuilding project that will take years to complete, but if MacIntyre can turn San Jose State into a BCS-ranked program, I'd expect Colorado to become a threat within 4-5 years, and certainly no longer the conference door-mat we've all come to love playing.

Last year, under Embree, Colorado averaged 302.8 yards on offense per game, posting a pitiful 17.8 points per game, all while surrendering 488.5 yards per game and 46.0 points per game. Looking at those numbers, it's not hard to see why the Buffs finished 1-11 last year (including a loss to Division I-AA Sac State) and Embree got the boot. Through seven games this year, Colorado's numbers are still pretty bad, but they're at least improving: 377.3 yards on offense per game, posting a slightly more respectable 26.9 points per game, while giving up 475.4 yards per game and 37.1 points per game. Sure, two of those wins are over Division I-AA opponents (Central Arkansas and Charleston Southern), but at least MacIntyre won, which is more than Embree can say. Plus, MacIntyre has a Division I-A scalp under his belt (Colorado State), which is more than Sonny Dykes in Berkeley can say so far.

Turning to the special teams, unlike a lot of our conference opponents, there hasn't been any turnover in the kicking game for the Buffaloes, with both punter Darragh O'Neill and kicker Will Oliver returning for their junior seasons in Boulder. Neither really blows you away, but both are a model of consistency, which is a nice trait to have in the typically inconsistent college kicking game. O'Neill averaged 43.51 yards per punt last year (kicking his leg off, having to punt 76 times for the inept Colorado offense in 2012!) and is keeping busy this year, averaging 41.24 yards per punt, having already punted 42 times this year (whereas our own Sean Covington has only had to punt 28 times this year). Last year, Oliver didn't see the field a lot, with the Colorado offense sputtering (and giving O'Neill a lot of work), only kicking for a field goal 8 times the entire year, with Oliver converting 6 out of those 8 attempts with a long of 37 yards. So far, the Buffs have managed to give Oliver more scoring opportunities, with the junior kicker going 11 for 13 with a long of 53 yards. So far, Oliver has been money from inside 50 yards, with his only misses coming on kick attempts of 53 yards and 52 yards. Not spectacular, but remarkably consistent.

As for the return game, there's been some changes under the McIntyre regime. Last year's lead punt return man, defensive back Kenneth Crawley (12 punt returns, 6.8 yards per return, long of 24 yards) has been replaced by sophomore wide receiver Nelson Spruce (7 returns, 6.1 yards per return, long of 19 yards), but neither has the same dynamic burst of Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas, so this week's special team play should be markedly easier than last week's effort against the Ducks. As for the kick returners, last year the Buffaloes were led by defensive back Marques Mosley (21 returns, 1 TD, 26.1 yards per return, long of 100 yards) and running back Donta Abron (20 returns, 19.0 yards per return, long of 48 yards). This year, freshmen running back/linebacker Ryan Severson (14 returns, 25.8 yards per return, long of 48 yards) is the leading return man, with Mosley (the only Buff to score a TD on a kick or punt return last year) only fielding two kick-offs this season, which should be welcome news to the UCLA special teams coverage game.

After a tough two-week stretch on the road against top conference opposition, our Bruins return home to the Rose Bowl to take on one of the, if not the, weakest team in the entire conference. It presents UCLA the perfect opportunity to bounce back and get a convincing win in the books over a program that will be on the rise (just not this weekend we hope) under their new head coach. If the Bruins plan on making noise in the race for the conference crown and a spot in the Rose Bowl, then winning out is an absolute must, beginning this Saturday against the 3-4 Colorado Buffaloes. Let's see if Mora can right the ship or if this season will end on a sour note the way it did last year.