What follows is what Jack had to say about the Buffs.
BN: What do you attribute to the team’s resurgence this season after a down year last year?
Jack Barsch: Well, most fans are careful about calling this a resurgence so far. Remember, the Buffs started 3-0 last year before going 2-7 in conference play. The team does pass the comparative eye test and has certainly been more fun to watch in 2018. To me, the biggest difference is the talent on the field. Last year’s freshmen have come off redshirts or limited playing time to completely change the makeup of the team. Laviska Shenault Jr. and Nate Landman are the most obvious examples, They both have made the giant leap from special teams players to legitimate stars. Couple that with a few other newcomers (including coaches) that are performing well, and the leap starts to make sense.
Another quick thing I’ll mention is that the team seems to be much closer as a unit this year. The leadership is strong and the entire team has a better attitude this year
BN: Who’s the most important offensive weapon on the team?
Jack Barsch: Any answer other than Laviska Shenault is wrong. The sophomore from Desoto, Texas has been one of the nation’s best players through three weeks of game action. His stats are eyepopping (over 150 yards/game) and his consistency even more so. No matter where he lines up (so far, RB, QB, WR, H-back, TE), defenders are keying on him. It doesn’t seem to matter. He still makes plays. Look for the Buffs to get creative early to give him the ball in favorable matchups.
BN: Who’s the biggest playmaker on the defense?
Jack Barsch: Again, the answer is obvious. Nate Landman has been otherworldly so far this year. Through three games, he has 33 tackles, two interceptions, and seven tackles for loss. More than a fifth of his tackles are behind the line of scrimmage, and that includes TWO fourth down stops to turn the tide against Nebraska. He flies dowfield with abandon, and as Coach MacIntyre likes to say, he arrives in a bad mood. It helps that he has stalwart smart guy Rick Gamboa next to him to handle blocks and call out protection, but his instincts are unreal. Watch #53 when you can.
BN: Which is the stronger unit? The offense or the defense?
Jack Barsch: That is a great question. The offense has shown better thus far, but that may be a paper tiger. Based on the evidence available to us, playing well against CSU and Nebraska’s defenses is expected, not a good sign. On the flip side, I have been extremely impressed with CU’s defense, but that may be a case of exceeding low expectations. Last year, the Buffs were HORRENDOUS against the run, and they have largely shored that up this year. They have played aggressive and confident. Overall, I would say the offense has been better. A veteran QB, RB, and some amazing talent at receiver has led to some great production. The only thing holding them back is the offensive line.
BN: Who is your favorite player to watch and why?
Jack Barsch: Laviska and Landman are both good options, but I’ll give you another name. If you can, watch defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson (#34). The junior college transfer is only a sophomore, but he has exploded onto the scene for the Buffs. He leads the team with 3.5 sacks, which is tough to do as a 3-4 defensive end. He explodes off the snap and is so damn quick that he often ends up in the backfield before the RB or QB can react. Runs to the edge almost never work against him. He is a very fun DL to watch.
BN: Colorado has had some pretty good teams in its history under Bill McCartney and even former Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel. How does the Mike MacIntyre era compare to those glory years?
Jack Barsch: Neuheisel did great work with the players that McCartney gave him, but as he put his own...unique stamp on the program, the teams got more and more undisciplined and sloppy. But I digress. MacIntyre was handed absolutely nothing as a program. He started with quite literally the worst team in college football. In my mind, he has worked miracles raising the floor of the program. The 2016 season was one of the best years of all time for CU, at least in terms of narrative weight, and the 2017 season was doomed from the start, in my opinion. We are now entering the “show me” years for Mac 2.0. Is the rest of his tenure going to lean more 2016 (10 win season, competing for conference championship) or 2017 (no bowl game, bad conference record)? This year will be telling.
Extra Point: Predict the score and winner.
Jack Barsch: When I saw that the line for the game opened up at -11, I was very nervous. Maybe it’s the scarred fan in me, but I don’t believe that CU should be double digit favorites over any Pac-12 team yet (it definitely is the scarred fan in me). I think Colorado wins this one, but I think it’ll be a single digit game until the end. I’ll go 34-27.
Thanks to Jack Barsch and the Ralphie Report for participating in this Q&A. If you head over to their site, you can also read the answers the BN staff had for their questions.