The football season is getting closer, and while our Bruins are getting ready for the 2015 season, so is the rest of the Pac-12. So we're taking a quick look around the conference to see how the other 11 teams are stacking up. We posed the same 4 questions to each of our Pac-12 conference mates so we can get to know their team and expectations a bit better, and added a 5th question geared for each school individually. We add some notes on the teams key losses and returns after the Q&A, as well.
Next up for our Pac-12 preseason previews is the nearby home team, well, for this particular exile, the Colorado Buffaloes. Our friend Jack Barsch, one of the front pagers at CU's fantastic SBN site The Ralphie Report, was kind enough to share his time and insights with us at BN. Check out his thoughts in the Q&A below, and for the best inside look at the Buffaloes, head on over to the site named after the best live mascot in college and check out the The Ralphie Report.
BN: Who are the players on offense we don't know about, but should?
Jack: Well, everyone knows about Nelson Spruce, and pretty much everyone knows about Sefo. My head says go with Shay Fields, the stud sophomore wide receiver, but my heart says Phillip Lindsay, because no one embodies what CU Football used to be (and will be again) more. He has all the passion in the world, and will never be outworked. I've never seen anyone run harder than Lindsay does, and at 5'8, somehow he's the one dishing out punishment. He's also endeared himself to the local fans for "playing for the state", if you will. Lindsay grew up in Denver, chose the local college, and references the state being overlooked in all levels of football as much as he can. I could pick someone else, but Lindsay has become a fan favorite in one short year of playing time, and soon the rest of the PAC will see who he is, too.
BN: Who are the players on defense we don't know about, but should?
Jack: Defensively, there's a lot more unknowns for CU, even for the most plugged in fans. A new coordinator (CU and UCLA vaulted to the top of the DC rankings with Leavitt and Bradley) and plenty of JuCo's has left a lot of the roster in limbo. I think the best player for "doesn't know, but should" role is probably Jimmie Gilbert. The secondary has a few names that fans could/should know in Kenneth Crawley and Chidobe Awuzie, and Addison Gillam burst onto the scene two years ago before struggling last year. However, Gilbert has been promising since the start of his freshman season in 2013, but has not been mentioned much due to the fact that a lot of his plus plays are hurries, not sacks. Last year was not a banner year for the Buffs in terms of holding the edge against the run, and Gilbert was a part of that problem. Now in the 3-4, the position he played in high school, he has a lot less of that responsibility. Now he can pin his ears back and bend the edge, something he excels at, or drop back in coverage and cover the bigger TE's or RB's, something that we don't know his skill level with. Reports coming out of camp are encouraging, but not exciting, but I bet you'll see #98 around the QB a lot more often, and you'll want to know who that Gilbert kid is.
BN: What game has the biggest circle on the calendar and why?
Jack: Oooh, that's a tough one. I could stroke your ego and say UCLA, but it's not that much fun to circle a hard game on the road. I'd like something with a little more certainty or intrigue. I think I'll go with the cheap answer and say Hawaii. I know, that's not very fun, but the first #Pac12AfterDark game of the year will tell us fans a whole bunch about the state of the team. Somehow, this 2-10 team has momentum heading into this season, as strange as that sounds, and a lot fans are going to use the Hawaii game to gauge how much of their excitement was hopeless optimism or pragmatic perspective. This team SHOULD be very much improved over an already improving team, and SHOULD go to the Rock, beat the Bows, and look good doing it. But there's been a lot of SHOULDs in the past decade that didn't pan out, and the program and it's supporters understandably are nervous. It will probably be a close game, as Norm Chow is coaching for his job, but after his first two years, Coach MacIntyre really needs a good season in 2015, so he should be just as motivated. This game will probably be closer than it should, time change and late game and all that, but the Buffs HAVE to pull out a win. To get to a bowl, this game is a near necessity as their conference schedule is the most brutal in the country. In short, there's been a lot tangible buzz around the team this offseason, more so than in recent years, and the Hawaii game will prove, at least partially, whether to believe the hype.
BN: What is your prediction for your season record?
Jack: Man, two loaded questions in a row. The Buffs, like last year, could improve mightily and still go winless in conference. I don't think they will, but it's a real possibility and shows how deep the Conference of Champions is. And as mentioned previously, their schedule starting October 3rd is horrendous. No bye week, 13 games, all hard outs at home. That's rough. But, the main sentiment coming out of Boulder is "no excuses", so the excuses stop here in this answer. I think Colorado beats 3/4 out of conference opponents, dropping one to a good CSU team (sorry CU fans), and I think they win three, yes three, PAC-12 games. The most likely candidates are OSU and WSU on the road, and a tie between Zona at home and Utah on the road to end the season. Say that the Buffs beat OSU, WSU, AND Zona while going 3-1 in OOC, and that Utah game will be the most meaningful game CU has played in a long, long time and would go a long way into deepening the meaning of the "rivalry" the PAC ushered us into. So overall, I'm expecting 6 wins, which isn't good enough to get into a bowl outright, and just misses the cut. However, that should do more than enough in creating excitement for 2016, which includes a better schedule, an older roster, and a more cohesive coaching staff. This season seems like the entree to the main course that is 2016. A bowl wouldn't surprise me, but neither would 4 wins. Once again, that Hawaii game will tell us a lot.
BN: This is Coach McIntyre's third year. If you ignore the W-L record, you'll see Colorado progressed from a string of blowouts in 2013 to a lot of near misses in 2014, including a scary double OT game for our Bruins. Can the Buffs continue that trend in 2015 and change some of those close losses to wins and is bowl eligibility a possibility this season?
Jack: A lot of this is covered in #4, but yes, bowl eligibility is a possibility this year, though that's all it is. Not a likelihood in my mind, but it definitely could happen. This team has the most depth, experience, and coaching talent in a long time for the Buffs, and that's a potent combination. The problem is, right now, the fans are measuring CU against CU of the past, which is important, as improvement year-to-year is an obvious goal for a coach. We need to measure Colorado against the rest of the PAC-12. especially the South, and that measuring stick is a lot tougher on our mighty Buffaloes. Make no mistake, that is the best division in college football, and a horrible incubator for a rebuilding team like CU. They need to learn how to win, and this is the equivalent of throwing the kid in the deep end and saying, "swim". All of this is a roundabout way to say that a bowl game is a very high goal to achieve for this team, and I don't know if the Buffs can reach quite high enough to get there. In terms of the close losses turning to close wins, that would be the 3rd step of rebuilding according to Bobby Bowden. Lose big, lose little, win little, win big. A lot of that has to do with experience, which CU has in spades this season. When you don't have all-world talent like a UCLA or an Oregon, you need to rely on being older to close out those games. I expect Colorado to be better in the 4th quarter in general, but the bigger trouble spot might be right before the half. You can point to a time in almost every close loss, right around halftime, that CU gave up unnecessary points or squandered an opportunity. Don't get penalized on one drive, or don't watch the clock tick down on the goal line (*sigh* that UCLA game still hurts), and you're talking about a 4-6 win team with even more momentum. That's the plan this year. Close out the half, close out the game, and bring Colorado football back, slowly but surely.
Head Coach: Mike McIntyre 3rd yr
2014 Record: 2-10, 0-9 (conf), 6th in Pac-12 South
2014 Bowl: none
Key returnees: QB Sefo Liufau (Jr), WR Nelson Spruce (Jr), RB Christian Powell (Sr), OL Stéphane Nembot (Sr), LB Kenneth Olugbode (Jr), S Jered Bell (Sr)
Key losses: DL Josh Tupou (suspension), RB Tony Jones, OL Daniel Munyer
For the best look at the Buffs depth chart for 2015, the mothership has it here.
AP Preseaon Rank: NR
Matchup with UCLA: v Colorado, Sat Nov 7, kickoff time TBA
Our thanks to Jack Barsch and the good folks at The Ralphie Report. Click over to their excellent site, and follow them on twitter at @RalphieReport.