Typically when a college football team doubles a win total from one season to the next, there’s reason to celebrate on campus. However, the Colorado Buffaloes jump to a four-win season last year after finishing 2-10 in 2014 was not hailed as much of an achievement.
Colorado’s 14-48 record since joining the Pac-12 Conference in 2011 has left fans hungry for greater success, and it all starts with a desire to watch the Buffs play in their first bowl game since 2007. In order to reach a bowl game, Colorado must find a way to collect six wins.
Although Buff-backers have found reasons to generate preseason enthusiasm for a team coming off several losing seasons, there appear to be genuine reasons to be optimistic again in 2016. For starters, head coach Mike MacIntyre and his staff welcome back Sefo Liufau, a three-year starting quarterback who has thrown the second most touchdown passes in school history. Additionally, the team’s defense returns nine starters from last season.
“We’re going into this season with a lot of older guys, and a lot of people that have played in a lot of games,” says junior tailback Phillip Lindsay.
“We’re ready to go out here and fight, and we’re ready to win. There’s nothing better than having our fans here supporting us, and we need them to continue to be patient because a storm’s coming.”
The aforementioned Liufau and his 7,380 career passing yards should give the Buff-faithful a feeling of security heading into MacIntyre’s fourth season at the helm. Instead, the feeling in Boulder is one of uncertainty due to Liufau missing the final two games of the 2015 season because of a Lisfranc fracture in the his left foot. Fortunately, recent reports out of CU’s fall camp are positive regarding Liufau’s health. He’s been participating in all of the drills, and showing no lingering effects from the injury that forced him to miss the entirety of the team’s spring practices.
While signs out of fall camp are positive for Liufau, his favorite target to throw to is no longer suiting up for the silver and gold. After last season, Nelson Spruce graduated as the university’s most decorated receiver. The wide receiver, currently battling for a roster spot with the Los Angeles Rams, finished his career as the Buffs all-time leader in receptions, receiving touchdowns and receiving yards. The absence of Spruce’s unmatched production will mean junior wideouts Bryce Bobo, Shay Fields and Devin Ross will need to step up in a big way.
The loss of Colorado’s best receiver puts added pressure on the Buffs running game, as well. Lindsay led the team in rushing a year ago by carrying the ball for 653 yards. But Michael Adkins II’s return to health (he underwent knee surgery last year) and the emergence of Donovan Lee, who rushed for a team-high 5.83 yards per carry after converting to the backfield from the wide receiver position, along with the recruitment of four-star freshman Beau Bisharat, means the Buffaloes might opt for a running-back-by-committee approach.
“I think we’re stronger collectively,” Lindsay says of Colorado’s stable of capable tailbacks.
“All of us have different strengths, and when you put them all together you have a powerful force. If a running back is hot, you want to go with him. But everyone has something to bring to the table. So, it should be a good position battle.”
The entire unit will need to perform well for an offense that took a step backwards statistically in 2015. Last year’s Buffs put up less total points, while racking up fewer total offensive yards.
The Buffs must light-up the scoreboard more frequently in order to compete in a conference that scores as many points as the Pac-12. The cure for this Colorado team resides in the offense’s ability to keep the chains moving and remain on the field.
“We need to move the ball and get first downs,” Lindsay diagnoses. “The longer you’re on the field, the better chance you have to score. We need to do the little things right.”
Of course, an offense’s best friend is a good defense, and the Buffaloes 2016 defense has the chance to be a very good friend. Not only is Colorado’s defense experienced, but there is also talent up and down that side of the ball.
Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt has experienced linebackers to work with in junior Addison Gillam and senior Kenneth Olugbode, a legitimate pass rushing threat in Derek McCartney and an All-Conference standout in the defensive backfield in Chidobe Awuzie. Still, even with all of the talent returning from last year’s team, the biggest piece to the Buffs’ defensive puzzle comes from a lineman who didn’t play for CU last year.
Josh Tupou is a 325-pound defensive tackle who missed all of the 2015 season for disciplinary reasons after being recognized as an Honorable Mention Pac-12 performer at the conclusion of the 2013 season. Tupou’s return to Colorado’s defensive front could pay huge dividends, as the senior’s massive frame has a tendency for taking up a lot of the opposition’s attention — making his teammates’ jobs easier.
The Buffaloes open their 2016 campaign against in-state rival Colorado State University on Friday, Sept. 2 at Sports Authority Field in Denver. The first opportunity students will have to see the Buffs play on campus at Folsom Field will be Saturday, Sept. 10 against Idaho State University.