BOULDER, CO - Frustrated Jon Embree is going to be commonplace on the sideline in Boulder this season. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
I feel bad for Colorado fans. Colorado was bad last season. Colorado also has the misfortune of losing all of their best players. QB Tyler Hansen? Gone. RB Rodney Stewart? Gone. WR Paul Richardson? Injured, and may or may not play this season. I've said on the podcast that Colorado reminds me a lot of Washington State, in that the previous coach did so much damage that the whole foundation of the program is going to have to be ripped up and rebuilt. That means things are going to get a bit worse before they get better, and I certainly expect that for the Buffaloes this season.
There is a massive about of turnover, as every skill position will have a new face this season. Jordan Webb, a transfer from Kansas who won only four of his 19 starts for the Jayhawks, takes over at QB. Webb did complete 63% of his passes at Kansas last season, and will provide some needed experience on the offense. While he threw only 13 touchdowns to 12 interceptions last season, he was also sacked an eye-popping 31 times. If there is one position on Colorado's offense that seems fairly set, its at offensive line, so having more time and not having to run for his life should help Webb out immensely.
With the loss of Stewart, running back is a question mark. Tony Jones got two starts last year, and figures to be the starter. But sophomore Malcolm Creer is reportedly progressing well after tearing his ACL last year, and former walk=on Josh Ford is also impressing. We don't have a good idea of what to expect from any of these guys. The same is true at receiver. Paul Richardson may be ready to play at some point this season, but doesn't figure to play early, and the Buffs returnonly 27 receptions spread among three players without him. Altogether, this makes the offense a big question mark, and question marks at every position is usually a bad sign.
This is where the roster was really thin and bad last season and, while they lose a lot, they could end up being a bit better through sheer talent. The defensive line allowed over five yards per rush last year, and returns only one starter in senior Will Pericak. Outside of him, its a lot of question marks, but there are nine true freshman defensive lineman on the roster, which tells you that Jon Embree knew he needed to restock the position.
Linebacker is the one position that looks great, and Douglas Rippy and Jon Major are among the best in the conference. Derrick Webb also returns, giving the Buffs their entire starting unit back, and one that sits in the upper echelon of the conference. The secondary was a mess last season, with injuries forcing them to put running backs and receivers here just to have enough bodies. They now have more bodies and significantly more experience, including the talented Ray Polk, so they should be better. On the whole, while I'm pessimistic about the offense, I'm optimistic that the defense can be significantly better this season.
Colorado has a great chance of starting off 3-0, starting off with Colorado State, Sacramento State, and Fresno State. But it gets really tough from there. Missing Oregon State, games with Arizona, ASU, and Washington State are probably their best chances at a conference victory, and two of those are on the road.
I like Colorado to win their three non-conference games, but I'm not bullish on their chances in conference play. An upset somewhere along the line is likey, but four wins is the ceiling, with three more likely.