No. 50 Colorado
As much fun as 2016 was in Boulder, the 10-win season will hold a heck of a lot more importance and historical value if they can continue competing for Pac-12 titles and developing NFL talent.
The Buffaloes return almost their entire offense but lost a dozen key defensive players and three coaches, including defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. The talent and semi-friendly schedule is there for another shot at 10 wins.
2016 Record: 10-4 (8-1, Pac-12)
Colorado won twice as many Pac-12 games in 2016 as they won total games during any season between 2011-15.
While the Buffaloes were certainly improving under head coach Mike MacIntyre, no one saw their 10-win explosion coming. They returned to national relevance for the first time since the Gary Barnett era and won 10 games for the first time since 2001 with a strong defense and balanced offense.
Head Coach: Mike MacIntyre (5th year, 20-31)
Mike MacIntyre wasn't the sexy hire that Colorado fans were seeking when they fired Jon Embree in December 2012. However, after a slow start that kept him on the hot seat for most of his first three seasons (8-27), the former San Jose State coach exploded for 10 victories and a Pac-12 South title.
He was rewarded with a new five-year, $16.25-million contract in January and is now tasked with turning the Buffs into annual Pac-12 contenders.
“I am blessed to be entrusted with such an incredible group of young men and a staff who have fought to lay a foundation for this football program,” MacIntyre said after signing the new deal. “The support from the administration has been tremendous, as has the enthusiasm from the fans. Together we have come together to accomplish something special. The future is bright for Colorado football.”
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Steven Montez, RB Phillip Lindsay, WR Shay Fields, WR Bryce Bobo, WR Devin Ross, WR Jay MacIntyre, OT Jeromy Irwin, G Tim Lynott Jr.
Sefo Liufau is finally gone after what feels like a decade-long career, leaving sophomore Steven Montez as the starting quarterback. A little-known three-star recruit in their 2015 class, the 6-foot-5, 235-pounder played well in three starts last year but terrible against Michigan, Washington and Oklahoma State. He went 42-for-59 for 626 yards, six touchdowns and two picks in wins over Oregon and Oregon State.
“I feel like quarterback is one of those rare positions in football where you have to think you are the best, baddest dude on the field at all times. That’s how I look at the game and that’s how I play the game,” Montez said in March. “You almost have to venture into cocky to go out there and perform extremely well as a quarterback.”
He has also run the ball well, picking up 135 yards against the Ducks and 231 for the season.
And there should be plenty of room to scamper with opposing defenses fixated on one of the deepest receiving groups in the Pac-12 and an elite all-purpose running back. Their top five receivers return, fur of whom are seniors. Devin Ross led the team with 69 receptions and Shay Fields averaged 15.8 yards per catch.
Phillip Lindsay also returns for his senior campaign. The 5-foot-8, 190-pound running back exploded last year, racking up 1,745 total yards to earn All-Pac-12 Second-Team honors. His nickname is the Tasmanian Devil.
"Coach Mac gave me that nickname because I go hard 100% of the time, every second of every play. I have a high motor, and I don't get tired," he said last year.
Also earning all-conference honors was Jeromy Irwin, now a sixth-year left tackle. He and rising sophomore guard Tim Lynott Jr. headline an offensive line that returns four starters.
Key Returning Defensive Players
LB Derek McCartney, LB Rick Gamboa, LB Ryan Moeller, CB Isaiah Oliver, S Afolabi Laguda
One of the most talented defenses in program history not only lost eight starters — including four draft picks — but also defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to the same position at Oregon. D.J. Eliot, 40, arrives from his coordinator post at Kentucky, and will keep much of the same system and terminology from the Buffs' 19th-ranked unit.
"We are a 3-4 system that is built to apply pressure on the offense and confuse the quarterback," he said in January.
He'll be aiming for confusion with an upperclassmen-laden roster led by three experienced linebackers in Derek McCartney, Rick Gamboa and Ryan Moeller. McCartney — the grandson of legendary Buffs' coach Bill McCartney — tore his ACL in the 2016 opener after a strong sophomore season.
Three of their draft picks were defensive backs who combined for nine interceptions and 46 passes defended. That leaves senior safety Afolabi Laguda and junior corner Isaiah Oliver (below) in the secondary.
Oliver, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound converted receiver who also stars on CU's track team, has 13 passes defended the last two years and has shown terrific instincts. He's also dangerous with the ball in his hands, averaging 10.5 yards on 15 punt returns, including one touchdown.
“There’s no doubt to me he’s an NFL-type guy. He’s long, he’s athletic, he’s extremely bright. He’s tough,” MacIntyre said of Oliver.
Notable Player Losses
QB Sefo Liufau, DT Josh Tupou, DE Jordan Carrell, LB Kenneth Olugbode, LB Jimmie Gilbert, CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Ahkello Witherspoon, S Tedric Thompson
Sefo Liufau never posted All-American passing numbers but was a superb dual-threat quarterback for four seasons, leaving Boulder with more than 10,000 total yards and 73 touchdowns.
Their biggest losses came on defense, where nine starters departed, leaving holes at every level. Carrell, Awuzie, Witherspoon and Thompson were drafted, and Tupou, Olugbode and Gilbert signed as undrafted free agents.
The three defensive backs — all seniors — earned All-Pac Second-Team honors in 2016.
Notable Player Additions
DT Javier Edwards, DE Chris Mulumba, CB Dante Wigley, CB Kevin George, CB Trey Udoffia
Luckily, their five biggest additions all come on defense, all of whom could start at some point this season.
JUCO transfers Javier Edwards and Chris Mulumba add depth and size to the defensive line — particularly Edwards, a 6-foot-3, 350-pound monster of a human. Two more JUCO stars — Dante Wigley and Kevin George — are competing for starting cornerback spots. A third corner, redshirt freshman Trey Udoffia, is also expected to assume a big role.
Colorado opens the season with four-straight homes, the first three of which are against non-Power Five teams, including the always-entertaining game vs. Colorado State in Denver.
|Friday, Sept. 1||vs. Colorado State|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||vs. Texas State|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||vs. Northern Colorado|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||vs. Washington|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||at UCLA|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||vs. Arizona|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||at Oregon State|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||at Washington State|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||vs. Cal|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||at Arizona State|
|Saturday, Nov. 11||vs. USC|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||at Utah|