Predicting the Predictions
The number 11 was not kind to the Buff Nation this past week. Colorado was listed at No. 11 in the ESPN Pac-12 power rankings, while Jon Embree was ranked by Sports Illustrated as the 11th-best new head coach amongst BCS coaches...out of 11 new hires.
Get used to it, Buff fans.
If you pay attention to the preseason magazines coming out the next month or so, you will be disappointed/frustrated/angered about how Colorado is being depicted.
So, in order to save you some time and energy seeking out the next Athlon, Lindy's or Sporting News "College Football 2011 Preview," here's a prediction of what you will see.
Buffaloes at a Glance
- Coach Jon Embree - At Colorado: 0-0; Overall: 0-0
- Offensive Coordinator - Eric Bieniemy (first year)
- Defensive Coordinator - Greg Brown (first year)
- Last League Title (Big 12): 2001
- Last Bowl: 2007 Independence
- Returning Starters: 18; 9 offense; 8 defense; punter
- Players to Watch: Quarterback Tyler Hansen; running back Rodney Stewart; wide receiver Paul Richardson; offensive guard Ryan Miller; defensive tackle Conrad Obi; linebacker Jon Major.
Primary Strengths: The Buffs have nine starters returning on offense, as the new coaching staff returns to a pro-style, power rushing game. Quarterback Tyler Hansen no longer has to look over his shoulder to see if Cody Hawkins is being sent in as replacement. Running back Rodney Stewart and wide receiver Paul Richardson return after strong 2010 campaigns.
Potential Problems: Colorado lost two long-time starters at cornerback to the NFL draft in Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown, and has yet to find adequate replacements. No wide receivers have emerged to help keep attention away from Paul Richardson. Two of the three starting linebackers from last season are no longer with the program. Special teams remain a significant hindrance to overall success.
The good news for senior quarterback Tyler Hansen is that there is no longer a Hawkins on the roster (nor is there one on the coaching staff) to impeded his success. Hansen emerged from spring practices as the clear starter, and it will be up to him to lead the Buffs' new power offense. Running back Rodney Stewart returns after a stellar junior season in which he rushed for 1,318 yards and will now have a fullback to block for him.
The offensive line, despite the loss of Nate Solder to the New England Patriots in the first round of the NFL draft, should be a team strength, with four starters returning. Senior guard Ryan Miller will be the next Buff offensive lineman in line for All-Conference recognition.
The issue for the Colorado offense will be one of balance. While Colorado should be able to run the ball effectively, the question is whether the Buffs can generate enough of a passing attack to keep opposing defenses honest.
Lost is Colorado's all-time leading receiver, Scotty McKnight. Sophomore Paul Richardson was impressive during the second half of the 2010 season, but the remainder of the receiving corps was ineffective. Colorado needs senior Toney Clemons to live up to the hype he generated when he transferred from Michigan two years ago.
Colorado ranked 110th in the nation in 2010 in passing defense, and that was with Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown earning All-American and All-Big 12 honors at cornerback. No clear cut favorites have emerged from spring practice to replace Smith and Brown, which will test defensive coordinator, and secondary coach, Greg Brown's efforts to combat some of the best passing offenses in the nation in the Buffs' new conference.
The Buffs do have both starters returning at safety, in senior Anthony Perkins and junior Ray Polk, but these two players are going to have to have outstanding seasons if Colorado is going to keep the likes of Andrew Luck (Stanford), Matt Barkley (USC), Darron Thomas (Oregon) and Bryan Moniz (Hawaii) from having record-setting performances.
The defensive line is solid, with the return of starters Josh Hartigan, Curtis Cunningham and Will Pericak. The star of the Colorado spring practices, though, was senior defensive lineman Conrad Obi, who languished under the Dan Hawkins' regime but seems energized by the new coaching staff. Last season Colorado was decent (48th in the nation) against the run but will have to be even better in 2011 in order to protect a suspect secondary.
The linebacking corps loses two starters from last fall, with senior Jon Major left to lead the talented but inexperienced crew. For the Buff defense to be successful, new stars will have to emerge from the group including junior Douglas Rippy, sophomore Derrick Webb and sophomore Liloa Nobriga.
Once the cornerstone of Colorado excellence, special teams under Dan Hawkins fell into disrepair. Gone is inconsistent kicker Aric Goodman, but his replacement, sophomore Justin Castor, had his only field goal attempt of the 2010 season blocked.
The punter is also a sophomore, Zach Grossnickle, but he did not have much better freshman season than did Castor. Last season, Grossnickle averaged less than 40 yards per punt, ranking him 75th in the nation overall.
Kick returning is so unsettled that the new coaching staff under Jon Embree didn't even attempt to work on this phase of special teams during the spring, opting instead to wait for new—and faster—kick return candidates from the recruiting Class of 2011 to hit campus in August.
The schedule makers did not do Jon Embree any favors. Colorado plays 13 regular season games in 13 weeks, with seven of those games on the road. This is an ominous sign for a team which hasn't won a game outside of the state of Colorado since 2007.
Colorado opens the 2011 season on the road against Hawaii, with its brand-new cornerbacks going up against an offense which was the No. 1 passing team in the nation last season. The Buffs then return home to face a California team which waxed the Buffs, 52-7, last fall.
Next, after a rivalry game against Colorado State in Denver, the Buffs must face Ohio State on the road. The Buckeyes will be without head coach Jim Tressel and star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, both suspended for the game, but that may prove to be of little consolation as Ohio State remains a loaded and talented team.
In the first season of Pac-12 play, the Buffs drew the short straw. Fellow new entrant Utah misses both Stanford and Oregon (both projected to be top-10 teams), while the Buffs have to face them both. The league also gave Colorado five conference road games, with two of the four Pac-12 home games coming against conference heavyweights Oregon and USC.
Colorado has suffered five straight losing seasons, the second-longest such streak in the 121-year history of the program. Gone is Dan Hawkins, who could not translate success at Boise State into victories in Boulder.
The Buffs went retro in hiring Jon Embree, a former star player and coach at Colorado. The two coordinators, Eric Bieniemy and Greg Brown, also have long-standing ties to the program. None of the three, though, have ever been a head coach, and only Brown—last season with Arizona— has even served as a coordinator. It is yet to be seen whether this experiment with such an inexperienced coaching staff will pay off in the long term.
There is renewed enthusiasm in Boulder. The new coaching staff promises to bring the Buffs "back to the future", restoring a winning tradition with the Buffs' entry into the Pac-12. The lack of overall talent, the lack of depth at key positions, and an overall lack of speed throughout the roster, though, will hinder the return to prominence for the program. A brutal schedule, including seven games on the road, will likely doom Colorado to a sixth straight losing season.
If you must, go ahead and buy the preseason magazines (yes, I will, too), but be prepared for language consistent with much of the above.
The renewed energy in the Buff Nation is palpable. But in order for the rest of the nation - including preseason magazines - to take notice, Colorado will have to make its mark on the scoreboard this fall.
More on Colorado football at www.cuatthegame.com