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You can read the entire Colorado Buffaloes preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 Pac-12 magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
Pac-12 South PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Jon Embree, 3-10 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Eric Bienemy | DEF. COORDINATOR: Greg Brown
Colorado coaches and players have no idea who their starting quarterback will be heading into fall camp. It could be Connor Wood, a sophomore transfer from Texas. It could be Nick Hirschman, a sophomore coming off three foot surgeries in the past year. Or it could be Jordan Webb, the former Kansas starter who is planning to spend his final two years of eligibility in Boulder after graduating in May.
Webb would be the only quarterback on the roster with any significant playing experience at the college level, but that depends on whether he ends up with the Buffs.
Whoever starts under center should have a solid running game to work with, led by tailback Tony Jones and a workmanlike group of offensive linemen. Left tackle David Bakhtiari was named second-team All-Pac-12 as a sophomore by the league’s coaches last fall.
The passing game is a big question mark, not just because of the uncertainty at quarterback but also due to the fact that star wide receiver Paul Richardson was lost for the season to a knee injury in the spring. Richardson had 11 catches for 284 yards in a Week 2 loss to California last season. Wide receiver, tight end and running back are positions where true freshmen will have opportunities to earn immediate playing time.
The Colorado defense was humiliated on numerous occasions in its first season in the Pac-12, giving up more than 40 points and 500 yards of total offense in five straight weeks. After finishing 89th nationally against the run, 97th against the pass, 115th in passing efficiency defense and 109th in scoring defense, it would seem the Buffs couldn’t do worse.
There is good leadership here in defensive lineman Will Pericak, linebackers Douglas Rippy and Jon Major and safety Ray Polk. The veterans will be needed to lead a slew of freshmen, including nine defensive linemen and five defensive backs. “I want to see them come in expecting to play,” coach Jon Embree says.
Defensive tackle Josh Tupou and end Kisima Jagne are the most ready among the incoming linemen. Cornerbacks Yuri Wright and Kenneth Crawley, both 4-star recruits, will find plenty of opportunity in the secondary.
Coaches need more from other returning players such as defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe, linebacker Derrick Webb and cornerback Greg Henderson. Other veterans who could be big contributors if they can stay healthy are safety Parker Orms, cornerback Jered Bell and defensive tackle Nate Bonsu.
There are a few cornerstones here, but far too many questions linger to expect a massive turnaround. Look for this group to be showing its biggest improvement in the second half of the season.
The Buffs must improve in the return game. They ranked 105th in punt returns and 115th in kickoff returns in 2011. Embree said in the spring that his return men would likely be freshmen. Coaches found a reliable placekicker in Will Oliver and solid punter in Darragh O’Neill last year, and both will be sophomores this season.
Colorado will be one of the youngest teams in the nation with a new quarterback and nearly all of its toughest games on the road. It’s difficult to expect Buffalo fans to have any more patience after six straight losing seasons, but the program is at least a year away from being more competitive with the rest of the Pac-12 and reaching the postseason.