Colorado broke through in a major way in head coach Mike MacIntyre’s fourth season, winning 10 games and the Pac-12 South title. The Buffaloes will need to replace a four-year starter at quarterback and nine starters from a defense that ranked in the top 20 in the FBS, but the cupboard isn’t completely bare in Boulder either. The new signal-caller saw plenty of action of last year and the offense has a 1,200-yard rusher, a productive group of wide receivers and a veteran offensive line to lean on. Defense is the bigger question with so many new starters and a new coordinator taking over. It took a while for Colorado to get back to being competitive in the Pac-12 and even with all of the turnover, don’t expect these Buffaloes to give up their title without a fight.
Previewing Colorado Football’s Offense for 2017
Colorado will miss the leadership of quarterback Sefo Liufau, a four-year starter, the school’s all-time leading passer and the heart and soul of last year’s South Division champions. There are, however, nine offensive starters back, and confident sophomore Steven Montez is ready to take over at quarterback. Montez went 2–1 as a starter last year when Liufau went down with an ankle injury, and he finished the season with nine touchdown passes in only 140 attempts (Liufau had 11 in 319 passes). Montez has a gunslinger mentality and needs to improve on his decision making, but he makes big plays with his strong arm and legs.
Senior Phillip Lindsay is one of the most versatile running backs in the Pac-12. He had 1,745 yards from scrimmage, led the league with 16 rushing touchdowns and finished third on the team with 53 receptions.
At receiver, seniors Devin Ross, Shay Fields and Bryce Bobo combined for 169 catches for 2,218 yards and 16 touchdowns, while junior Jay MacIntyre — the son of head coach Mike MacIntyre — added 32 catches for 412 yards and a touchdown. Junior Juwann Winfree, a junior college transfer, was believed to be the best of the bunch last year before tearing his ACL in fall camp and missing the entire season.
Four of five starters return to the line, led by sixth-year senior left tackle Jeromy Irwin and sophomore Tim Lynott at right guard.
Previewing Colorado Football’s Defense for 2017
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Former Kentucky coordinator D.J. Eliot takes over a
defense that ranked in the top 20 nationally in scoring and total defense. Keeping the Buffs in the top 20 will be tough. In addition to losing Jim Leavitt, who coordinated a remarkable turnaround on defense, and two other assistants, the Buffs lost eight starters from last year’s team. The Buffs will run the same 3-4 scheme, however, and Eliot has kept CU’s terminology intact.
Despite the turnover, CU returns several players who have either started or had significant playing time in their careers.
Rick Gamboa has started 25 consecutive games at inside linebacker, while safety Afolabi Laguda and “Buff” back Ryan Moeller were also starters last year. Cornerback Isaiah Oliver is an exceptional athlete (he pulls double duty as a decathlete for the track team) and will become a full-time starter for the first time in his career. Outside linebacker Derek McCartney (25 career starts) is back after a season-ending ACL tear in Week 3 last year, and end Leo Jackson III leads the front. He was a starter in 2015 and the top backup on the line last year.
Previewing Colorado Football’s Specialists for 2017
Kickers Chris Graham and Davis Price both struggled with field goals and extra points last year, so the Buffs signed 30-year-old freshman James Stefanou, a former professional soccer player from Australia. All three will compete in the fall. Punter Alex Kinney struggled a bit last year but is expected to handle the job for the third year in a row.
Colorado had its best season in 15 years and snapped a nine-year bowl drought with an inconsistent offense and a top-notch defense. This year, the Buffs will lean more on an experienced offense. There is a lot of excitement about Montez’s potential, and with the weapons around him, the expectation is for the offense to improve upon last year’s 31.1 points per game, which ranked seventh in the Pac-12. Given the losses on defense, it’s tough to expect the Buffs to be as good as they were a year ago, but if they can keep opponents under 28 points per game and the offense improves, this team has the ability to challenge for the South title and get back to a bowl game.