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The big 2014 Colorado football guide: What's better than one step forward? Two!

Colorado may have been the worst team in the country in 2012. So the simple fact that the Buffs were able to win four games and play occasionally competitive ball in 2013 was cause for celebration. What happens in Mike MacIntyre's second season?

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Colorado improved

There are no shortcuts when you fall as far as Colorado fell.

Over the course of almost a decade, Colorado had slowly, methodically torn down the "past success predicts future success" idea that I have turned into a cliché over the years. The 1990 national title didn't stop the Buffs from going 2-10 in 2006. Three top-10 finishes in a row (1994-96) didn't prevent the Dan Hawkins era from falling apart with a 13-23 record from 2008-10. Colorado's Heisman and Big 12 North titles didn't keep the Buffs from making an awful hire in 2011.

Former Buffs tight end Jon Embree held the head coaching job in Boulder for just two years, but he managed to speed up Colorado's collapse in that time. Already teetering in the 70s, 80s, and 90s in the F/+ rankings, CU fell to 3-10 and 110th in 2011, then to 1-11 and 124th, dead last, in 2012. Dead last! Colorado! As I put it in last year's preview, "Even if you don't truly believe that this was the worst team in FBS -- even if you have to lower yourself to saying things like 'Come on, they weren't worse than New Mexico State; they did beat (3-9) Washington State, after all!' -- you have to admit that the Buffaloes were in the conversation."

The only justification I could come up with for not firing Embree after two years was that CU had fallen too far to make a good replacement hire. But the Buffs assuaged those fears by landing Mike MacIntyre, the engineer of San Jose State's sudden turnaround. And in Year 1 in Boulder, MacIntyre did what he does.

Colorado was not a good team in 2013. You don't need me to tell you that. The Buffs won just four games (two against FCS opponents), ranked 95th in F/+, and got outscored by 154 points on the season. Their only Pac-12 win came against a 1-11 opponent. They got destroyed by almost every good team on the schedule (and in the Pac-12, there are a lot of good teams on the schedule) and played below-average football across the board: 87th in Off. F/+, 88th in Def. F/+, and 97th in Special Teams F/+.

But this represented severe improvement. CU was 119th, 123rd, and 122nd, respectively, in 2012. And going 4-8 is better than going 4-21. Colorado wasn't yet truly competitive, but MacIntyre and the Buffaloes were able to take a large step back toward respectability in 2013, and they were young enough that one can expect another step this year. MacIntyre's SJSU teams went from 1-12 to 5-7 to 10-2 over the course of three seasons; it's going to take longer than that at CU. But Year 1 proved that MacIntyre really could be the man for a job that had become infinitely more challenging than it was a couple of decades ago.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 4-8 | Final F/+ Rk: 95
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
1-Sep vs. Colorado State 66 41-27 W 30.5 - 15.0 W
7-Sep Central Arkansas N/A 38-24 W 26.7 - 17.9 W
28-Sep at Oregon State 42 17-44 L 17.2 - 28.5 L
5-Oct Oregon 5 16-57 L 26.7 - 31.2 L
12-Oct at Arizona State 13 13-54 L 23.5 - 37.2 L -1.1
19-Oct Charleston Southern N/A 43-10 W 31.2 - 25.1 W -2.9
26-Oct Arizona 25 20-44 L 23.8 - 39.8 L -7.9
2-Nov at UCLA 15 23-45 L 26.6 - 36.1 L -7.5
9-Nov at Washington 18 7-59 L 21.3 - 38.7 L -10.1
16-Nov California 103 41-24 W 25.9 - 26.2 L -7.4
23-Nov USC 11 29-47 L 34.4 - 33.7 W -8.5
30-Nov at Utah 31 17-24 L 20.7 - 25.6 L -6.3
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ -6.7% 87 -6.2% 88 -1.9% 97
Points Per Game 25.4 87 38.3 115
Adj. Points Per Game 25.7 89 29.6 82

2. Not yet ready for an upset

There are two ways to look at Colorado's 2013 performance. In the opponent-adjusted way, we see that Colorado started and finished the season playing rather average football but briefly fell apart in the middle.

  • Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): Colorado 25.3, Opponent 23.2 (plus-2.1)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (next 5 games): Opponent 35.4, Colorado 25.3 (minus-10.1)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (last 3 games): Opponent 28.5, Colorado 27.0 (minus-1.5)

This is a semi-familiar path for young teams with new coaches. You play well out of the gates, when nobody has any film on you, then you hit a slump when teams figure out what you're trying to do. Late in the year, as experience grows, you rally a bit, as CU did with a win over Cal, a competitive home loss to USC, and a near-upset at Utah.

But if we look at the quality of the opposition, we get another unique perspective.

  • Actual Points Per Game (vs. F/+ top 25): Opponent 51.0, Colorado 18.0 (record: 0-6)
  • Actual Points Per Game (vs. others in FBS): Opponent 29.8, Colorado 29.0 (record: 2-2)

MacIntyre was able to assemble mix-and-match pieces from Embree and Hawkins, sprinkle in some freshmen, and turn Colorado into a team capable of competing with mediocre to solid opponents. They played at an above-average level against lesser teams, but against the best of FBS (of which the Buffs played quite a few), the Buffs just weren't there yet.

This also makes sense, of course. MacIntyre didn't unveil an underdog-friendly offensive or defensive system. His approach is not to confuse or derive unique tactical advantages. Unique systems create unique outcomes -- you're more likely to beat good teams, and you're more likely to lose to bad ones -- but Colorado was more of a best-against-worst team.

You can eventually win a lot of games like that as long as your best continues to improve. MacIntyre quickly raised CU's floor; in the coming years, we'll find out about the ceiling.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.15 61 IsoPPP+ 96.1 85
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 38.8% 98 Succ. Rt. + 96.2 74
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 33.3 114 Def. FP+ 94.4 111
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.9 89 Redzone S&P+ 86.9 106
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 18.4 ACTUAL 24 +5.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 88 81 75 92
RUSHING 109 116 107 112
PASSING 47 49 43 47
Standard Downs 76 66 98
Passing Downs 83 94 34
Q1 Rk 60 1st Down Rk 58
Q2 Rk 100 2nd Down Rk 84
Q3 Rk 110 3rd Down Rk 88
Q4 Rk 19

3. Gotta pretend to run

Offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren came to Boulder from San Jose in 2013, and at first glance it appears he was able to more or less install the offense he wanted to. Colorado's general run-pass rates (pass-first) and pace (slow) were nearly identical to SJSU's from 2012, and while that says nothing about the size of the playbook or which runs and passes were called, it gives us the impression that Lindgren didn't have to change much.

That Colorado was able to pass frequently and semi-adequately was impressive, considering the Buffs handed the reins to a freshman quarterback four games into the season.

But they couldn't even pretend to run, and that quite obviously held them back. CU ranked a respectable 49th in Passing S&P+ and a heinous 116th in Rushing S&P+. Christian Powell and Tony Jones provided neither efficiency nor explosiveness, and while then-freshman Michael Adkins II provided solid overall numbers, a lot of them came either against Charleston Southern (13 carries, 137 yards) or in garbage time against Oregon State (7 carries, 52 yards in the fourth quarter). Take those five quarters out of the sample, and his average regresses from 5.2 yards per carry to 4.2.

With Powell, Adkins, and Jones all returning, along with veterans Donta Abron and Malcolm Creer, experience certainly won't be an issue for CU running backs; the line brings decent experience to the table as well (four players with starting experience, 62 career starts). But we didn't learn much about the actual talent levels of these players last year ... or if we did, we didn't learn anything good.

CU may have a pass-first system, but you do still have to be able to run, too.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Sefo Liufau 6'4, 225 So. 3 stars (5.7) 149 251 1779 12 8 59.4% 10 3.8% 6.6
Connor Wood 84 157 1103 8 7 53.5% 10 6.0% 6.1
Jordan Gehrke 6'1, 190 So. NR
Trent Sessions 6'1, 190 So. NR
Cade Apsay 6'2, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)








4. Sefo's job to lose

Texas transfer Connor Wood began the season as the Colorado's starting quarterback and played pretty well against Colorado State and Central Arkansas (68 percent completion rate, 13.2 yards per completion, six touchdowns to two picks). But his output regressed significantly when Pac-12 play began. He completed just 25 of 67 passes with four interceptions against Oregon State and Oregon, and after an 0-for-4 start against Arizona State, he was benched in favor of freshman Sefo Liufau.

  • Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): 25.3
  • Adj. Points Per Game (last 8 games): 25.9

Liufau in no way dominated, but he held his own and improved on Wood's overall numbers. For a true freshman thrown into the fire, you'll take that, especially considering the woeful state of the running game. He averaged more yards per attempt with a higher completion rate, fewer sacks, and fewer interceptions. In CU's two wins under his command (against Charleston Southern and Cal), he was 37-for-56 for 562 yards, four touchdowns, and one pick.

Wood elected to end his football career a year early, which means the job is all Liufau's. And if he stays healthy in his first full year as starter, he should be pretty solid. His run support isn't going to get any worse, and while he loses his best weapon in the receiving corps (second-round draft pick Paul Richardson), almost every other target returns. Nelson Spruce and Tyler McCulloch are decent possession weapons, D.D. Goodson could become an exciting big-play threat if he can raise his catch rate, and there are youngsters galore entering the rotation, including four-star freshman Shay Fields.

Granted, that probably means much better things for 2015 than it does for 2014, but even if CU's pass ratings regress, I don't expect a significant drop.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Christian Powell RB 6'0, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 147 560 3 3.8 2.6 31.3%
Michael Adkins II RB 5'10, 195 So. 2 stars (5.4) 103 535 6 5.2 5.1 38.8%
Tony Jones RB 5'7, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 73 249 1 3.4 2.6 27.4%
Sefo Liufau QB 6'4, 225 So. 3 stars (5.7) 30 111 0 3.7 1.5 36.7%
Donta Abron RB 5'9, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 21 42 0 2.0 1.1 14.3%
Connor Wood QB 12 79 0 6.6 3.0 66.7%
D.D. Goodson WR 5'6, 175 Sr. NR 4 42 0 10.5 13.0 50.0%
Malcolm Creer RB 5'10, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.5)
Terrence Crowder RB 5'10, 225 So. 2 stars (5.2)
Phillip Lindsay RB 5'8, 175 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)





Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Paul Richardson WR-Z 139 83 1343 59.7% 36.0% 67.0% 9.7 298 9.6 197.8
Nelson Spruce WR-Z 6'1, 195 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 92 55 650 59.8% 23.8% 53.2% 7.1 -42 6.9 95.8
D.D. Goodson WR-H 5'6, 175 Sr. NR 46 22 306 47.8% 11.9% 43.6% 6.7 -7 5.9 45.1
Tyler McCulloch WR-X 6'5, 215 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 20 14 138 70.0% 5.2% 45.5% 6.9 -25 6.3 20.3
Tony Jones RB 5'7, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 17 13 93 76.5% 4.4% 46.7% 5.5 -52 5.5 13.7
Michael Adkins II RB 5'10, 195 So. 2 stars (5.4) 15 11 127 73.3% 3.9% 37.5% 8.5 2 6.5 18.7
Scott Fernandez TE 14 9 97 64.3% 3.6% 54.5% 6.9 -12 7.0 14.3
Devin Ross WR-H 5'9, 175 So. 3 stars (5.7) 13 6 24 46.2% 3.4% 100.0% 1.8 -63 1.0 3.5
Christian Powell RB 6'0, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 11 8 71 72.7% 2.8% 55.6% 6.5 -20 7.9 10.5
Kyle Slavin TE 6'4, 240 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 11 9 68 81.8% 2.8% 40.0% 6.2 -29 5.7 10.0
Keenan Canty WR-Z 5'9, 165 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 6 3 33 50.0% 1.6% 100.0% 5.5 -9 2.2 4.9
Bryce Bobo WR-X 6'2, 185 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Elijah Dunston WR-X 6'0, 185 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Lee Walker WR-Z 6'0, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Joseph Hall WR-H 5'9, 165 Fr. NR
Shay Fields WR 5'11, 165 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Jay MacIntyre ATH 5'10, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Dylan Keeney TE 6'6, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 92.8 2.6 3.3 33.4% 60.0% 17.5% 132.1 4.0% 4.8%
Rank 92 113 58 116 102 40 34 46 39
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Gus Handler C 29
Daniel Munyer RG 6'2, 300 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 28
Jack Harris LT 26
Stephane Nembot RT 6'7, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 20
Kaiwi Crabb LG 6'3, 300 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 13
Brad Cotner RG 6'3, 270 Jr. NR 1
Marc Mustoe LT 6'7, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0
Alex Kelley C 6'2, 305 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0
Jeromy Irwin LT 6'5, 295 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0
Colin Sutton RG 6'4, 290 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Sam Kronshage LT 6'5, 285 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Jonathan Huckins LG 6'3, 305 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Gerrad Kough LG 6'4, 300 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Sully Wiefels OL 6'3, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Isaac Miller OL 6'7, 250 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
John Lisella II RT 6'4, 265 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)

5. The makings of a good line

You can drive yourself crazy attempting to divvy credit between the line and the rest of the offense, even with the line stats listed above.

But using those stats, you can paint the picture of a line that did its job well when it comes to keeping defenders out of the backfield (40th in Stuff Rate, 34th in Adj. Sack Rate) but got no help whatsoever from its less-than-explosive running backs (116th in Opportunity Rate). In my opportunities to watch CU last year, I came away unimpressed with the backs, and the stats certainly backed that up, so I'm inclined to divvy as much credit as possible to the Colorado line.

The loss of center Gus Handler and tackle Jack Harris could hurt; both were two-year starters. But with two other two-year starters returning, along with guard Kaiwi Crabb and a boatload of newcomers (including three three-star redshirt freshmen and JUCO transfer Sully Wiefels), I'm pretty optimistic that this line will be able to do favors for its quarterbacks and running backs. We'll just have to see if those backs can take advantage.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.26 109 IsoPPP+ 95.7 90
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 43.6% 82 Succ. Rt. + 98.3 60
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 28.7 95 Off. FP+ 99.5 68
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.7 101 Redzone S&P+ 107.8 33
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.9 ACTUAL 21.0 +0.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 108 78 60 73
RUSHING 102 80 69 77
PASSING 104 70 52 66
Standard Downs 77 61 94
Passing Downs 80 74 73
Q1 Rk 75 1st Down Rk 73
Q2 Rk 85 2nd Down Rk 70
Q3 Rk 62 3rd Down Rk 55
Q4 Rk 25

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 94.6 2.91 3.85 42.3% 70.0% 17.2% 56 3.8% 2.5%
Rank 84 58 114 101 83 89 122 81 124
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Chidera Uzo-Diribe DE 12 37.5 5.1% 10.5 4.0 0 3 5 0
Josh Tupou DT 6'3, 315 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 29.5 4.0% 3.0 0.5 0 0 0 0
Justin Solis DT 6'1, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 27.5 3.7% 2.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Juda Parker DE 6'2, 270 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 12 21.5 2.9% 1.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Samson Kafovalu DE 6'5, 245 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 7 10.5 1.4% 5.5 3.0 0 0 0 0
Nate Bonsu DT 12 10.0 1.4% 3.5 2.0 0 1 0 0
Jimmie Gilbert DE 6'4, 225 So. 3 stars (5.5) 12 8.5 1.2% 2.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
De'Jon Wilson DE 6'1, 255 So. 3 stars (5.5) 11 8.0 1.1% 1.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Kirk Poston DT 9 8.0 1.1% 3.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tyler Henington DE 6'2, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 7.0 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Clay Norgard DT 6'0, 240 So. 3 stars (5.6)
Markeis Reed DE 6'4, 235 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Derek McCartney DE 6'3, 240 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2)
Patrick Ewing DT 6'2, 250 So. NR
Michael Mathewes DE 6'5, 250 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Eddy Lopez DT 6'4, 300 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)

6. One Mississippi, two Mississippi...

Colorado had a full "10 Mississippi" defense in 2013. Opposing quarterbacks had all the time in the world to find open receivers, going up against a pass rush that ranked 122nd in Adj. Sack Rate. The Buffs may have had the worst passing-downs pass rush in the country, and in the Pac-12, there were far too many quarterbacks capable of finding open receivers when given the time to do so. (Actually, that goes for both the Pac-12 and FBS as a whole, doesn't it?)

It's hard to imagine the CU pass rush improving too much considering it must now replace its best (least-bad?) pass rusher in Chidera Uzo-Diribe. But there's hope in the simple fact that the tackles are active, Samson Kafovalu has loads of potential (if he's staying up on academics and not destroying brick walls), and the best blitzer, middle linebacker Addison Gillam, is only a sophomore.

As with the running game, the pass rush isn't going to get worse, but there's not guarantee it gets much better.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Addison Gillam MIKE 6'3, 225 So. 2 stars (5.2) 12 89.0 12.1% 9.5 3.0 1 5 0 0
Derrick Webb WILL 12 76.5 10.4% 6.5 0.0 0 2 0 0
Woodson Greer III SAM 6'3, 215 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 8 28.5 3.9% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Brady Daigh MIKE 6'2, 250 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 8 16.0 2.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kenneth Olugbode WILL 6'0, 210 So. 2 stars (5.3) 5 8.0 1.1% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
K.T. Tu'umalo WILL 6'2, 215 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 2 5.0 0.7% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Severson WILL 5'10, 200 So. 2 stars (5.3)
John Genova MIKE 5'11, 205 So. NR
Deayshawn Rippy SAM 6'2, 215 So. 4 stars (5.8)
Grant Watanabe LB 5'11, 230 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Rick Gamboa ILB 6'1, 225 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)







7. Gillam is a keeper

Hey, we finally joined Facebook!

As many freshmen do, Addison Gillam erupted early in the 2013 season, then regressed as fatigue and opponent adjustments wore on him. Still, Gillam showed loads of potential, logging six tackles for loss in the first four games of the year, then nabbing another three against Washington and Cal. He was the team's leading tackler and was No. 2 behind Uzo-Diribe in TFLs and sacks. Oh, and he picked off or broke up six passes. This defense needs a higher activity level; it needs another Gillam.

In theory, more weapons could emerge this year, and not just with "Well, a two-star freshman erupted once, so it could happen again" rationale. Four-star sophomore Deayshawn Rippy, who originally signed with Pitt, becomes eligible this fall, and sophomore Kenenth Olugbode was interesting enough to win the starting will spot this spring. If more linebackers can become solid play-makers and Kafovalu can keep his head on straight, this front seven could end up more dangerous against run and pass.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jered Bell FS 6'1, 200 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 12 64.5 8.8% 4.5 0 3 5 2 1
Parker Orms SS 11 60.5 8.2% 2 0 0 0 0 0
Terrel Smith (2012) SS 5'9, 190 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 59.0 7.7% 0 0 0 3 0 2
Greg Henderson CB 5'11, 185 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 52.0 7.1% 3 0 4 10 1 1
Chidobe Awuzie CB 6'0, 190 So. 3 stars (5.5) 12 45.5 6.2% 5 1 0 3 2 1
Kenneth Crawley CB 6'1, 170 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 11 35.5 4.8% 2 0 2 4 0 0
Tedric Thompson SS 6'0, 200 So. 3 stars (5.5) 9 28.5 3.9% 0 0 0 3 0 0
Marques Mosley FS 6'0, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 11 13.5 1.8% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Jeffrey Hall CB 5'11, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 9 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 1 0 1
John Walker CB 5'9, 175 So. 3 stars (5.5) 6 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Richard Yates II FS 6'2, 190 Jr. NR 3 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Yuri Wright CB 6'1, 170 So. 4 stars (5.9)
Tedric Thompson SS 6'0, 200 So. 3 stars (5.5)
Ryan Moeller FS 6'0, 205 RSFr. NR
Gavin Andrews CB 6'0, 170 So. NR
Ahkello Witherspoon CB 6'3, 185 So. 3 stars (5.6)
Donovan Lee DB 5'8, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)
Evan White DB 6'3, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)

8. A rock solid secondary

Considering the complete lack of a pass rush, the fact that CU was able to rank 52nd in Passing Success Rate+ says pretty good things about last year's secondary. And considering 10 of last year's top 11 tacklers return from said secondary, along with 2012 starter Terrel Smith, it says good things about 2014 as well.

The corner trio of Greg Henderson, Chidobe Awuzie (a freshman in 2013) and Kenneth Crawley (a former star recruit) combined for 10 tackles for loss, six picks, and 17 break-ups last year despite unruffled quarterbacks throwing passes. Safety Jered Bell is active against both run and pass, and any number of youngsters (safety Tedric Thompson or Ryan Moeller) or newcomers (transfers Gavin Andrews or Akhello Witherspon) could threaten for playing time as well.

This is easily the deepest, most exciting unit on the Colorado defense. If it gets more help from its front seven, it could end up known as one of the Pac-12's best as well.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Darragh O'Neill 6'2, 190 Sr. 66 40.5 4 N/A 22 N/A
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Will Oliver 5'11, 190 Sr. 57 59.3 26 0 45.6%
Darragh O'Neill 6'2, 190 Sr. 3 44.0 0 1 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Will Oliver 5'11, 190 Sr. 30-30 11-12 91.7% 6-12 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Ryan Severson KR 5'10, 200 So. 36 22.1 0
Devin Ross KR 5'9, 175 So. 5 21.4 0
Nelson Spruce PR 6'1, 195 Jr. 10 4.6 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 97
Field Goal Efficiency 33
Punt Return Efficiency 72
Kick Return Efficiency 104
Punt Efficiency 96
Kickoff Efficiency 112
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 116

9. A good place-kicker, and nothing else

Will Oliver was automatic on kicks under 40 yards and was pretty solid at longer ones as well.

There. I just listed Colorado's special teams strengths in 2013. The Buffs' coverage units weren't strong, Darragh O'Neill's punts didn't travel far enough in the thin air, and there was no return threat of which to speak. That everybody returns in 2014 is a good thing because of Oliver, but some new blood in this unit wouldn't be a bad thing.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
29-Aug vs. Colorado State 79
6-Sep at Massachusetts 126
13-Sep Arizona State 21
20-Sep Hawaii 97
27-Sep at California 82
4-Oct Oregon State 43
18-Oct at USC 9
25-Oct UCLA 20
1-Nov Washington 28
8-Nov at Arizona 36
22-Nov at Oregon 3
29-Nov Utah 45
Five-Year F/+ Rk -17.5% (109)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 68
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -3 / 2.5
TO Luck/Game -2.3
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 15 (7, 8)

10. Beat the beatable teams

I liked the Mike MacIntyre hire when it happened, and after a year of evidence, I like it even more. MacIntyre is not a dynamic recruiter, but he's outstanding at developing and identifying talent, and if he can craft a top-40 team at San Jose State, he can do it at Colorado as well.

He isn't going to do it in 2014, mind you, but I like this team to improve a bit this fall after improving quite a bit a year ago. The loss of Paul Richardson and the general lack of known explosiveness at skill positions will prevent the offense from improving much; the defense, on the other hand, could take a lovely step forward because of both experience and an outstanding secondary.

Okay, so Colorado improves from 95th in F/+ to, say, the 70s or 80s. What does that mean for the record? The Pac-12 should be absurdly loaded once again this fall, and Colorado's schedule once again features six teams projected 36th or better. But there are four winnable September games, and two other potentially beatable conference opponents (Oregon State and Utah) come to Boulder.

Even if the Buffs still struggle against the best teams, they could at least build bowl optimism over the first half of the year. Even if they fall short and finish 4-8 (this time with four FBS wins) or 5-7, this year should represent further improvement. And again, when you fall as far as the Buffs did, that's enough for now.

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