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The Colorado Buffaloes are improving, whether you've noticed or not

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The Pac-12 is so tough, a bad team can get better and still look just as bad. How long until there's no doubt about the rebuild?

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Two years of improvement (believe it or not)

It's cruel when a rebuilding team gets hit with loads of bad luck at once.

The job is hard enough already. Depth and confidence are fragile, and in the Pac-12, you've got nine conference games to deal with; the slate's full of middleweights and heavyweights, and you could use a few more featherweights.

In 2013, Mike MacIntyre left one rebuilding job for another.

At San Jose State, he needed only three years to move from 12 losses to 11 wins. His first season was one giant reset button, but his Spartans showed significant growth by year 2, then surged in year 3, winning double-digit games for the first time in 25 years.

MacIntyre's progress in San Jose was so linear that it wasn't hard to assume he would pull off the same act in Boulder. And he has, whether the win column shows it or not.

The Colorado program was at its nadir when MacIntyre took over. Two years with Jon Embree had resulted in a 4-21 record and, in 2012, the worst team in Colorado history according to the SRS ratings (and this is a program that had quite a few sketchy teams before the 1980s). The Buffaloes had no depth, little talent, and no organization.

Embree, a former CU tight end, was a curious hire, a guy who had never even been a coordinator and whose sales pitch in landing the job seemed to be "Hey, remember how awesome we were in the 1980s? I'm going to get the band back together!" Risks are sometimes rewarded, but this one was not. The defense fell apart in his first year, the offense in his second year, and the 2012 Buffaloes were outscored by an average of 28 points and lost four times by at least 44.

MacIntyre has begun to right the ship. Colorado improved from 122nd to 104th in the F/+ ratings in 2013, then improved again to 83rd. The defense hasn't yet come around, but the offense almost had more exciting moments in 2014 than in the previous three years combined. The Buffs averaged 6.9 yards per play against Utah and 6 against Arizona State, and they scored at least 28 points six times, their most since 2007.

Colorado had a mountain to climb, but in 2014, the Buffs had to deal with a downpour on the trail.

As encouraging as the improvement was, the defense assured that there would be no significant progress overall. Already struggling with youth and depth, the line and secondary were obliterated by injury, and in an offense-friendly conference, this defense was friendlier than most. The Buffs allowed at least 6.1 yards per play eight times and at least 36 points 10 times.

And if the injuries weren't cruel enough, CU also got smacked around by the turnover gods (minus-3.6 points per game in turnovers luck) and close game gods (1-4 record in one-possession games).

The rain has let up, but there's still quite a bit of climbing. Quarterback Sefo Liufau returns three efficient targets (including two sophomores), and there's reason to believe the offense could be pretty good. Plus, MacIntyre welcomes back quite a few potential starters from injury and has brought in well-regarded defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. If luck turns, the Buffs could start quickly and threaten to reach five wins for the first time in five years.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 2-10 | Adj. Record: 5-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 83
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
29-Aug vs. Colorado State 49 17-31 L 56% 3.7 19%
6-Sep at Massachusetts 120 41-38 W 46% -2.3 41%
13-Sep Arizona State 27 24-38 L 35% -8.9 3%
20-Sep Hawaii 111 21-12 W 85% 24.2 99%
27-Sep at California 65 56-59 L 42% -4.6 24%
4-Oct Oregon State 74 31-36 L 62% 6.9 62%
18-Oct at USC 16 28-56 L 10% -30.5 0%
25-Oct UCLA 12 37-40 L 57% 3.9 27%
1-Nov Washington 58 23-38 L 40% -5.9 13%
8-Nov at Arizona 28 20-38 L 44% -3.7 17%
22-Nov at Oregon 3 10-44 L 14% -25.5 0%
29-Nov Utah 29 34-38 L 70% 12.5 58%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 32.2 42 34.0 101
Points Per Game 28.5 67 39.0 119

2. Defense travels

If you're a believer in the old "defense travels" truism -- meaning, teams with good defenses are more likely to play well on the road (in part because the home crowd is going to be more disruptive of a visitor's offense) -- Colorado was a pretty good example. In five games outside the state of Colorado, the Buffs scored 10, 20, 28, 41 and 56 points, a wild range. The defense, meanwhile, was more consistent.

Note: consistent isn't always good. CU allowed at least 38 points in all five road games and, thanks to the trip to Berkeley, figured out a way to score 56 and lose.

  • Average Percentile Performance (in state): 58% (~top 55 | average score: Opp 33, CU 27)
  • Average Percentile Performance (out of state): 31% (~top 90 | average score: Opp 47, CU 31)

The story of the season took shape from there: interesting and unlucky at home, bad on the road.

CU did manage to avoid an upset loss at UMass, and looking at Win Expectancy (which looks at a game's statistical output and says "based on the stats, you would have won this game X times out of 100)", the Buffs were a bit lucky to do so. But the Buffs played at a 50th-percentile level or higher five times, and all five games -- including near-upsets of UCLA and Utah and an unlucky loss to Oregon State -- were in Colorado.

Perhaps that says good things about potential upset bids this fall; CU plays host to Oregon, Arizona, Stanford, and USC in-conference, and maybe the defense will improve just enough for a surprise win there. But the defense has a lot of improving to do to make the Buffs a good traveling team.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.76 108 IsoPPP+ 99.4 69
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 43.4% 52 Succ. Rt. + 104.5 53
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 31.8 103 Def. FP+ 96.0 108
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.0 17 Redzone S&P+ 107.4 46
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 18.9 ACTUAL 21 +2.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 40 56 51 69
RUSHING 77 74 75 76
PASSING 20 55 38 69
Standard Downs 53 58 56
Passing Downs 81 47 98
Q1 Rk 44 1st Down Rk 73
Q2 Rk 52 2nd Down Rk 58
Q3 Rk 51 3rd Down Rk 88
Q4 Rk 114

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Sefo Liufau 6'4, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8747 325 498 3200 28 15 65.3% 18 3.5% 6.0
Jordan Gehrke 6'1, 195 Jr. NR 0.7000 20 44 170 0 0 45.5% 4 8.3% 3.1
Cade Apsay 6'2, 190 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8447
Steven Montez 6'4, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8470

3. The Sefo Show

Colorado's run game wasn't very good, which is, in a roundabout way, encouraging. The offense returns almost everybody outside of leading rusher (from a carries perspective) Tony Jones and longtime starting guards Daniel Munyer and Kaiwi Crabb, but it's less scary to replace replaceable players.

Michael Adkins II went crazy against USC and UCLA (30 carries, 216 yards), but when the CU offense was good, it was usually because of Sefo Liufau and the passing game. He completed 46 of 67 passes for 455 yards and seven scores against Cal, and if you discount that because it happened against Cal, he also went 20-for-31 for 317 yards against Utah. He showed symptoms of being a young QB, throwing 15 interceptions (eight in five games against ranked teams), but he did a solid job of operating coordinator Brian Lindgren's quick-passing system; he took few sacks, and he completed nearly two-thirds of his passes.

Liufau had his redshirt torn off about one-third of the way through his freshman season, and he's been CU's man ever since. He showed reasonable progress last year, especially considering half of the members in the receiving corps were freshmen. He's got a more experienced supporting cast, so we should learn quite a bit about his ceiling.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Tony Jones TB
94 403 3 4.3 4.0 34.0% 0 0
Christian Powell TB 6'0, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8620 85 448 4 5.3 8.1 28.2% 0 0
Michael Adkins II TB 5'10, 195 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7833 82 398 3 4.9 3.7 42.7% 2 1
Phillip Lindsay TB 5'8, 175 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8341 79 391 0 4.9 4.3 39.2% 3 2
Sefo Liufau QB 6'4, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8747 51 246 0 4.8 3.9 41.2% 6 3
Donovan Lee WR 5'8, 170 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8320 8 39 0 4.9 22.0 25.0% 0 0
Jordan Gehrke QB 6'1, 195 Jr. NR 0.7000 7 38 1 5.4 3.3 57.1% 0 0
Shay Fields WR 5'11, 170 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8615 6 35 1 5.8 3.7 50.0% 0 0
George Frazier FB 6'2, 245 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8199 5 4 1 0.8 N/A 0.0% 0 0
Malcolm Creer TB
4 8 0 2.0 1.2 25.0% 0 0
Kyle Evans TB 5'6, 175 RSFr. NR NR
Patrick Carr TB 5'8, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8591
Donald Gordon TB 5'11, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8410







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Nelson Spruce WR-X 6'1, 195 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8332 153 106 1198 69.3% 29.7% 59.5% 7.8 -66 7.8 138.2
Shay Fields WR-Z 5'11, 170 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8615 80 50 486 62.5% 15.5% 56.3% 6.1 -122 6.1 56.1
D.D. Goodson WR-H
59 38 382 64.4% 11.5% 69.5% 6.5 -77 6.7 44.0
Tyler McCulloch WR
48 30 419 62.5% 9.3% 47.9% 8.7 54 8.9 48.3
Bryce Bobo WR-X 6'2, 190 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8337 36 23 215 63.9% 7.0% 58.3% 6.0 -63 6.0 24.8
Tony Jones TB
31 24 151 77.4% 6.0% 35.5% 4.9 -130 4.7 17.4
Donovan Lee WR-H 5'8, 170 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8320 23 13 78 56.5% 4.5% 60.9% 3.4 -83 3.4 9.0
Christian Powell TB 6'0, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8620 17 12 64 70.6% 3.3% 29.4% 3.8 -79 3.1 7.4
Phillip Lindsay TB 5'8, 175 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8341 16 14 118 87.5% 3.1% 62.5% 7.4 -43 7.6 13.6
Michael Adkins II RB 5'10, 195 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7833 16 11 60 68.8% 3.1% 56.3% 3.8 -71 3.7 6.9
Kyle Slavin TE
14 11 111 78.6% 2.7% 64.3% 7.9 -17 8.0 12.8
Devin Ross (2013) WR-Z 5'9, 170 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8463 13 6 24 46.2% 3.4% 100.0% 1.8 -63 1.0 3.5
Sean Irwin TE 6'3, 245 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8495 11 7 67 63.6% 2.1% 81.8% 6.1 -18 5.6 7.7
Elijah Dunston WR-X 6'0, 185 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8025
Joseph Hall WR-H 5'9, 165 So. NR NR
Lee Walker WR-Z 6'0, 175 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8256
Jay MacIntyre WR-H 5'10, 185 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000
Dylan Keeney TE 6'6, 220 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8442
Hayden Jones TE 6'6, 245 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7757
Justin Jan WR 6'3, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8479

4. Wanted: a few more options

CU was in the top 40 in Passing Success Rate+ (efficiency) and in the top-50 in Passing Downs Success Rate+. The Buffs were decent at finishing drives with points, as well. This was promising, considering the number of underclassmen, but if you look at the numbers above, you see two areas for improvement:

  1. Big plays. Running back Christian Powell had some explosive moments in the open field, and receiver Tyler McCulloch had a few -- four catches for 76 yards against Oregon State, four for 101 against Utah -- but the Buffs were lacking. Liufau averaged only 9.8 yards per completion, and the top four backs averaged a combined 4.8 yards per carry.
  2. The fourth quarter. CU ranked between 44th and 52nd in Q1, Q2, and Q3 S&P+ ... and 114th in Q4 S&P+. This hints at a lack of options: defenses weren't stressed, and when it came time for close games to be decided, the Buffs had nothing in the tank.

These two issues go hand in hand. Big plays mask weaknesses and prevent you from having to string together 10 decent plays to score. The more snaps you need to score, the fewer cards you need to play. If you've got a precision option offense, that's fine. CU's offense is promising, but it isn't that.

Can this change? Depends on the value of experience -- CU has more, even if there's little proven big-play ability. Senior Nelson Spruce is one of the nation's best possession receivers, but he is what he is; he has averaged between 10.1 and 11.8 yards per catch each year in his career. There's value in a good possession man, but he becomes even more valuable if others can stretch the field. Shay Fields was easily the most well-touted member of CU's receiving corps, but he was used primarily as a possession man as well.

That three of last year's top six wideouts (Fields, Bryce Bobo, Donovan Lee) were freshmen could be beneficial in a couple of ways. First, they are more likely to run full-speed and play without thinking as they get more experienced. Second, they could become more experienced as blockers. This quick-passing attack puts a lot of blocking responsibility on fellow receivers in attempting to turn three-yard passes into 50-yard gains.

It's hard to guarantee big plays will emerge, but there's no reason to think efficiency will lessen.

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 94.1 2.74 3.4 36.5% 56.9% 20.2% 162.2 3.5% 3.8%
Rank 95 92 54 91 117 77 11 33 11
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Daniel Munyer RG 40
Stephane Nembot RT 6'7, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8410 32
Kaiwi Crabb LG
24
Alex Kelley C 6'2, 305 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8363 12
Jeromy Irwin LT 6'5, 295 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8460 11
Gerrad Kough LG 6'4, 295 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8026 2
Brad Cotner RG
1
Marc Mustoe RT
0
Sully Wiefels LG 6'3, 300 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7667 0
Shane Callahan RG 6'6, 300 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9135 0
Ed Caldwell RT 6'5, 300 Jr. NR NR 0
Jonathan Huckins RG 6'3, 305 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8339 0
Sam Kronshage LT 6'5, 285 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8175 0
Colin Sutton RG 6'4, 290 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8366 0
John Lisella II LG 6'4, 265 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7907
Josh Kaiser LT 6'5, 270 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7700
Tim Lynott, Jr. OL 6'2, 295 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8913
Isaac Miller OL 6'7, 265 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8492
Dillon Middlemiss RT 6'5, 290 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8382

5. An exciting future up front

Quick passing helped Colorado's sack rates; when the ball's coming out of the quarterback's hand almost instantly, it's hard to sack him.

The run-blocking numbers were pretty awful, though. The Buffs were decent at keeping defenders out of the backfield, but they generated next to no push when they needed to. Of course, a lot of the carries went to a freshman (Philip Lindsay) and a sophomore (Michael Adkins II). That's going to hurt your efficiency, as would the fact that the only explosive back (Christian Powell) was the least efficient.

There were a lot of good vibes regarding redshirt freshman running back Kyle Evans. But assuming the trio of Powell, Adkins, and Lindsay see most of the carries, it will be interesting to see if a less experienced line -- both tackles return, but neither guards do -- will be able to help this experienced trio out.

MacIntyre isn't posting incredible recruiting rankings, but a few of his best recruits thus far have been linemen. That could mean there's hope for the future, especially considering the two-deep won't have more than two seniors. But don't expect immense improvement in 2015.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.01 122 IsoPPP+ 90.0 99
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 43.7% 92 Succ. Rt. + 99.3 69
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 27.7 114 Off. FP+ 100.9 64
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.1 123 Redzone S&P+ 90.9 100
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.5 ACTUAL 11.0 -6.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 114 86 67 99
RUSHING 104 99 68 108
PASSING 103 72 66 82
Standard Downs 101 81 112
Passing Downs 49 43 55
Q1 Rk 102 1st Down Rk 63
Q2 Rk 78 2nd Down Rk 114
Q3 Rk 88 3rd Down Rk 95
Q4 Rk 27

6. Good on passing downs, couldn't force passing downs

It's a tease when you are able to shut drives down well on second- or third-and-long but rarely get to do it.

Colorado's thin, young, banged-up defense was pretty good at attacking offenses that were leveraged into awkward situations but had one of the worst power-five defenses in the country on standard downs. They also allowed a nearly automatic touchdown once opponents had created scoring opportunities.

It's easier to be optimistic about this defense than it was a year ago. Quite a few players who missed 2014 are back: senior safety Jered Bell, junior end Samson Kafovalu, sophomore tackle Tyler Henington, junior DB Marques Mosley. Plus, a lot more players than expected got experience last year, because seemingly every starter missed at least a couple of games. Only three of seven primary linebackers and two of 10 defensive backs played in all 12 games.

It's also easier to be optimistic because of the new coordinator. Leavitt has spent some time out of the college game, and he comes with some alleged character issues, but his track record is sterling.

A member of the Bill Snyder branch of the Hayden Fry coaching tree, Leavitt was head coach of the USF startup from 1996-2009, winning at least seven games 10 times and taking the Bulls to five consecutive bowls. His Bulls ranked sixth in Def. S&P+ in 2007 and were in the top 40 each year from 2005-09. He spent the last four years coaching for Jim Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers, and if he has horsepower at his disposal, he'll make the most of it.

We might give Leavitt a mulligan for 2015, however. The Buffs haven't ranked better than 98th in Def. S&P+ since 2010, and while he inherits a unit far more experienced than what CU had last year, issues up front might harm his efforts in installing his 3-4 system.

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 3.48 3.32 43.1% 62.5% 18.1% 73.6 4.1% 6.3%
Rank 89 121 71 113 35 87 105 81 83
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Josh Tupou NT 6'3, 325 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8322 12 26.0 4.0% 4.0 3.0 0 0 0 0
Justin Solis NT 6'1, 305 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8460 12 17.5 2.7% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Juda Parker DT
12 16.0 2.4% 1.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Samson Kafovalu (2013) DE 6'5, 245 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8417 7 10.5 1.4% 5.5 3.0 0 0 0 0
Christian Shaver DE 6'3, 235 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7889 12 8.5 1.3% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
George Frazier DE 6'2, 245 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8199 10 7.5 1.1% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Tyler Henington (2013) DT 6'2, 245 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8684 12 7.0 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Eddy Lopez NT 6'4, 300 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8020 11 5.0 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Clay Norgard DT 6'0, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8510 11 2.0 0.3% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Jase Franke DE 6'4, 270 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8382
Jordan Carrell DT 6'3, 275 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8398
Blake Robbins DE 6'5, 265 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8159








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Kenneth Olugbode ILB 6'0, 210 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7885 12 63.5 9.7% 1.0 0.0 0 3 0 0
Addison Gillam ILB 6'3, 225 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7200 11 50.5 7.7% 9.0 3.5 0 1 0 0
Brady Daigh ILB
10 36.0 5.5% 6.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Jimmie Gilbert OLB 6'4, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8423 12 23.5 3.6% 5.5 2.5 0 0 1 0
Derek McCartney OLB 6'3, 240 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7511 12 21.0 3.2% 6.0 4.5 0 1 2 0
Woodson Greer III OLB
7 13.5 2.1% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Severson ILB 5'10, 200 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7901 6 13.0 2.0% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Timothy Coleman OLB 6'2, 250 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7752 11 7.5 1.1% 2.0 2.0 0 1 0 0
De'Jon Wilson OLB 6'3, 250 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8207 11 3.5 0.5% 0.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Travis Talianko ILB 6'1, 210 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8087 2 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Deaysean Rippy ILB 6'2, 220 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9148
Jaleel Awini (Air Force) OLB 6'2, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) NR
Markeis Reed OLB 6'4, 245 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8209
Christian Shaver ILB 6'3, 235 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7889
Michael Mathewes OLB 6'5, 250 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7600
Rick Gamboa ILB 6'1, 225 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8232
Terran Hasselbach OLB 6'1, 235 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7926
Grant Watanabe ILB 5'11, 240 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8327
N.J. Falo LB 6'2, 220 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8560

7. Wanted: girth

Leavitt's got speed at his disposal in the front seven. Addison Gillam turned into a strong play-maker against both run and pass, and sophomore OLB Derek McCartney might be custom-made for an attacking OLB role. Kafovalu could be a valuable piece if healthy for a full season, and while linebacker depth can be an issue when moving from three linebackers to four, again, injuries could help out. Five linebackers made at least 13 tackles last year.

This shapes up pretty well as long as you ignore weight. The top five returning linebackers average 221 pounds, which isn't bad, but of the 11 linemen listed above, only three are listed heavier than 275, and one, senior nose tackle Josh Tupou, will not be a member of the squad this fall. That leaves senior nose Justin Solis, sophomore Eddy Lopez, and a whole lot of 240-pounders.

Size isn't everything, but when your line is tasked with occupying blockers to free up linebackers, a baseline is necessary, and I don't think CU meets it. Expect a front seven with major havoc potential and potentially drastic run inefficiency.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jered Bell (2013) SS 6'1, 200 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8516 12 64.5 8.8% 4.5 0 3 5 2 1
Chidobe Awuzie CB 6'0, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7783 9 58.5 8.9% 2 0 0 6 0 0
Tedric Thompson SS 6'0, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8457 8 47.0 7.2% 1 0 3 2 1 0
Ken Crawley CB 6'1, 180 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8891 12 45.0 6.9% 2 0 0 11 1 0
Greg Henderson CB
12 44.5 6.8% 4 1 0 11 1 0
Terrel Smith SS
7 28.5 4.4% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Evan White FS 6'2, 195 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8147 9 27.0 4.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Moeller FS 6'0, 205 So. NR NR 5 20.5 3.1% 1 0 0 1 0 0
John Walker CB 5'9, 175 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000 10 19.0 2.9% 1 0 0 4 1 0
Marques Mosley (2013) DB 6'0, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8091 11 13.5 1.8% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Ahkello Witherspoon CB 6'3, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.7000 5 10.0 1.5% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Richard Yates II S
4 8.0 1.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Yuri Wright CB 6'1, 170 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9684
Jaisen Sanchez SS 6'1, 195 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893
Afolabi Laguda CB 6'1, 200 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7969
Isaiah Oliver CB 6'1, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8442
Nick Fisher CB 6'0, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8414








8. A damn M*A*S*H unit

As a general rule, I consider anyone who averaged one tackle per game to be a regular defender. Most teams might expect about six to eight regular defensive backs; Colorado had 10.

Heading into last season, I listed 10 returnees in the Colorado secondary. They missed a combined 58 games. Newcomers like Ryan Moeller and Evan White missed another 10. This was a new secondary every week, and in the Pac-12, that's an issue.

With a more standard number of injuries, you can piece together a solid unit. Bell's looking to replicate a strong 2013 stat line. Corners Chidobe Awuzie, Ken Crawley, and John Walker combined for 21 passes defensed when in the lineup, and there's plenty of experience now. Plus, former four-star signee Yuri Wright still has another two years to turn potential into production. This unit is easily the least of CU's worries ... assuming the injury bug is done biting, anyway.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Darragh O'Neill 65 44.1 3 14 27 63.1%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Will Oliver 63 60.6 34 0 54.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Will Oliver 42-42 12-14 85.7% 4-7 57.1%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Phillip Lindsay KR 5'8, 175 So. 36 23.6 0
Ryan Severson KR 5'10, 200 Jr. 4 19.3 0
Nelson Spruce PR 6'1, 195 Sr. 12 7.5 0
Shay Fields PR 5'11, 170 So. 6 4.5 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 85
Field Goal Efficiency 44
Punt Return Efficiency 95
Kick Return Efficiency 69
Punt Efficiency 76
Kickoff Efficiency 79
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 127

9. New legs

Colorado's special teams unit was pretty mediocre -- solid in place-kicking and average in most other things. The Buffs ranked only 85th in special teams efficiency, but that was, incredibly, their best ranking since 72nd in 2009.

This program has become a special teams wasteland, and while all the return men return, none of the legs do. Punter Darragh O'Neill had a booming 44-yard average but outkicked his coverage at times, and Will Oliver made four of seven field goals over 40 yards, and both are gone. It's hard to imagine CU suddenly surging in these rankings without them.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
3-Sep at Hawaii 118
12-Sep Massachusetts 119
19-Sep vs. Colorado State 72
26-Sep Nicholls State NR
3-Oct Oregon 4
10-Oct at Arizona State 24
17-Oct Arizona 34
24-Oct at Oregon State 70
31-Oct at UCLA 7
7-Nov Stanford 11
13-Nov USC 13
21-Nov at Washington State 66
27-Nov at Utah 39
Five-Year F/+ Rk -24.8% (106)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 61 / 58
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -10 / -1.4
2014 TO Luck/Game -3.6
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 14 (6, 8)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 3.6 (-1.6)

10. Start fast

Whatever Colorado's goals are, the Buffaloes will only meet them with a quick start.

First of all, September's when the team might be its healthiest. But beyond that, September's where the wins are. CU plays four teams projected worse than 70th in its first four games, then doesn't play another one. After October 1, CU will face only two foes projected worse than 39th (Oregon State, Washington State), and both are on the road.

A 4-0 start (which would include a win over Colorado State) would lead to a nice narrative as the Buffaloes head into conference play (and what a start to conference play: Oregon, at Arizona State, Arizona). And while they would then need to pull a home upset and probably beat both OSU and Wazzu at home to get to seven wins and bowl eligibility (teams that play at Hawaii can schedule 13th games, but need more than the usual six wins in order to go bowling), any happy momentum would be welcome.

That Colorado improved despite the demoralizing luck is a sign MacIntyre can still move forward in Boulder. But his Buffaloes are still thinner than most of the rest of the conference, and with every passing year, the coaching stable in the Pac-12 gets stronger.

Colorado might have a relatively low ceiling in this conference, but at the very least, MacIntyre has a good chance of finding that ceiling.