How to Pick the Buffs’ Won/Loss Record in 2013
It’s been seven long seasons since Colorado posted a winning record, the longest drought in school history.
As a result, optimism, even cautious optimism, is hard to come by in the Buff Nation.
Still, there are those who are gulping the Mike MacIntyre Kool-Aid. The talent has always been there, the argument goes, with poor coaching and even worse game management to blame for the Buffs’ historically awful 2012 campaign. Proper conditioning, proper game planning, a better offensive scheme and better utilization of personnel will give Colorado not only the ability to be competitive this fall, but even find a way to six wins and a bowl game.
Then there are those who have been beaten down for too long, and have no expectations for the immediate future. An average score a year ago of 46-17, they argue, isn’t turned around overnight. The Buffs will have to move out of the 100’s in the major statistical categories before victories can be part of the equation. Improvement will be keeping the score close until the second half, but expecting more than a victory or two against CU’s schedule is simply asking too much.
The truth is probably somewhere in between. It’s not realistic to expect an offense, which scored 17 points or fewer in six of nine Pac-12 conference games last fall, to suddenly catch fire, and start lighting up opposing defenses. It’s not realistic to expect a defense, which gave up 34 points or more to every Pac-12 offense it faced in 2012, to immediately start to impose its will upon the explosive offenses it lines up against.
So, how can fans gauge the Buffs as they make their way through the 2013 season?
One rule of thumb is to gauge participation of freshmen. “You lose one game for every freshman you play” is an old football axiom.
Last season, the following true or red-shirt freshmen earned starts for the Buffs during a miserable 1-11 season: wide receiver Nelson Spruce, offensive linemen Brad Cotner and Stephane Nembot, running backs Christian Powell and Donta Abron, defensive linemen Samson Kafovalu, Tyler Henington, Josh Topou and Justin Solis, and defensive backs Kenneth Crawley and Marques Mosley.
Let’s see, that adds up to …. eleven.
Damn. Who knew it would be so easy to predict wins and losses?
Okay, apparently if we can figure out how many freshmen will earn starts this fall, we can predict CU’s won/loss record.
Here is the CU roster, broken down by position, along with likelihood of a freshman in that unit seeing playing time:
Quarterback: It’s possible Sefo Liufau could start at some point this fall, but if that happens, it’s going to be a long year. Hopefully, Liufau will red-shirt, and be around to play in 2017 as a fifth-year senior.
Running back: Red-shirt freshman Terrence Crowder entered the fall well down the depth chart. Phillip Lindsay, as a true freshman, is more likely to see playing time, and perhaps get a start, this fall.
Wide receiver: True freshman Devin Ross has already been mentioned as a true freshman who will play. Jeff Thomas is another candidate to be a part of the receiver rotation.
Tight ends: Red-shirt freshmen Sean Irwin and Austin Ray are both in the mix at a position which is as open as any on the roster.
Offensive line: Red-shirt freshman Alex Kelley is already being counted on as a starter at right guard. The hope would be that none of the true freshman see any action, much less start.
Defensive line: Derek McCartney is moving up the depth chart at defensive end, while Kory Rasmussen figures to be in the rotation at defensive tackle. Jimmie Gilbert is a true freshman who will play this fall. Markeis Reed impressed in the spring at linebacker, but will play as a defensive end this fall.
Linebacker: Addison Gillam enrolled in January as a gray-shirt freshman along with Reed, and emerged from spring ball as a starter. Clay Norgard, moving over from the offense, is a good bet to seen on the field in 2013.
Defensive back: With so many sophomores and juniors who have played as freshmen the past two seasons, you wouldn’t think there would be many openings for freshmen. Chidobe Awuzie, however, has already made his presence known, with red-shirt freshman John Walker another player who should get playing time this fall.
How many starters from the above group (and how many losses to count on as a result)? Offensive lineman Alex Kelley, linebacker Addison Gillam, wide receiver Devin Ross and defensive back Chidobe Awuzie are likely to earn their first starts before conference play begins. After that group, wide receiver Jeff Thomas, one of the red-shirt freshman tight ends, and defensive linemen Derek McCartney, Jimmie Gilbert and Markeis Reed are good candidates to be on the field for the first play from scrimmage some time this fall.
That adds up to nine freshmen … and nine losses?
Let’s look for some other means by which CU fans can chart the Buffs’ season.
There are some obvious clues as how the Buffs are faring:
– If Connor Wood doesn’t claim the starting job at quarterback, and doesn’t show command of the offense, CU will struggle;
– Paul Richardson must stay healthy. Not only for his ability to make big plays, but for his ability to draw attention away from other potential weapons in the CU arsenal. If opposing defenses must key on Richardson, the running backs and other receivers will have more space in the defensive backfield in which to make plays;
– The defensive line must get pressure on the quarterback. Colorado was 87th in the nation in sacks last year. If Pac-12 quarterbacks have time to find open receivers, CU will have to outscore the opposition to win … an unlikely prospect this year.
– The secondary must create turnovers. Only Auburn and South Florida had fewer total interceptions last fall than CU’s three. While Colorado had three total interceptions last year, Oregon had 26. ‘Nuff said.
For me, though, the key to CU’s season lies in the trenches, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
Want to chart how many CU wins is likely to post this fall? Chart the starting lineup from week to week along the offensive line. It says here that CU must – repeat must – have its starters stay healthy in order to be successful.
Colorado lost two offensive line starters from last season – David Bakhtiari to the NFL; Alexander Lewis to Nebraska and the penal system (and, no, I’m not being redundant). The Buffs have two returning starters at tackle, senior Jack Harris and sophomore Stephane Nembot. After those two, however, the depth chart at tackle immediately drops to underclassmen who have seen fewer than 100 snaps in their careers.
On the inside, it’s a game of musical chairs – part by necessity; part by design. In camp, offensive line coach Gary Bernardi has shuffled his interior linemen between center and both guard spots, using senior Gus Handler, junior Kaiwi Crabb, redshirt freshman Alex Kelley and sophomore Brad Cotner (when healthy). Junior Daniel Munyer, who has missed virtually all of fall camp recovering from a broken fibula, is expected to be ready for the opener against CSU.
“We’re making sure we’re giving the inside guys good looks at all three spots,” Bernardi said. “And we’re making sure the tackles can play both sides. That makes their life easier right now when they’re doing the zone blocking. But we’ll do both (zone and conventional man-on-man). That’s part of our offense – the multiplicity.”
This group, said Bernardi, appears capable of doing both, but he added, “That’s something you get a feel for after a couple of games. We really haven’t had the whole unit healthy and together and we haven’t been under duress in a game situation.”
The pistol offense will provide the offensive line some cover for the Buffs’ lack of depth and experience. Zone blocking is the predominant scheme; it requires more zeroing in on the right target than pancaking the D-lineman in front of you. “I could see that,” Jack Harris told CUBuffs.com when asked if the new scheme would help the offensive line, when compared to last season’s power blocking scheme, “especially with the misdirection and the confusion it can cause a defense. It slows them down from coming downhill so fast and makes them think a little more. You don’t just have to run over guys; if they don’t know what they’re doing then you can knock them down instead of doing it head-to-head.”
But even if the pistol offense aids the offensive line, it can’t help the Buffs if there is no experience out there to run it. CU’s offensive line depth is perilously thin. If there are any injuries (and when does an offensive line go a season without injuries?), the ability of the new CU offense to be productive could be significantly curtailed.
So, though not as exciting as other statistics, there are two lines in the box score each week you can track as a means of predicting future success … the number of freshmen starters, and continuity along the offensive line.
Now, that’s not to say that you can’t chart more obvious measures of success at the same time. You can track Connor Wood’s touchdowns/interceptions ratio, Paul Richardson’s yards-after-catch, Chidera Uzo-Diribe’s sack total, and the number of Darragh O’Neill punts as a means by which to gauge CU’s success …
… or just make note of how many points CU scores in relation to those posted by the opposing team.