All I Want For Christmas

Christmas week is finally upon us.

The frenzied shopping season, the tiring holiday parties, and the energy-sapping travel will soon be behind us. We can all sit back, take a deep breath, settle down into a comfortable chair, and finally focus on what’s really important …

… What’s under the tree with my name on it?

Okay, perhaps that’s not the only thing that’s important this holiday season. Peace, goodwill, healthy friends and family … yada, yada, yada.

While those are all great goals and wishes, there’s no harm in pondering what we might get Christmas morning.

As long as we are in a wishing mode, here are my Christmas wishes for each unit of the CU football team …

– Quarterbacks –

What I want for the quarterbacks … Continued development and competition. Sefo Liufau set numerous school records in 2014, but many of those efforts were for naught. Liufau set 17 school records in the Cal game alone* … but the Buffs still lost in double-overtime, so there was not much to celebrate. Another telling stat: There were only three teams in the nation this fall which had a lower passing yards per completion average than Colorado’s 9.81 (Oregon’s average, by comparison, was 14.55 yards per completion). Setting records while dumping the ball off did not prove to be a formula for success. CU plays in a quarterback league, and Spring practices should help decide if Liufau can continue to progress, or whether he has reached his ceiling. If it’s the latter, Buff fans will need to know if Jordan Gehrke can make another go of it … of Jaleel Awini is the answer … or Cade Apsay …?

* Including records for most touchdowns in a game (7), Most pass attempts (67), most completions (46), and most yards gained, total offense (527)

What I want from the quarterbacks … Fewer interceptions. Coach MacIntyre spoke during the season about the need to improve Liufau’s mechanics. I am not a quarterback’s coach, and I can’t identify the physical issues as to why Liufau had trouble throwing to his left, and why he continuously missed receivers over the middle. I do know, however, that Colorado was 103rd in the nation in interceptions. I also know that a team like Colorado, with so many other issues, cannot afford to give away points and opportunities to opponents by turning the ball over. This stat has to change in 2015 if the Buffs are to have any hope of obtaining seven victories and a bowl bid.

– Running backs –

What I want for the running backs … Clean bills of health. Christian Powell was banged up for much of the season, and missed two games completely. Michael Adkins was banged up for much of the season, and missed two games completely. Colorado was supposed to have four running back options this fall, but each game presented new combinations of available players, with no rusher ever having the chance to build some momentum as “the man”. Here’s wishing the running back corps an injury-free 2015, and let the best man win.

What I want from the running backs … A front-runner to emerge. The old adage “if you say you have two quarterbacks, what you are really saying is that you have none”, applied to the running back corps in 2014. The “running back by committee” approach was only a moderate success. Colorado ranked 9th in the Pac-12, and 79th in the nation, in rushing. Certainly an improvement over the past few seasons, but hardly numbers to brag about. Some Buff fans like Christian Powell’s bruising style; some like Phillip Lindsay’s elusiveness; while others like the overall package Michael Adkins can bring to the table. I don’t have a favorite players on this unit, but, come next December, I would like to have one.

– Wide Receivers –

What I want for the wide receivers … More opportunities. Again, the numbers this fall were impressive. Colorado was 18th in the nation in passing, and Nelson Spruce had a record-setting season. As the 2014 campaign wore on, however, better teams with better defensive personnel were able to take Spruce out of play (in the first five games of the season, Spruce had 56 catches for 697 yards and 10 touchdowns. In the final seven games, Spruce had 50 catches for 501 and two scores),but no other player stepped up to fill the void. The opportunity for Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo, Donovan Lee, et al., to step up is there.

What I want from the wide receivers … A true deep threat. As noted above, CU was 122nd in the nation in yards per completion. Paul Richardson is in the NFL, and, as they say, isn’t walking through the door next September. If opposing teams can put eight or nine defenders in the box next fall, the running game will suffer, and the short game will be snuffed out. CU needs someone on the roster to put fly pattern back into the play book.

– Tight Ends –

What I want for the tight ends … Warm bodies. In theory, Colorado had seven tight ends on the roster this past fall, and loses only one, Kyle Slavin, to graduation. Sean Irwin will be back as a junior, with Connor Center returning as a sophomore. They will be joined next fall by red-shirt freshmen Dylan Keeney and Hayden Jones, along with true freshman Chris Bounds. Here’s hoping there is production in numbers.

What I want from the tight ends … A distraction for opposing defenses. Colorado tight ends accounted for all of 18 catches in 2014, going for 178 yards and one touchdown. In his last season at San Jose State, Mike MacIntyre used the tight end position effectively, producing an NFL draft pick. In the first two years at Colorado, the tight end position has yet to be heard from. Creating another threat for opposing defenses to prepare for would be a nice addition to the 2015 offensive arsenal.

– Offensive Line –

What I want for the offensive line … Continued good health and conditioning. Colorado has had fairly good luck with keeping offensive line starters healthy the past two years. The Buffs went through all of 2013 with the same five starters, and had only one “outsider” – Gerrad Kough – pressed into the starting lineup this fall. The Buffs lose their two starting guards, Kaiwi Crabb and Daniel Munyer, to graduation, but have plenty of warm bodies prepared to fill the void. The offensive line, which was 49th in the nation in sacks allowed, will have plenty of returning players to choose from next fall. Here’s hoping that injuries will continue to play a minor role in their development.

What I want from the offensive line … Nastiness. Right tackle Stephane Nembot will be a senior next fall. The 6’7″, 295-pound former defensive player has been a “talent” with great potential from his first year in Boulder. He has not, however, blossomed into the next great NFL prospect that the Buff Nation was hoping for. The other returning starters, tackle Jeromy Irwin and center Alex Kelley, have shown great potential. It’s time for these three, along with the incoming starters at guard (Kough? Shane Callahan? Sully Wiefels?) to go from prospects to stars. For the Colorado offense – and the Buffs as a whole – to take the next step, the offensive line needs to go from merely being adequate to being a dominant force.

– Defensive Line –

What I want for the defensive line … Nametags. The Buffs will have only two seniors along the defensive line next fall – Josh Tupou and Justin Solis – but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be experienced talent. CU is bringing in not one, not two, but three junior college defensive linemen, Jordan Carrell, Blake Robbins, and Leo Jackson. Throw in Tyler Henington, John Tuso, and Markeis Reed, who all missed the season with injuries, and three red-shirt freshmen, Jase Franke, Terran Hasselbach, and Michael Mathewes, and you have, for the first time in recent memory, a very deep unit. Oh, and Samson Kafovalu, who took the fall off to work on his academics, is reportedly set to return.

They may need most of spring practices to just get to know each other’s names …

What I want from the defensive line … Dominance. The time for talking about building a strong defensive line is over. Josh Tupou, Jimmie Gilbert, and Derek McCartney are all returning starters, and Tyler Henington was a starter in 2013. Add in the three junior college defensive linemen and Samson Kafovalue, and you have eight players along the defensive line with significant starting experience (and that is before you even get to the likes of Clay Norgard, Christian Shaver and Timothy Coleman). It’s time for experience to equal production.

– Linebackers –

What I want for the linebackers … Quality depth. Unlike the defensive line, the linebacker corps is pencil thin. Addison Gillam and Kenneth Olugbode both return, and yes, there are usually only two linebackers on the field against the spread offenses of the Pac-12, but behind Gillam and Olugbode, there is not much depth or proven talent. Ryan Severson, Deaysean Rippy and transfer Travis Talianko return as juniors, and … that’s it. The only other scholarship linebackers on the present roster are Rick Gamboa, who redshirted this year, and Grant Watanabe, a gray-shirt freshmen. Scary thin would be the best way to describe this unit.

What I want from the linebackers … Quality production. As difficult as it may be, Gillam and Olugbode are going to have to cover a great deal of ground, both figuratively and literally. With no proven depth behind them, these two will have to stay healthy, and play well. Gillam had an injury-riddled sophomore campaign, but the Buffs will need him to return to the start status he showed as a freshman. Olugbode led the team in tackles this fall, with 83, which may come as a surprise to some. Olugbode will need to meet or beat his production come the 2015 season.

– Defensive Backs –

What I want for the defensive backs … A Dale Carnegie course. Every year since 2010, a new name has been added to the “most plays by a true freshman” list, and every year it has been a freshman defensive back. Terrel Smith (2010), Greg Henderson (2011), Kenneth Crawley (2012), Marques Mosley (2012), and Chidobe Awuzie (2013) make up seven of the top eight on the list of freshman participation (Addison Gillam is the only non-defensive back on the list. In 2014, no freshman defensive back was forced into active duty on a regular basis. In 2015, the story should be the same, with all of the likely starters being upperclassmen with significant experience. Shell-shock should no longer be an excuse for the Buff defensive backfield.

What I want from the defensive backs … Leaders to step forward. Greg Henderson not only set the freshman record for participation in 2011, he smashed it. Terrel Smith had set a new standard, at 414 plays, the year before. In 2011, though, Greg Henderson was on the field for 823 plays. Henderson was a starter as a freshman, and never looked back. Terrel Smith, often injured and reduced for the most part to special teams in 2014, was nonetheless voted to be one of CU’s captains in 2014. There are leaders returning in the defensive backfield, but they do have some significant shoes to fill.

– Special Teams –

What I want for the special teams … A smooth transition. Colorado has had two four year starters at both the place kicker and punter positions. Will Oliver had several challengers over the years, but none could take his place. Meanwhile, Darragh O’Neill just went about his business, posting numbers which would make him the all time CU leader in punts, punting yardage, punts inside the 20-yard line, and punts inside the five-yard line. Diego Gonzalez, the transfer from Mexico, is the only scholarship kicker returning, with incoming freshman Alex Kinney from Ft. Collins expected to immediately start as CU’s next punter, with the possibility that Kinney might end up with both jobs next fall. .

What I want from the special teams … A few big plays. You could stump more than a few Buff fans with this brain-teaser: Name the last CU Buff to score a touchdown on a punt return. You have to go back to the 2005 season, when Stephone Robinson turned the trick against Kansas. CU did have a kickoff return for a touchdown in 2013, but that was when Nelson Spruce returned an onside kick for a score. Long kickoff returns have been few and far between for CU in recent years, and long punt returns have been non-existent. The Buffs are not going to be able to just roll up their sleeves and dominate their 2015 opponents. It’s going to take some lucky bounces and some odd scores for CU to be competitive. The Buffs are as deep as they have been in some time, which means there are quality players playing special teams. It’s time for them to be special.

– CU head coach Mike MacIntyre –

What I want for Mike MacIntyre … A winning season. CU’s head coach deserves a seven win season and a bowl bid. Despite the record in the standings, anyone who watches CU football on a regular basis can see the improvement. For those who remain skeptical, a look at how CU stands in national rankings gives a clue. The CU offense was 17th in the nation in first downs; 18th in passing offense; and 38th in total offense. Those are numbers put up by teams looking for a bowl bid, not the numbers of a team which couldn’t win a conference game for the first time in 99 seasons. Coach MacIntyre is doing well … he just needs some “W’s” to show the rest of the nation CU is on its way back.

What I want from Mike MacIntyre … Better recruiting. Before you start yelling, hear me out. I get it that CU is fighting an uphill battle when it comes to recruiting. I get it that poor facilities and a lack of commitment from the administration has hurt. I get it that recruits are not impressed with a national title, a Heisman trophy, and conference titles – which were earned before they were even born. And I also understand that Coach MacIntyre has made a career out of getting more from less. For Colorado to compete in the Pac-12, however, Coach MacIntyre and his staff cannot rely on a roster of “diamonds in the rough” … CU will actually have to start winning some recruiting battles with its Pac-12 brethren.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Go Buffs!


19 Replies to “All I Want For Christmas”

  1. Yo Stuart,

    Just made it back from China where it is nearly impossible to access your site. Just a couple of comments before I head back in a couple days.

    Mac needs better players and he has been getting them. You need to trust him and not the amateur recruiting services. The Buffs have two four star DB’s on the team and one can’t even get in the games.

    Anyone else remember the five star running back who couldn’t beat out the two star guy six inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter? Or the other blue chip RB who went running for the hills when coach Bieniemy was “mean” to him?

    Player development takes time. Some of the blue chippers are ready to play at a high level when they leave high school, but others need time to develop their bodies as well as get ready for university level classwork. Colorado is NOT a football mill that will allow academically unqualified athletes play. We should be proud of that.

    While folks are focusing on the 2-10 record, they need to remember that CU played EIGHT teams that are playing in bowl games this month and next. The ten teams that Colorado lost to won a combined 85 games this year. Despite that, the Buffs came oh so close to beating several of those teams.

    The Buffs are getting there. Coaches all around the conference know the Buffs are a tough game now. It hasn’t been that way for quite a while. Mac needs to keep working the program and building.

    Mac also needs to hire a kick-ass defensive coordinator who can use aggressiveness to cause more turnovers. The bend but don’t break philosophy works better when you have a bunch of upper-classmen starting in the defensive backfield. They need to work out some stunts and blitz packages to keep some of the crazy good Pac-12 QB’s from sitting back there and picking us apart.

    Next year we should expect at least six wins. It’s a tough to play in the confernce of champions, but Colorado does have what it takes to get the job done.

    Keep up the good work.


    1. Love the high standards, 2-10 is acceptable because we play “tough” teams. Striving for medeocracy is no way to approach live and especially division 1 athletics. Yes our opponents are good, so what, that’s our conference, get used to it and pony up. We haven’t had a winning season in 9 years and after reading these posts one would think cu is a top ten program.

      1. High standard of six wins. I am sure that’s what the goals of our competition are. I’m sure Jim Mora and David shaw address their teams in the off season and say “gentlemen, six wins would be nice, because remember we do play a tough schedule.”

        1. Yo Sam,
          Take a breath, dude. Nobody is saying that all CU wants is to win six games. It is the next reasonable expectation. We would all love it (except maybe you, since your comments sound more like a Nebraska baiter than a Buff) if Colorado won ten games next year.

          Your reliance on the star rating of players is misguided. Coaching and player development are much more important. Look at the talent on the rosters of USC, Texas and Michigan. All those four star and above talent and they only produced 8 wins, 6 wins, and 5 wins, respectively.

          Until the Buffs start winning regularly, we will have to develop playes from within. Mac can give all the love in the world to the 5-star guys, but they can pick and choose. The reality is that a 3 star guy committed to busting his ass competing is better than a five star prima donna who expects playing time to be handed to him.

          And you might want to pick someone other than David Shaw as an example. His team is absolutely LOADED with talent, was expected to compete for a national championship this year and managed to win only 7 games.

          1. Just a very disgruntled fan is all. I want the buffs to win as much as any of you. Problem is this has not just been a couple years, its been a decade. Very difficult to keep optimism. I also hate mediocrity. Hope you had a good Xmas.

  2. If we don’t have the talent the rest of the pac12 has how did we manage to play Cal, Utah, OSU and Arizona close until the end of the game? We can either stick with the “no talent” or “over matched coach” arguement. We can’t be within 1 play in 4 games with bad coaches and bad players.

    1. Bad players, bottom line. That is not to say there is an effort problem, in fact I believe mike is getting the best out of these guys, they just don’t match up. Especially on the line of scrimmage! This is where we are out matched. We have no power running game, and get moved along the d line. We r better but this is the next and hardest step.

  3. Please Santa…. better PAC-12 refereeing next year. They couldn’t even get it right on slo-mo review, especially if it was a critical play for CU.

  4. Whelp “Knower” I agree the whole way. (you sly ol fox).

    And, I think there should be a QB test….. first of all, the QB needs to be a really quick thinker….there are tests for that. Too many QB thinking errors in the past year. Sefo (bless his heart) can really throw the ball (pretty accurate too) and he’s a gamer and grinder and tough as ol Nellie’s shoes, but he’s going to have to improve his decision making or we’ll lose some close ones because of that…..and that could be costly in more ways than $$$$.

    And we need better schemes and play calling on both sides of the ball. Period.
    The Water boy/Girl don’t do that.

  5. I, for one, just want Zim to get well. Not having him is like losing the “Voice” of the Buffalo.

    I know Mark tries his “gruntingly” best…. but legend(s) like Zim and Starr Yelland only come by once in a millennium.

    Get well Zim ….. hope to see you on game days in the booth or at the venue somewhere.

    The Athletic Dept. is in good hands. Thanks Santa.

  6. Cholo,
    This team is not close talent wise! Just because you are close in some games does not mean you are close in talent! We may not have a single player drafted into the NFL this season, and you think we are close to these teams talent wise?!? Where is our Brett hundley, kadeem carey, Marcus mariota, or will Sutton?!?! We got pushed around on both lines of scrimmage, I remember many games where if we needed to power a yard for a first down or a win (Cal) we couldn’t do it. Our recruiting classes have ranked around the 80s the past few years. Oh and stop telling me how good cu has gotten, they went 2-10!!! Have they gotten better, yes, but that only shows how far they have to go, and how far they truly fell in the first place.

  7. The QB position came up small at big moments throughout the year. The mental handicap at the position in key moments directly cost CU against Cal, OSU, Washington, UCLA, Arizona and Utah.

    There were at least 3 wins in those 6 if the QB doesnt throw a pick-six, turn the wrong way on the key play, fail to manage the game clock at the end of the half, etc, etc, etc.

    Bottom line: CU will not reach a winning record without a better option at QB

  8. Welp I can only say that the coaches have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. I am hoping they can shoulder it, but I am not sure. Yes Sir there is pressure for the kids to perform. But the pressure lies on the coaches. 1 and 17 in conference can not be totally blamed on the players.

    I for one hope there is a change made at DC. The OC is limited but perhaps he will understand this next year he is not coaching Norther Arizona or in the MWC and those rinky dinky play design and disastrous play calls at critical times will eventually cost Mac his job. I hope Mac realizes that as well.

    Go Buffs.

    Merry Christmas

    Pleasure to read you Stuart.

  9. Mike MacIntyre knows the value of optimism and how it is a force multiplier. He showed amazing grit throughout every game. No doubt he will bring the Buffs together for a great season next year and the recruits will start coming our way. Thanks for a great article, Stuart. I’m excited to be a Buff fan, as the future looks bright.

  10. Another great essay, Stuart. As always, spot on. Thank you for another year of comprehensive information and incisive analysis on our favorite team. I appreciate the time and effort you commit to your site each week. Best wishes to you and your family for a very Merry Christmas and a healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year !!

  11. David; “Yes I can see they are playing a better brand of football but are overmatched by the rest of their conference foes. CU is too small and too slow to compete with the likes of Oregon, USC, UCLA, etc.”

    Baloney! CU competed very well with everyone but UO and U$C this year, meaning the talent on the squad was up to Pac 12 level.

    They were hamstrung by youth and inopportune errors arising in part, from that youth. They were also at the mercy of some really crappy officiating—people (including Stuart) say the Buffs “needed to make plays”, yet when they stepped up and made plays, those plays were stripped by lousy officiating; the INT vs. OSU, the non-fumble return vs. Cal., several key 3rd down stops against numerous oppos nullified by called PI penalties….
    and on and on.

    The “D” definitely needs to step up but the DL will finally have upperclassmen and promising youngsters up-front—FINALLY! for the first time in forever. That should definitely aid the secondary. LBs will come around also; wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of the DEs get a look at LB. Shaver and Coleman both have size and experience and couldn’t be any slower than Brady Daigh was. In fact both are young and their speed may improve during off-season conditioning.

    The O Line should also be improved both by maturity, experience and intra-squad competition. Anyone who has spent time actually comparing CU with their Pac 12 counterparts recognizes that they are NOT smaller and that the talent on hand is certainly equal to other Pac squads.

    Sefo will be pushed and he will have to take his game to the next level, mentally. WRs will all be more experienced and stronger, with good competition among them; RBs and TEs the same. The only problem with TEs was getting Sefo to first notice them, then actually hit them in the open field. How often was McC wide open 20 yds downfield, only to have Sefo throw to Spruce for a 5 yd. gain? How many slants to DD were open but overthrown?

    If the “D” can man-up and improve as much as the “O” did this year, this team will be on its way to a good bowl next December.

  12. As a Buffs fan for 5 decades plus, you hit the nail on the head, better recruiting is the only way CU can compete in the PAC 12. Yes I can see they are playing a better brand of football but are overmatched by the rest of their conference foes. CU is too small and too slow to compete with the likes of Oregon, USC, UCLA, etc. I don’t know how they can get out of the abyss they are stuck in, but lack of talent is the biggest problem.

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