Experience Counts … or is it the star rating of the starters?

“You dance with the one that brung ya”.

When it comes to Fall Camp spin, coaches and fans have to make due with promoting what they have.

Up in Ft. Fun, where Colorado State has to replace eight defensive starters, including all of the defensive line, the party line is about fresh faces:

“It’s also an opportunity to rebuild the unit, from the ground up, in a positive way” was the way the Coloradoan put it this week.

In Boulder, this fall is all about how mature the team is, and how having plenty of game day experience will pay dividends come September.

“As a defense we’re coming together really well, especially because we have a really old group,” said senior linebacker Kenneth Olugbode. “A lot of us have been playing together since we were freshmen, so everything is seamless out there. We communicate really well and play really well together.”

“We have the most juniors and seniors since 2001 and most ever returning starts [412],” said head coach Mike MacIntyre. “We’ve built a team and that’s how you develop a program from the ashes. You get people to stay here to believe and compete and keep going. Hopefully they’ll rise out of the ashes this year.”

For the first time in the past decade, Colorado has more upperclassmen on the roster than underclassmen. On the Buffs’ Fall Camp roster of 112 players on the roster, 58 are either juniors (34) or seniors (24).

Sounds good … but does added experience translate into better play?

UPDATE: The star rating of the starters for the 2001, 2013, 2015, and 2016 seasons have been added, along with a discussion of those numbers … 

Let’s look at the starting experience of the 2016 team (projected roster) against some former CU teams, as well as the “star” ratings (from Rivals) of those same players (Note: for computation purposes, unrated players are considered to be two-star prospects):

2001 CU starting lineup for Game One (Fresno State) – offense 

QB – Craig Ochs – 7 career starts

RB – Brandon Drumm – 2

RB – Chris Brown – 0

WR – John Minardi – (Sr.) – 15

WR – Derek McCoy – 0

RT – Justin Bates – 16

RG – Marwan Hage – 2

C – Devin Lucier – 0

LG – Andre Gurode – (Sr.) – 26

LT – Victor Rogers – (Sr.) – 20

TE – Daniel Graham – (Sr.) – 20

Total career starts – 108


2001 CU starting lineup for Game One (Fresno State) – defense

DE – Tyler Brayton – (0 career starts)

DT – Justin Bannan – (Sr.) – 27

DT – Matt McChesney – 0

DE – Marques Harris – 2

LB – Sean Tufts – 1

LB – Jason Sykes – (Sr.) – 24

LB – Drew Wahlroos – 11

CB – Donald Strickland – 10

SS – Michael Lewis – (Sr.) – 21

FS – Robbie Robinson – (Sr.) – 15

CB – Roderick Sneed – 2

Total career starts – 113


2016 CU starting lineup – offense (projected):

QB – Sefo Liufau – 29 career starts – three stars

RB – Phillip Lindsay – 6 – three stars

WR – Shay Fields – 20 – four stars 

WR – Juwann Winfree – 0 – four stars 

WR – Devin Ross – 6 – three stars

LT – Jeromy Irwin – 13 – three stars 

LG – Gerrad Kough – 12 – two stars 

C – Alex Kelley – 25 – three stars

RG – Tim Lynott – 0 – three stars

RT – Sam Kronshage – 6 – three stars 

FB/WR/Other – Sean Irwin (TE) – 15 – three stars

Total career starts: 132

Average star rating: 3.09


2016 CU starting lineup – defense (projected):

DE – Jordan Carrell – 12 career starts – three stars

NT – Josh Tupou – 31 – three stars

DE – Leo Jackson III – 10 – two stars

OLB – Derek McCartney – 22 – N/R – preferred walk-on

ILB – Kenneth Olugbode – 23 – two stars

ILB – Addison Gillam – 24 – two stars

OLB – Jimmie Gilbert – 13 – three stars

CB – Chidobe Awuzie – 28 – three stars

FS – Ryan Moeller – 9 – N/R – preferred walk-on

SS – Tedric Thompson – 24 – three stars

CB – Isaiah Oliver – 3 – three stars

Total career starts: 199

Average star rating: 2.55


Now, let’s compare that to CU’s starting lineup for the 2015 opener against Hawai’i …


QB – Sefo Liufau – 18 career starts – three stars

TB – Christian Powell – 24 – three stars

WR – Nelson Spruce – 33 – three stars

WR – Shay Fields – 10 – four stars

TE – Sean Irwin – 4 – three stars

LT – Jeromy Irwin – 11 – three stars

LG – Gerrad Kough – 2 – two stars 

C – Alex Kelley – 12 – three stars

RG – Jonathan Huckins – 0 – three stars

RT – Stephane Nembot – 31 – three stars

FB/WR/Other – Devin Ross (WR) – 0 – three stars

Total career starts: 145

Average star rating: 3.00



DT – Jordan Carrell – 0 – three stars

DT – Leo Jackson III – 0 – two stars

DE – Jimmie Gilbert – 10 – three stars

SLB – Derek McCartney – 12 – N/R – preferred walk-on

MLB – Addison Gillam – 22 – two stars

JLB – Kenneth Olugbode – 12 – two stars

NB – Chidobe Awuzie – 16 – three stars

CB – Ahkello Witherspoon – 1 – three stars

SS – Tedric Thompson – 11 – three stars

FS – Ryan Moeller – 2 – N/R – preferred walk-on

CB – Kenneth Crawley – 31 – four stars

Total career starts: 117

Average star rating: 2.63


… And the starting lineup in Mike MacIntyre’s first season, 2013


QB – Connor Wood – 1 – four stars

TB – Christian Powell – 9 – three stars

WR – Nelson Spruce – 9 – three stars

WR – Paul Richardson – 13 – four stars

TE – Scott Fernandez – 1 – N/R – preferred walk-on

LT – Jack Harris – 13 – four stars

LG – Kaiwi Crabb -0 – three stars

C – Gus Handler – 15 – two stars

RG – Daniel Munyer – 15 – three stars

RT – Stephane Nembot – 7 – three stars

FB/WR/Other – D.D. Goodson (WR) – 2  – N/R 

Total career starts: 85

Average star rating: 3.00



LDE – Juda Parker – 1 – three stars

DT – Josh Tupou – 7 – three stars

NT – Nate Bonsu – 5 – three stars

RDE – Chidobe Uzo-Diribe – 17 – three stars

MLB – Addison Gillam – 0 – two stars

WLB – Derrick Webb – 16 – three stars

OLB – Woodson Greer – 0 – three stars

LCB – Kenneth Crawley – 10 – four stars

SS – Parker Orms – 16 – three stars

FS – Jered Bell – 3 – three stars

RCB – Greg Henderson – 21 – two stars 

Total career starts: 76

Average star rating: 2.91


A recap – Experience

In 2013, Mike MacIntyre’s first season, the Buffs finished 4-8, with 85 career starts from the offense heading into the opener; 76 career starts from the defense.

In 2015, Mike MacIntyre’s third season, the Buffs finished 4-9, with 145 career starts from the offense heading into the opener; 117 career starts from the defense.

In 2016, Mike MacIntyre’s fourth season, the Buffs are hoping for a winning record from a lineup with 132 career starts on offense; 199 career starts from the defense.

A recap – Star rating

In 2013, Mike MacIntyre’s first season, the Buffs averaged 3.00 stars on offense, with three four-star players (Paul Richardson, Connor Wood, and Jack Harris). On defense, the Buffs averaged 2.91 stars, with one four-star player (Kenneth Crawley)

In 2015, Mike MacIntyre’s third season, the Buffs averaged 3.00 stars on offense, with one four-star player (Shay Fields). On defense, the Buffs averaged 2.63 stars, with one four-star player (Kenneth Crawley).

In 2016, Mike MacIntyre’s fourth season, the Buffs are projecting to average 3.09 stars on offense, with two four-star players (Shay Fields and Juwann Winfree). On defense, the Buffs will average 2.55 stars, with no four-star recruits on the field.

Thoughts? – Experience

– The first conclusion which can be drawn is that when you have a new coach and a new system, as was the case with the Buffs in 2013, there will be a host of new starters. In Mike MacIntyre’s first season, the 85 career starts on offense and 76 career starts pale in comparison to the total career starts for last season and this fall.

That 2013 team, however, won as many games as the 2015 team did, posting four wins overall (both teams won one game in Pac-12 play).

– It is also noteworthy that the projected offensive lineup for this season actually has fewer career starts than did the offense from last season. True enough, the combination of Nelson Spruce (33 career starts) and Stephane Nembot (31) make up a big chunk of the 145 career starts. (It is also true that while Juwann Winfree has no career starts with the Buffs, he does have starting experience at the junior college level).

But what jumps off the page is the reality that the projected offensive line for the 2016 Buffs does not have a great deal of experience. Much is expected of left tackle Jeromy Irwin, but he has actually only has 13 career starts. Tim Lynott may be the next great CU offensive lineman, but he’ll be making his first career start against Colorado State.

– The projected lineup for the CU defense, though, is what should have the Buff Nation excited about the upcoming season. The 117 starts for the opening lineup in 2015 is almost doubled, with the 2016 projected lineup carrying with it into the season opener a total of 199 career starts. Only two projected starters – cornerback Isaiah Oliver (3 career starts) and safety Ryan Moeller (9) – have fewer than ten career starts, and both are being touted as future stars. Meanwhile, over half of the defense has over 20 starts under their belts. If this lineup can stay healthy, it could be a special season for the Buffs, with the defense leading the team for the first time in recent memory.

Thoughts? Star ratings

– The consensus amongst many Buff fans is that Jon Embree left the cupboard completely bare, and that it was left to Mike MacIntyre to rebuild the program from scratch. The star ratings of the starters, though, suggest otherwise. Colorado went to battle in Mike MacIntyre’s first season with four four-star recruits in the starting lineup. Against Colorado State on September 2nd, however, there will be only two, with one of those – Juwann Winfree – still an unknown as far as Pac-12 play is concerned.

– The Colorado defense is actually in decline in terms of “star” power. In Mike MacIntyre’s first season, the average star rating was 2.91, sliding to 2.63 last year, and 2.55 this year. That being said, Buff fans will not be too upset with the four two-star players (Addison Gillam, Leo Jackson III, Kenneth Olugbode, and Derek McCartney) who are slated to open the season in the starting lineup.

Conclusion … When Alex Kelley (25 career starts) snaps the ball to Sefo Liufau (29) in the first quarter of the Rocky Mountain Showdown against a Colorado State, their 54 combined career starts will exceed the combined career starts of the entire Ram defense.

Will experience alone be enough to carry the day? No.

Should experience help to carry the day?

Buff fans certainly hope so.

The Buffs will also take the field with fewer four-star players than were in the starting lineup for Mike MacIntyre’s debut in 2013.

While that statistic comes as a bit of a surprise, Buff fans are all too familiar with the rationalization that the development of players is at least – if not more – important than the artificial “star” power of the lineup.

Again … Buff fans certainly hope so …



17 Replies to “Experience v. “Star” Power”

  1. Stuart, as always, great analysis. Would you be willing to look up something else?
    There are a lot of folks comparing this season to the 2001 team. Can you look up the “experience” and “star rating” of this year vs 2001?


  2. Biggest difference I see this year is depth (knock on wood no injuries). Would be curious to see the star averages on the 2 deep over the past few years. Would wager it shows meaningful improvement.

  3. Yo Stuart,

    This is the same Rivals who gave our “top recruit” Yuri Wright 4 stars and rated the Buffs recruiting class as 37th in the country. So much for their ratings.

    Where Mac and staff excel is their ability to identify players who can not only play football but perform in the classroom as well.

    Player retention and development are things that neither Hawkins or Embree did well. Mac and his staff are VERY good in this regard.

    Football players in the Pac-12 have to be students (and not just of “The Game”). The Pac-12 has much higher academic standards than the SEC.


    1. It is also the same rating system everyone gets excited about when CU is in the top 30 nationally, and when CU picks up a couple of “four star” recruits to close out the 2016 Class.

      Everyone can agree that the rating systems are an inexact science … we can also agree that teams with lineup of five- and four-star recruits tend to beat teams with two- and three-star recruits.

      Personally, I use the offer sheets as my yardstick for comparing recruits, but until Rivals and Scout agree with me, we’ll have to use the star system as our best method of measuring Classes from year to year.

      1. Offer sheets are indeed a key way to rate recruits. Coaches certainly keep tabs on what schools are offering scholarships.

        What coaches don’t do is pay any attention the ratings of amateurs that are influenced by state and local biases in the best of cases(and in some cases, outright charging of athlete’s families to give them a good star rating).

        Coaches meet young men and their families. They determine whether the young men are serious enough academically to make it in a stringent scholastic environment. And they determine whether a young man is dedicated enough to grow his body to compete at the Pac-12 level.

        Everyone needs to remember that recruiting services are judging 16 and 17 year old kids based mostly on hearsay, and often made up numbers on size, weight and speed.

        And the services often adjust their ratings based on who gives scholarship offers to the young men. If Saban, Harbaugh, or Meyer offer a kid that was under the radar of the recruiting services, they “all of a sudden” become 4-star recruits. And going the other way, 4-star recruits who choose the wrong schools to commit to find themselves downgraded by the recruiting services.

        I’ll leave it the guys making big bucks to determine who can help their teams, because if they are wrong too often they lose their jobs. Does anyone at the recruiting services lose their job when their highly promoted 5 star stud can’t beat out a two star recruit? Nope.

        As for the services, any that want to charge me for their opinion is immediately dismissed. As the old saying goes, opinions are like a certain part of the anatomy that everyone has.


        PS – Maybe we’ll run into each other at the Big House!

  4. Thank you for the article. It reinforces something I have felt for a while now but did not have the data to support. I felt that Embree and even Hawkins (outside of quarterbacks) did ok recruiting and when compared to the talent we are getting today a lot of them were in the same league as Mac. The difference I have seen in Mac’s teams are not around talent recruited. I think the differences boil down into the following:
    1. Mac and his staff have a good eye on picking kids that are not highly recruited but can develop into great players.
    2. Mac’s teams stick around. This is probably the biggest difference and may be the reason for the “house burned down” comments. Mac’s teams stick with it. They are here for 4 or 5 years in spite of the loosing. say what you want but 19 and 20 year old kids are going to have trouble competing against 22-23 year old men. Prior to last year the past decade of teams have largely been comprised of younger teams. Kids just left the program. Mac has been able to get these kids to stick around, get bigger, stronger faster, better technique.
    3. Mac’s teams continue to develop in the summer better. Each year the team has gotten bigger and better. From Mac’s first year until now the team is significantly bigger. I will say after getting on the field after the last fall practice the team is significantly bigger after this summer work out. I have to say I really like the new strength and conditioning coach. The young men look like they are ready to go toe to toe against the other PAC12 teams.
    4. Heart. This is the biggest one. Mac’s teams rarely quit. It happens. games get away from them occasionally. But for those of you that have blanked out the Embree years and the first year of Mac they had a culture that allowed the team to get swallowed up and then they just gave up and went through the motions. This is one of the hardest things to get through but other than the occasional game here and there the Buffs are playing hard in every game.
    5. Depth. The buffs finally have depth. Last year our back up outside linebackers was an ex quarterback, a converted fullback and a true freshman. We started 2 true freshman at inside linebackers a couple of games and had at least 1 true freshman starting there the rest of the season. On the defensive and offensive lines we really had no depth at all. This year it looks like we finally have some depth across the board. A rash of injuries could hurt us but we finally have the beginnings of a two deep.

    1. Excellent post. I agree with all of the above.
      The coaching staff has done a good job of piecing together a roster which can compete in the Pac-12. Now we just have to see if they can figure out a way to take that next step and win the close games.

      1. I am hoping the coaching staff from a play design, play calling and in-game management has matured as much as the players seem to have.

        The final step. Win Close games.

        The final frontier Win on the road.


        1. Welcome to the fight. And on the back? Players make plays. Playmakers win games.

          I like Mac’s annual themes. This year, they turn the corner on the field and put the lost decade of CU football behind us.

          They do actually look like a Pac 12 team, even in their two deep now.

          Go Buffs.


  5. What really counts is: experienced AND talented.

    Buffs had experience before but the “talented” part? Not so much. And on defense its nice to know that the current level of experience has come under a coach like Leavitt, with a year and a half under his system. You could have all seniors 2-deep under Baer and it wouldn’t have made a dime’s worth of difference.

    1. Go Leavitts Legions

      Old one, I totally agree. 93 does not. But that’s okay-Baer-clueless.

      In the scrimmage, the D did not have all the players that will be starting. Upside in talent and experience.

      Regardless, that Dline looked stout. Big guys who have experience and talent. The younger dline guys got in as well. Same thing. Big and talented. This is where the push has to come from and the running defense must make the same leap they made last year in the passing defense.

      …conference only……. 2014……………2015

      point allowed………….43.0 11th …..32.1 ….7th

      rushing allowed………..217.0 12th…….221.0…11th

      passing allowed………..279.8..6th……229.0….2nd

      One would expect continued improvement.

      Ranking the pac12 front 7 from espn

      7. Colorado: The Buffs’ defense is maturing — their statistical progress against the run was notable last season (my note. They looked at total not just pac12 play)— and there are many indications that their front seven will take the next step in 2016. The most significant news is the return of 325-pound tackle Josh Tupou from a yearlong suspension. The linebackers also feature solid players: Derek McCartney, Kenneth Olugbode, Jimmie Gilbert, and Rick Gamboa all return.

      Just gotta have a good feeling about this D. No more rusted Baer-trap for the mighty Buffs and the mortgage broking loan sharkey

      The risk as I see it is the “Lingrennnnnning offense” and Mac2 protecting his boy and really allowing him to call the plays.

      Chev, oh Chev, please protect us.

      Go Buffs

      1. Stuart and VK, thanks for leveraging the zoom lens on the 20/20 perspective of the bz. (Did I say 20/20 ?). Hmmmmm.

        Between you guys, we get the latest “In Focus” look at the Buffs.

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