Return to Relevance – II

Last August, despite the reality that CU was coming off of ten straight losing seasons, there were still reasons for optimism. A few weeks before the 2016 season got underway, I posted, “Return to Relevance“. In the essay, I listed five reasons why I felt that the Buffs were poised to post their first winning season since 2005, and go to a bowl game for the first time since 2007:

1. Sefo Liufau is healthy and motivated

2. Darrin Chiaverini has brought new life to the Colorado offense

3.  The offense is not lacking for weapons … and finally has some depth

4. Defense wins championships

5.  The Buffs are playing “with a chip on their shoulders”

… concluding …

It’s easy to be optimistic in August.

Everyone is undefeated at the opening of Fall Camp.

This year, though, there is a real feeling that the 2016 will be the year that the Buffs finally get it done.

Perhaps it was the hiring of Darrin Chiaverini last January, and the subsequent infusion of talent into the Recruiting Class of 2016.

Perhaps it was the fast start to the Recruiting Class of 2017, currently ranked in the top 25 in the nation.

Perhaps it has been the respect, albeit grudgingly given, from many of the preseason magazines to the 2016 Buffs.

Perhaps … just perhaps … it’s just time.

Not for a “Return to Dominance”, mind you.

But, at the very least, a “Return to Relevance”.

As we all know, the 2016 season worked out pretty well for the Buffs, going from worst-to-first, winning the Pac-12 South title with an 8-1 conference record. Colorado finished with a 10-4 overall record, ranked No. 17 in the final Associated Press poll (15th in the USA Today coaches’ poll)

This past off-season, the naysayers have been chipping away at CU’s magical season. The Buffs were mentioned in the “way-too-early” 2017 predictions right after the season. As winter gave way to spring, however, critics found ways to remove Colorado from their Top 25 rankings. “The Buffs lose to many players on defense”, they said. “The loss of Jim Leavitt as defensive coordinator will hurt CU” was the consensus.

Stassen.com has a compilation of 2017 preseason Top 25 rankings, with over a dozen publications listed. In exactly none of them is Colorado ranked. Oregon, which finished the 2016 season with a 4-8 record, was ranked in three preseason rankings. UCLA, which also finished 4-8, was ranked in two. Adding up the polls, Colorado is the consensus choice to finish fourth in the Pac-12 South, with only one publication picking the Buffs to finish as high as second in the division … with two publications picking Colorado to finish last.

When the USA Today preseason Coaches poll was released, Colorado came in at No. 27 … the only Power-Five conference school ranked in the final 2016 poll to fail to appear in the 2017 preseason poll. Utah, which has three returning starters on offense and four on defense, and lost its regular season finale to Colorado, came in at No. 25.

Still, No. 27 in the USA Today preseason poll is light years ahead of where the Buffs were projected this time last year. There are plenty of reasons for excitement about the 2017 season. So, in honor of the ten wins posted last season, here are ten reasons for optimism this fall:

1. Steven Montez is the real deal … The Buffs’ starting quarterback may only have three starts under his belt, but he also has three years in the Colorado system. Last fall, Sefo Liufau ran the Brian Lindgren/Darrin Chiaverini without the benefit of even a spring in the system, having sat out the spring with an injury. Steven Montez has had two springs and a full season within the system. Montez also has the confidence of the coaches and his teammates, with positive reports out of Fall Camp.

2. The CU wide receiver corps is not only one of the best in the Pac-12, it is one of the best in the country … Athlon has the Buff receivers ranked as the No. 5 unit in the country, with Lindy’s stating, “One of the very best wide-receiver corps in the nation resides in Boulder”. The top six receivers from last season all return … and, amazingly enough, the best receivers on the team might not be on that list. Juwann Winfree, the best receiver on the roster before his injury last August, returns, while freshmen K.D. Nixon and Laviska Shenault may prove to be too talented to redshirt.

3. The offensive line is a strength, not a weakness … The Buffs lose only one starter along the offensive line. The projected replacement for Alex Kelley at center, Jonathan Huckins, started three games last year, and has 13 career starts. “I think we have a lot of experience”, Huckins said. “That’s the one thing that this line is going to be packed full of is experience, but I think experience together is going to be the biggest thing.”

4. Phillip Lindsay, a/k/a The Tasmanian Devil … There have been many popular players at Colorado over the years, but Phillip Lindsay may leave Boulder as one of the most popular ever. A colorful and feisty spokesman for the Buffs during the hard times, Lindsay may get to enjoy the fruits of his labor this fall. With defenses trying to plot ways to slow down the CU passing attack, holes may be opened for Lindsay, who has a good chance of becoming the first CU running back to post back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

5. The defensive line will surprise … The Colorado 2016 defensive line starters are all in NFL camps this summer, trying to continue their careers. The Colorado 2017 defensive line starters will have to prove themselves, but Leo Jackson (who has played in 26 games in his CU career, with 11 starts) will lead a unit which has more experience than it is given credit for. The Buff line will also feature two junior college transfers – Javier Edwards and Chris Mulumba – who will make themselves known to the Buff Nation this fall.

6. Isaiah Oliver – All-Pac-12 in 2017; All-American in 2018? … Colorado had three defensive backs drafted into the NFL in April, but the Buffs’ shut down corner this fall may be better than those three. The accolades are piling up for Isaiah Oliver, who in his spare time has earned All-Pac-12 honors twice as a decathlete. The question for Buff fans is not whether Oliver will be an All-Pac-12 cornerback in 2017 … but whether he will return to Boulder for his season season in 2018.

7. The new defensive coaches are working out just fine … Colorado has three new defensive assistants – D.J. EliotShaDon Brown and Ross Els – and none of them are named “Jim Leavitt”. It remains to be seen if the 2016 Buff defense was an anomaly – and a product of mastermind Leavitt – or the natural progression of better recruiting and overall player development. Mike MacIntyre brought in new assistants who are familiar with the defense CU is running, which is making the transition as smooth as possible. The CU defense finished in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense and total defense in 2016, and no one is expecting similar rankings this fall. The top half of the Pac-12, however, is a reasonable expectation … and may prove good enough if the offense is as good as projected.

8. Depth is not a four-letter word … In an article in the Arizona Republic this week, Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez was quoted as saying that “as many as 20 freshmen” could play for the Wildcats this fall. When you are coming off of a 3-9 season (as Arizona is), and your job is on the line (as it is for Rodriguez), it’s time to pull out all the stops. Such will not be the case in Boulder. Only a handful of especially gifted freshmen will see the playing field this fall, while most of the talented members from the CU Recruiting Class of 2017 will watch this fall, hitting the books and the weight room, waiting for their turn to become stars at Folsom.

9. Buffs still have a “chip on their shoulder” … Perhaps the Buffs have all been well-coached in how to deal with the press, but if there has been one consistent theme coming from their interviews this spring/summer, it’s that they are far from satisfied with going from 1-8 to 8-1 in Pac-12 play. The final two games of the 2016 season – embarrassing losses to Washington and Oklahoma State – are providing fuel to the Buffs’ fire. Disrespect – actual and perceived – have left the Buffs knowing that there remains some unfinished business in 2017.

10. The schedule works in CU’s favor … If the Buffs can get past Colorado State in the opener (and yes, that remains an “if”, as we will get into more in the “T.I.P.S.” debut next week), Colorado will coast to a 3-0 non-conference record. Texas State is one of the worst FBS teams in the country, and Northern Colorado is, well, Northern Colorado. That will give the Buffs two extra weeks to prepare for their rematch against Washington, which will be a sellout between two undefeated and ranked teams (the only Pac-12 team with an easier non-conference schedule than the Buffs is the Huskies … Rutgers, Montana, Fresno State … so a matchup between two undefeated teams is all but assured).

The remaining eight Pac-12 games after the Washington tilt include only three home games, but only one which will be difficult. Arizona and Cal are considered to be the two of the worst teams in the conference. and USC must come to Boulder on November 11th (a night game … in the cold … who knows?). The road games are all against teams which Colorado beat in 2016 … UCLA, Oregon State, Washington State, Arizona State, and Utah.

Will the Buffs go undefeated in 2017? Nope.

Will the Buffs revert to their losing ways, and finish at the bottom of the Pac-12 South in 2017? Nope.

There is a wide gap between those two possibilities, and that’s what makes the 2017 season so enticing.

 I’m still not ready to call the Buffs’ resurgence a “Return to Dominance”.

But “Return to Relevance, Part Two” has a nice ring to it.

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6 Replies to “Return to Relevance – II”

  1. Yo Stuart,

    Nice write up. The prognosticators are always a year or two late. Mostly because they don’t really do any research. They look at the final records over the last 5-10 years and make a guess.

    Some of the so-called “experts” say the Buffs can’t be as good this year because they lost “so much talent” to graduation. Really? Isn’t that the same talent that last year they said was so bad that Colorado would finish at the bottom of the Pac-12?

    MacIntyre said he expected the 2016 to be good enough to get to a bowl game but that he really expected 2017 to be the year the Buffs made their mark in the Pac-12 South. Colorado just got there early.

    Barring some crazy injuries, the Buffs will continue to be bigger and stronger. They will not be going back to the days where they were manhandled.

    That fleet of wideouts is going to fly and Montez is going to drive a lot of teams crazy. He has the biggest arm in Boulder since Kordell and just needs to use his head right. It’ll be nice for the wide receivers not to have to slow down to wait on passes.

    The defense learned a lot under Leavitt on how to prepare and react. If the new coaches can take that to the next level, everything will be just fine. I think the D is going to be a lot better than everyone thinks.

    As for CSU… yeah right. Good luck covering those big WR’s that the Buffs have. And the O-line and Phillip Lindsay are gonna have their way with them too.

    The Buffs are big, strong, and have a Flatiron size chip on their shoulders over the lack of respect being shown them. They will take that out on a lot of teams beginning with CSU.

    Go Buffs!

    Mark
    Boulderdevil

  2. On board and ready for the Sheep. Dying to see this team.

    Am concerned about the lack of depth on the D at all positions other than Safety. Always been a big Leavitt backer but Nick Fisher last year in his one start gave me tremendous hope for the future…still doesn’t get lots of love and he was HUGE that night. Thinking there are more kids on our bench ready to step up like Fisher did.

  3. The Rise Was Real. Colorado may not go 10-4 this year but they will not regress below the mean. This is a team with talent and they are FINALLY well coached.

  4. Great article! Thanks for the insight. I only got to watch one scrimmage but I have a feeling our defense is going to be a lot better than people fear, and has a chance to truly surprise some people. Laguda, Oliver, and worthington are all going to step into leadership roles in the secondary. The new “buff” back taking advantage of mueller physicality is going to cause some teams some additional difficulty as well. The new coaches seem to be working well. It remains to be seen if they will be able to game plan and adjust as well as Leavitt. I will also say all the starters are much bigger. I remember getting on the field for autographs and such and being so much bigger than the guys. This year, they all were bigger than me. You could see who the freshman and sophomores were because they just did not seem that big. I was particularly struck by fields. He looks significantly stronger than even last year. I am beginning to recall my time on campus back in the 90’s when I would walk by the guys back then and would just be amazed at the size and strength they had. These guys have that sort of look to them. Ya I just went there. Make sure you show up for Washington…….it is going to be worth it.

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