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CU Roster Math: 91 players with only three seniors

… Updated to include roster moves through February 6th … 

The deadline for early entries into the NFL Draft has passed, with 131 players leaving their college football careers behind (full list here). While the second Signing Day behind us, the eligibility charts for teams across the country are starting to solidify.

And so it is with the University of Colorado. Below is a breakdown of the current roster …

Total Scholarship commitments for 2021: 91

Breakdown by Class  … As hard as it is to read, you have to keep in mind that players did not lose a year of eligibility by playing in 2020. For example, running back Jarek Broussard was a sophomore in 2020, and will be again in 2021. Quarterback Brendon Lewis was a true freshman in 2020, and will be again in 2021:

  • Seniors – 3 (QB Sam Noyer, LB Nate Landman, OL Kary Kutsch)
  • Juniors – 23
  • Sophomores – 19
  • Redshirt Freshmen – 12
  • True Freshmen – 17
  • Signees from the Class of 2021: 17
  • Class of 2021 Commitments who signed in February: 0 (was supposed to be three, but DT Ikechukwu Iwunnah went to Michigan, LB T.J. Patu de-committed, and K/P Ashton Logan will grey-shirt, slated to sign on with the team next January)

What these numbers mean for the 2021 season … Normally, schools are allowed 85 scholarship players. Under NCAA rules for the 2021 season, schools are allowed to expand their roster past 85 to include seniors who have decided to stay around for a second senior season. In CU’s case, that includes the three seniors – Noyer, Landman, and Kutsch – who have elected to stay on.

So … CU is going to be allowed 88 scholarship players this fall. Right now (updated through February 6th), the roster will be at 91 … three more than the Buffs will be allowed (it was six when I first posted this essay, but since then safety K.J. Trujillo has entered the Transfer Portal, three 2021 commits didn’t sign, and CU has picked up another linebacker from the Transfer Portal, linebacker Jack Lamb from Notre Dame. As a result, there will need to be some natural attrition to get the roster back down to 88 before August 1st – or whenever Fall Camp, 2021 opens).

What these numbers mean for the Recruiting Class of 2022 … Now that is the question. We know that the three seniors won’t be back for the 2022 season … but after that? In theory, CU’s remaining 85 players on the roster could all return for the 2022 season, which would leave CU with a 2022 Recruiting Class of … zero players.

And Colorado will not be alone.

How will the NCAA address this? To be determined. It seems likely that there will need to be some sort of an allowance for expanded rosters for 2022 (and perhaps a year or two beyond that) to make room for all of the eligible players.

The NCAA so far, though, is not on the side of the schools … or the players.

From the NCAA’s website2021 and 2022 recruits need to be realistic about the possibility of fewer scholarship opportunities and available roster spots. Recruits will need to re-evaluate their list of target schools to widen their college search geographically and consider programs across all division levels. This means student-athletes may find themselves at a school that wasn’t originally on their list. 

Recruits who are set on competing at the D1 level should expand their search to include D2 and competitive NAIA programs. Student-athletes looking to attend college in a certain region of the country should expand their search to include other regions, as well. Recruits who planned on receiving an athletic scholarship should look into other alternatives to cover college costs, such as merit-based scholarships, grants, work study and etc. It’s now more important than ever for student-athletes to keep an open mind about where they plan to compete for the next four years.

We’ll have to wait and see how CU’s roster plays out after the 2021 season. But, for the 2021 season, what is laid out below is likely going to be the roster Buff fans are cheering for come September 3rd against Northern Colorado …

Eligibility Chart

— Breakdown by Position (returning starters in bold; walk-ons are italicized)

Offense … 

— Quarterbacks (4):

  • Seniors … Sam Noyer; Dylan Jacob
  • Juniors … none
  • Sophomores … J.T. Shrout (TR)
  • Red-shirt freshmen … Grant Ciccarone 
  • True freshmen … Brendon Lewis
  • 2021 Signees … Drew Carter … Jordan Woolverton
  • 2021 Commits … none

Comments … It seems hard to believe, but, had Sam Noyer not been talked into coming back to Boulder, and the Buffs picking up a transfer from Tennessee, that the CU quarterback room this spring would consist of two freshmen. Tyler Lytle is now off competing for a job at UMass, leaving Sam Noyer as the only upperclassmen quarterback on the roster. Despite all of the roster challenges ahead, it wouldn’t be a surprise if CU picked up another transfer quarterback, together with another true freshman quarterback, this next off-season.

— Running backs (6):

  • Seniors … none
  • Juniors … Alex Fontenot
  • Sophomores … Jarek Broussard … Deion Smith … Joe Davis
  • Red-shirt freshmen … none
  • True freshmen … Ashaad Clayton … Jayle Stacks
  • 2021 Signees … none
  • 2021 Commits … none

Comments … Colorado didn’t sign a running back in December, and isn’t expected to add another one before fall. That being said, the running backs room, even with the defection of Jaren Mangham, appears solid. The team’s leading rusher from 2019 (Alex Fontenot) will battle for playing time with the 2019 Pac-12 Offensive Player-of-the-Year (Jarek Broussard), with some talented backups in the wings (Ashaad Clayton did opt out of playing in the Alamo Bowl, but has returned to Boulder, and is enrolled at CU this spring). If running backs coach Darian Hagan can find a way to keep his charges healthy and happy, the near future for the CU running game looks bright.

— Wide receivers (10):

  • Seniors … seniors
  • Juniors … Maurice Bell … Jaylon Jackson … Daniel Arias
  • Sophomores … Dimitri Stanley 
  • Red-shirt freshmen … La’Vontae Shenault
  • True freshmen … Brenden Rice … Montana Lemonious- Craig … Keith Miller … Michael Harrison
  • 2021 Signees … Chase Penry … Ty Robinson
  • 2021 Commits … none

Comments … The surprise wasn’t that K.D. Nixon decided to move on from CU, but that he landed at USC. Still, Nixon’s departure does not diminish the talented group wide receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini has accumulated. The question for the spring (and the fall) is whether La’Vontae Shenault can live up to his promise. Shenault was suspended for the first and last games of the 2020 season, and Buff fans are hopeful that will find a way to stay on the roster. The trio of returning juniors will need to find their way to relevance … or risk being considered expendable if the freshmen (most notably, Brenden Rice) continue to flourish astride established star Dimitri Stanley.

— Tight ends (7):

  • Seniors … Matt Lynch … Nick Fisher
  • Juniors … Brady Russell … Jared Poplawski … Nico Magri
  • Sophomores … Luke Stillwell … C.J. Schmanski
  • Red-shirt freshmen … Alec Pell
  • True freshmen … Caleb Fauria … Louis Passarello
  • 2021 Signees … Erik Olsen
  • 2021 Commits … none

Comments … Seven scholarships is a big number for a unit which produced a total of ten catches for 98 yards this fall (and that includes five catches by walk-ons Matt Lynch and C.J. Schmanski). Brady Russell was injured in the second game of the season, and after he went out, the tight end position left the offense. CU fans have been waiting for production from this unit for over a decade (the last time a CU tight end had over 30 catches or over 400 yards in a season was in 2009, when Riar Geer had 36 catches for 402 yards). Will this be the year that the tight ends are a vital part of the Colorado offense?

— Offensive linemen (16):

  • Seniors … Kary Kutsch
  • Juniors … Colby Pursell … Chance Lytle
  • Sophomores … Frank FillipCasey Roddick … Kanan Ray … Joshua Jynes … John Deitchman 
  • Red-shirt freshmen … Austin Johnson … Jake Wiley … Valentin Senn … Nikko Pohahau … Dominick Cate
  • True freshmen … Jake Wray … Carson Lee … Gerad Lichtenhan
  • 2021 Signees … Jackson Anderson … Edgar Amaya
  • 2021 Commits … none

Comments … Even with William Sherman leaving early for the NFL, this could be the most experienced offensive line Colorado has been able to put on the field since the early 2000’s, when the likes of Andre Gurode and Wayne Lucier were paving the way for Chris Brown and Bobby Purify. With Kary Kutsch coming back for a second senior season, the Buffs have four returning starters along the line, and that doesn’t include Chance Lytle, who had three starts at left guard during the 2020 campaign, and Joshua Jynes and Kanan Ray, who both had their first career starts this past fall. Finding the right combination of starters – and keeping them healthy – could go a long ways toward a successful 2021 season for the Buffs.

Defense … 

— Defensive linemen (14):

  • Seniors … none
  • Juniors … Terrance LangJanaz Jordan … Jeremiah Doss … Justin Jackson
  • Sophomores … Jalen Sami … Na’im Rodman … Austin Williams
  • Red-shirt freshmen … Jayden Simon … Lloyd Murray, Jr. … Antonio Alfano
  • True freshmen … none
  • 2021 Signees … Tyas Martin … Allan Baugh … Ryan Williams
  • 2021 Commits … none

Comments … The loss of Mustafa Johnson hurts. Not because he isn’t an NFL talent, but because head coach Karl Dorrell had indicated a week earlier that Johnson was returning. There is a little more depth here than meets the eye, as Janaz Jordan (four starts) and Jalen Sami (two starts) share the nose tackle position, but the roster is still thin and inexperienced. Na’im Rodman has 17 career games and three career starts to his credit, but that’s about it in terms of playing time from the existing roster outside of the existing starters. Antonio Alfano is still on the team, but, with his epilepsy issues, it’s a long shot as to whether he will ever take the field in a CU uniform.

— Outside linebackers (8):

  • Seniors … none
  • Juniors … Carson WellsGuy Thomas … Jamar Montgomery … Robert Barnes (TR)
  • Sophomores … none
  • Red-shirt freshmen … Joshka Gustav
  • True freshmen … Alvin Williams … Devin Grant
  • 2021 Signees … Zion Magalei
  • 2021 Commits … None

Comments … If it were not for Nate Landman, Carson Wells would be considered to be the star of the defense. Wells has 21 starts to his credit, and was an honorable mention All-Pac-12 performer this fall. Guy Thomas and Joshka Gustav had their moments in 2020, but more will be expected from them in 2021. If they are not able to deliver, the Buffs may look to transfer Robert Barnes – the former five-star prospect from Oklahoma – to make an impact.

— Inside linebackers (9):

  • Seniors … Nate Landman 
  • Juniors … Jon Van Diest … Quinn Perry … Chase Newman … Devin Lynch
  • Sophomores … Ray Robinson … Jack Lamb.
  • Red-shirt freshmen … Marvin Ham … Hayden Waters
  • True freshmen … Mister Williams
  • 2021 Signees … Zephaniah Maea
  • 2021 Commits … none

Comments … The Buff Nation will be waiting with baited-breath over the next eight months, awaiting word on the recovery of Nate Landman from his Achilles injury. Surgery took place on December 15th, and the 7-9 month recovery clock is ticking. The Buffs were 4-0, and ahead of Utah at home when Landman went down. In the six quarters played without Landman, the Buffs were out-scored 83-30. Van Diest … Perry … Newman … decent players all, but they are not Landman. This spring will be a good opportunity for the unit to show it can hold its own without Landman … just in case. (Note: transfer Jack Lamb from Notre Dame will not become a Buff until after the spring semester, when he is expected to graduate).

— Cornerbacks (10):

  • Seniors … none
  • Juniors … Mekhi Blackmon
  • Sophomores … Tarik Luckett … Nigel Bethel, Jr. … Jaylen Striker … Kyle Scofield
  • Red-shirt freshmen … D.J. Oats
  • True freshmen … Christian Gonzalez … Chris Carpenter … Trey Ortega
  • 2021 Signees … Tyrin Taylor … Nikko Reed … Kaylin Moore
  • 2021 Commits … none

Comments … One of the best results of the odd 2020 season was the fact that Christian Gonzalez got to play six games … and will return this fall as a true freshman. Gonzalez was targeted by many of CU’s opponents, but he learned the position, and, like the storied group of CU defensive backs from a few years back – Isaiah Oliver, Tedric Thompson, Chidoe Awuzie, Ahkello Witherspoon – who struggled early but then became great Buffs, Gonzalez seems destined for an NFL career. Mekhi Blackmon also more than held his own for much of the 2020 campaign, and, with CU’s trio of sophomores getting some playing time in 2020, this unit could grow from a liability to a strength.

— Safeties (6):

  • Seniors … none
  • Juniors … Isaiah Lewis … Chris MillerCurtis Appleton
  • Sophomores … Mark PerryDustin Johnson … Ryan Travis 
  • Red-shirt freshmen … Anthony Lyle 
  • True freshmen … Toren Pittman
  • 2021 Signees … Trustin Oliver (JC) … Trevor Woods
  • 2021 Commits … none

Comments … Hard to understand having three returning starters for two positions … especially when the starter at strong safety, Derrion Rakestraw, has entered the transfer portal? Well, Mark Perry and Isiah Lewis alternated starts at free safety this past fall, with Lewis earning All-Pac-12 honorable mention for his work – mostly as a nickel back. A question mark here is Chris Miller, who can be an excellent player … when he is in the lineup. Miller only saw action in the UCLA and San Diego State games last fall. If Miller can’t stay on the field, junior college transfer Trustin Oliver (who was originally part of the CU Recruiting Class of 2019) may be asked to step up and contribute.

— Kickers (1):

  • Seniors … none
  • Juniors … none
  • Sophomores … Evan Price … Tyler Francis
  • Red-shirt freshmen … Mac Willis
  • True freshmen … none
  • 2021 Signees … Cole Becker
  • 2021 Commits … none

Comments … Evan Price was adequate in his role replacing the medically retired James Stefanou. Price hit five of the six field goal attempts he was asked to make, with four of his ten kickoffs going for touchbacks (Mac Willis took over those duties during the season, with four of his ten efforts going out of the back of the end zone). It will be interesting to see this fall if freshman signee Cole Becker – who is coming to CU on scholarship – will be able to displace either of the walk-ons.

— Punters (2)

  • Seniors … none
  • Juniors … Josh WattsPaulison Fosu
  • Sophomores … none
  • Red-shirt freshmen … none
  • True freshmen … none
  • 2021 Signees … none
  • 2021 Commits … none

Comments … I’ve always figured the best way to gauge CU punters is by comparing their stats against CU opponents – same games; same altitudes; same conditions. And, by that measuring stick, Australian import Josh Watts did not have a great season. Watts had 27 punts during the 2020 season, while opposing kickers had 28. Watts averaged 40.89 yards per punt, while the opposition averaged 44.46. Opposing kickers had ten punts of over 50 yards; Watts had three. Cumulatively, Colorado lost almost 150 yards of field position – or 30 yards per game during the regular season – to the opposition. Perhaps that is why the CU coaching staff felt it necessary to use (precious) scholarships this recruiting cycle on both a kicker and a punter.

Overall … Just in terms of returning starters (those who started at least three games in 2020), the Buffs have nine (arguably ten) starters back on offense, and nine (arguably ten) starters back on defense. In a normal year, that would be considered outstanding … but this is not a normal year. Many teams the Buffs will face will have larger-than-usual lists of returning starters, so having numerous players back with starting experience is not in and of itself an advantage.

Where it could come into play, however, will be the 2022 season. Many of CU’s opponents will have larger senior classes than will CU (which has all of three). As noted above, there is the possibility – though very, very remote – that Colorado could, in fact, return 85 scholarship players for the 2022 season. Again, that it not likely – nor advised – but it does go to show that, after a unique 2020 season, the CU football program will be position this fall to build quality depth for the 2022 season … and beyond.

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5 Replies to “CU Roster Math”

  1. Read through this again and like the additional analysis at the top Stuart. Not sure how the NCAA keep an extra year of eligibility decision will be viewed through the lens of time. I agree it will take 3-4 years of attrition and smaller incoming classes before the thing is settled.

  2. “The NCAA so far, though, is not on the side of the schools … or the players.” Now that is shocking to hear, kind of like there is gambling going on in Rick’s Cafe.

    “It’s now more important than ever for student-athletes to KEEP AN OPEN MIND about where they plan to compete for the next four years.” Because we at the NCAA are the CLOSED MINDED ONES.

    If this kind of tone deafness from the NCAA wasn’t to be expected, it would be maddening, but it is sadly business as usual.

  3. Well this is an interesting topic, thanks for bringing it up.
    With my first sips of coffee on a Sunday morning, perhaps…
    Maybe assign a number starting this year and linked to this year’s recruiting class, say somewhere between 20-25 for every school that increases the number of total roster spots now so all can recruit a 2022 class of some size.
    The # or roster spots could reset in 2025 after 4 years or maybe decrease by 5 spots over each year for the next 4, so that we are back to normal for the 2025 season and give teams time to adjust.
    Interesting comment you shared by the NCAA about limited scholarship numbers, almost as though they encourage spreading the wealth of players around for some parity ? (my interpretation basesd on not much 😉

  4. if the Buffs pick up another QB from the portal…at least I hope it wont be anyone in there right now. All are about gone to their next schools. Only the dregs are left right now.

  5. sounds like the walkons will feel more secure than anyone 3rd or 4th on the depth chart…maybe for 2 years.
    Not that anyone would want to but can a scholie guy turn into a walkon? ‘Either way it sounds like KD is going to have to do an extremely unpleasant chore in telling some guys to get lost.

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