“Reasons for Optimism” – Will it Be “CU in ’22”?

Neill Woelk, longtime Contributing Editor for the official website of CU football, CUBuffs.com, has been writing about the Buffs for decades. A CU alum, Woelk worked for the Daily Camera for years as a columnist and reporter before signing on with CU in 2015. For years, I have worked hard – mostly in vain – to emulate his style. He is well respected, and has been honored for his work (including as the Colorado sportswriter of the year).

Now, working inside the Champions Center, Neill is a position to offer insights to the Buffs which ordinary fans – not to mention every other sportswriter – can’t provide.

In short, when Neill talks about the Buffs, he is doing so as a writer who knows more than we do.

So, when Neill posted his latest column, “Buffs Have Reasons For Optimism As Training Camp Nears“, there was good reason to take a look at what Neill had to say.

But … While an insider, Neill does receive a paycheck from the University of Colorado. Which can give some fans reason to take his optimism with a grain of salt.

So let’s break down Neill’s five reason for optimism as July turns to August …

1. Upgraded coaching staff

Karl Dorrell brought in six new assistants this offseason including a new offensive coordinator, a new O-line boss (Kyle DeVan) and a new wide receivers coach, Phil McGeoghan, who Dorrell just recently elevated to assistant head coach.

The changes were sweeping and by nearly every account, a solid step up in every area. Dorrell now has veteran, proven assistants on both sides of the ball whose eye for detail and stress of fundamentals will be critical.

Their impact should be apparent early. 

True enough, Dorrell was hired in February, 2020. It’s hard to imagine a worse time to put together a coaching staff. Almost every other coaching staff in the nation was filled. so the pickings were slim. Arguably, Dorrell was saddled with Darrin Chiaverini as his offensive coordinator, and was prevented from developing the Buffs the way he wanted. Chiaverini is now gone, and much better results are expected from the offense this fall.

But … Dorrell didn’t fire Chiaverini until after Year Two. He had the offseason between 2020 and 2021 to put his own stamp on the coaching staff, yet Chiaverini was still there for the 2021 season. It may have been a financial move, with CU limited in its assistant coaching pool of dollars, making it more difficult to move Chiaverini out after Dorrell’s first season in 2020. But bear in mind 2020 was the 4-2 year, with Chiaverini’s offense producing CU’s first offensive Player of the Year (Jarek Broussard) in almost 20 years. Chiaverini wasn’t the pariah – or scapegoat – that he has since become.

2. New offense 

Colorado’s offensive woes last year were well-documented. The Buffs struggled to run the ball consistently and their passing game seldom found anything resembling a rhythm. The resulting numbers were historically low.

Enter Mike Sanford, whose resume has a long list of impressive stops and a history of well-balanced attacks and productive results.

But … Is there really a long list of impressive stops for Mike Sanford? It doesn’t seem like there were many tears being shed when Minnesota did not renew Sanford’s contract at the end of last season. Minnesota was 99th in the nation in total offense in 2021; 83rd in scoring offense. While both of those numbers would represent an upgrade from CU’s production last year (129th in total offense; 121st in scoring offense), they hardly scream “impressive”.

Is Sanford an upgrade from Chiaverini? Almost certainly. But is he the savior Buff fans have longed for for decades? To be determined …

3. Improved quarterback play

For some inexplicable reason, Dorrell’s statement last week that Brendon Lewis was “in the driver’s seat” in the QB competition was met with surprise, both from the media and the CU fan base.

What did anyone expect? Lewis is the incumbent, having started in every game last year. While he did experience his share of struggles, by no means were they all his fault. An inconsistent offensive line and some underwhelming efforts from other skill positions no doubt contributed, and despite consistently being under pressure in the pocket, he finished with just three interceptions — the school’s all-time low for quarterbacks with at least 250 attempts.

But … See the above stats. Add in to the above numbers that CU was 126th in the nation in passing offense and 128th in first downs, and you can see why some fans and media were not ready to anoint Brendon Lewis as the de facto starter for 2022.

If 2022 is going to be the season of change for Colorado, and the Buffs are going to take a step forward, there have to be more changes than just in the coaching staff. CU lost is 2020 Pac-12 Offensive Player of Year (Jarek Broussard), and three of its top wide receivers (Brenden Rice, Dimitri Stanley, and Vontae Shenault). The offensive line is still very much a question mark, and CU hasn’t used its tight ends for a generation. With all of these losses in personnel … Buff fans are going to take it as a matter of course that the offense is going to get markedly better?

Yes, Buff fans will be cheering for Brendon Lewis. We’re all hoping that he was held back by a thin quarterback roster and unimaginative play calling. But there is still plenty of room for skepticism that Brendon Lewis will automatically be able to turn the Buffs into a Top 50 offense.

4. More comfortable on defense 

It’s hard to think that this year’s defense could be better than the 2021 version. The Buffs lost a host of key starters from last year, including anchor linebacker Nate Landman, edge rusher Carson Wells and blossoming corner Christian Gonzalez.

But the good news is that CU’s returning defenders are far more comfortable with coordinator Chris Wilson‘s scheme in its second year — and there are enough returning vets to provide the foundation for what could be a sneaky good defense.

But … It’s hard to take this spin on CU’s personnel at face value. Nate Landman was a generational player, and CU lost 3/4 of its secondary to the Transfer Portal. Yes, there is potential there. But this is the third year for Karl Dorrell and the second with Chris Wilson as the defensive coordinator. The players taking the field are almost all Dorrell’s guys.

Colorado was 98th in total defense last year, and five of its best players (Landman, Wells, Gonzalez, Blackmon and Perry) are gone. And with those players, CU was almost in triple digits in total defense. Now the heart of the defense is gone, and the Buffs are going to be “sneaky good”?

I sure hope so.

5. The schedule. 

Wait … what? A difficult non-conference lineup and a brutal four-game conference stretch run is a plus?

That’s correct. While CU’s slate is no doubt a difficult one, it’s set up to give the Buffs a potential quick start that could create some momentum as they had into the home stretch.

But … I don’t even have argue here, Neill makes the argument for us – CU has one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the nation.

No way do I see this as a plus for this team.

It worked well for McCartney in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when CU had Top 25 recruiting Classes every year. It just doesn’t hold water now.

CU’s non-conference schedule … TCU; at Air Force; at Minnesota.

Most preseason magazines have CU going 1-2 or even 0-3.

Meanwhile, UCLA, which CU will face in the Pac-12 conference opener, has an non-conference schedule of: Bowling Green; Alabama State; and South Alabama. All at home.

There is almost zero chance that the Bruins won’t come to Boulder with a 3-0 record (and a likely national ranking).

Color me soft, but the way CU has been playing the past 15 years, and the number of bowl bids CU has had over that stretch … give me UCLA’s schedule every time.

The Bruins will be halfway to bowl eligibility by mid-September. Wouldn’t the narrative about CU be significantly different if the Buffs were all but guaranteed a 3-0 start?

From Neill’s article … 

“We’ve got a really good football staff. I think we’ve got solid veterans coming back and we’ve got some really good young guys on this team,” Rick George said. “So my expectation is that we’ll be in a bowl game in December or January and I think Karl probably has those same expectations.”

The reasons behind the low expectations from the outside are understandable. The Buffs are coming off a disappointing 4-8 finish last year, which was followed by an offseason that saw a handful of key players depart via the transfer portal (an issue certainly not particular to Colorado).

But that quiet optimism within the program is also more than just wishful thinking. The Buffs made some solid improvement in key areas in the offseason and given the unknowns surrounding a number of Pac-12 teams, a bowl season is by no means an impossibility for Dorrell’s team.

Again, Neill has greater insights into the program than we do. He is in the Champions Center. He interacts with the coaches and players on a regular basis. That alone gives him more credibility to talk about the 2022 Buffs than those us outside the walls.

Will his optimism be rewarded?

Stay tuned …


13 Replies to ““Reasons for Optimism” – Will it Be “CU in ’22”?”

  1. I hope someone jumps all over my butt…..but, I don’t have any ‘Esprit de corps’ left.

    It went to hell and fell like a plane getting chopped in half at 35K ft. Where did the familiar, old feelings – as tho’ your college belonged to something – go ? (It was often called a conference). That has deteriorated beyond being able to have a long-standing foe in your conference. TRADITION be damned, it isn’t even realistic anymore.

    The traditions I speak of were developed back in the 50’s and 60’s and many times longer than that , where you anticipated rival games and got the “Willies” just thinking about getting to the stadium, getting to your seat and reading the program just to find out particulars about the teams and their players ? Where the popcorn and hot dogs had an even better smell than they did at the movies…where the team uniforms had a certain magical persona, especially to a 12 year old kid.

    Now, it’s about wondering how much an opponent is paying their players and if they paid more than your college to get a premium athlete at every key position. I remember when players had to walk to the practice field instead of worrying about where they’re going to park their Lamborghini.

    Playing football no longer has the vaulted reputation of “having earned a full-ride scholarship to get a FREE EDUCATION.” That means nothing now…. now, it’s more about how much a school pays a player to be a member of their university or college.

    I’m not even excited about football season. I’m deflated. It isn’t the same for me at 83 y.o. I have too many great memories that I derived from college athletics from the time I was in grade school to the time I was attended college…and since.

    I hope y’all aren’t disappointed this next athletic season, and that I can have a change of heart.

    1. Well said and I agree. I love our Buffs but college football is dragging me down. Kickoff for the CU-TCU game will get me hyped. Enthusiastically — GO BUFFS!

    2. Mr. Trax,

      I hear ya, and I read about the FU picture in college football and I don’t like it.
      You know what I Like?

      I like the Colorado Football Team. A lot.
      So I am waiting for the Mighty Buffalo Football Team Fall camp and am excited!!!
      Can’t wait for the season to start.
      Can’t wait to see the players respond to the new coaching staff.

      Seriously, it is gonna be great.

      All that other crap is noise to me. Not interested.

      Go Buffs…………………..Bowl Bound……………and supporting all the way

      Note: God loves Buffaloes. He saved them from extinction. And he ain’t done.

  2. I feel no optimism for this year’s results. Gonna get slaughtered. But on the bright side? It feels a lot like 2015 to me where 2023 could be a turning point. And hopefully a sustained one.

    Go Buffs

    1. Understood. But you gotta be optimistic until at least the end of the first quarter of the first game!

      1. I usually am, man. My apologies. Hopefully my disbelief is quickly vanquished. Perhaps my decades of optimism have been the curse? Trying a different tack.

        Go Buffs


          Buffalo up

          Note: To the Great Buffalo in the Sky….There are weak ones in the heard. It’s okay ….the are outnumbered

          1. dang o wang o
            I gotta quit posting so early. I think my wife herd me this morning pounding on the keys


  3. So I guess we’re in the mode of not letting any positivity be left to stand alone. Let’s rip it apart. I can pick up any of the preseason rags for negativity and I have my own skepticism and trepidation about the upcoming season, but why not let a sliver of silver shine through the clouds once in a while?

  4. The biggest area of improvement needs to be Offensive Line. Period. Our defense was on the field for so much time because as we were 3 and out champions. Couldn’t run the ball. Unable to give the QB time to find us receivers. I really suspect the coaching upgrade at Offensive Line will dramatically change improve this team. I’m also hoping that Turley’s stength and conditioning program has created some big beautiful beast out of the big uglies. You could see our defense wilt in the third quarter each game when it became apparent that the Offense wasn’t going to alleviate any pressure, produce any scoring or just give them a breather. If the offensive line is better it not only improves the offense it improves the D. Let’s go Big Sexies channel Jay Luernbert, Andre Gurode, Joel Steed…if this program is going to return to being the Buffs of yore it has to be done in the trenches. NILs for Offensive and Defensive Lines should be a priority. Great lines are the heart of the team and make every other unit better

  5. Great article Stu! I have been slowly tinkering away on a potential guest article for your site about something close to this topic and as just a fan thing for myself but I thought I would respond.
    #1. A few of you may have caught on that while Chev’s offense has issues the problem was not truly the offense itself. The offense in 2020 got yards, made first downs and scored points. The problem was Lewis could not drive that offense and the reason Chev had to go was he could never adapt his offense to what Lewis could do. The definition of insanity is trying the same thing expecting different results. Chev was bat shit crazy.
    2. Sanford is not the savior. But his offenses show he can adapt and can win with what he has. There are twists in his offense that show me he is willing to try things. I.e. running constantly into a stacked box. Put 6 or even 7 lineman on the field or overload the line so that you have 4 lineman to the left of the center and guard and a tight end to the right……. Go watch the Minn Ohio state game, if you have comcast you can watch it you just have to search for it. Minn loses that game but you see some of the creativity coming out. He is not some awesome play calling genius, but he adapts his offense for what he has and he has some creativity and that is shown in what he has done before.
    3. I will be stunned if Lewis is the starter. I like the kid. He is so tough. And god running a wishbone offense he might actually lead us back to the promised land. But go watch the last two drives of the 2020 Tennessee/Florida game. Shrout comes in and doesn’t do anything fancy but the ball is coming out so quick (we’ll under 3 seconds) he anticipates we’ll and gets the ball to his recievers on time. He also pre snap reads well and then trusts his arm to get there. And his arm is so strong he makes them defend the whole field by throwing from the opposite hash.
    4. & 5. Are garbage. The defense is going to be the same if not slightly worse. Our best unites are switching to a 4-3 and our youngest group has a bunch of kids. I like the new db’s a lot. But there is not a single one of them that tackles like Gonzalez did so expect a lot of wide reciever screens. I think we will be ok, but “more comfortable”. That’s garbage. And I would prefer 3 cupcakes to start this season to help us adjust and get in our groove. It will be a great proving ground but if we would have had 2 cupcakes last year instead of A&M and Minn we would have went bowling.

    1. Totally wish the schedule had a couple tune-ups, but as usual we have a bigger rock to roll uphill here at CU.
      I think KD really likes Lewis, if he is not the starter then I would think with the new creativty that Sanford can muster (as you referenced) we should expect him to play here and there…
      Love the idea of wishbone ;), get Stacks in there too
      Go Buffs

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