2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: As far as inaugural seasons go, Colorado’s foray intothe Pac-12 in 2011 couldn’t have gone much worse. The Buffaloes went just 3-10,including a 2-7 mark in conference play, and the outlook for the 2012 campaignisn’t much brighter.The Buffaloes were a disastrous 1-8 after the first nine games of the season in2011. The lone win came against in-state rival Colorado State. Other than aclose 36-33 loss at home to California though, the Buffaloes wouldn’t get closeto a win for seven straight games. During the losing streak, the Buffaloes lostby an average of 27.9 points per game. Colorado did manage to salvage theseason a little by winning two of its final three games.
With the team’s early struggles, the Buffs were eliminated from bowl contentionin mid-October giving them a four-year bowl drought, the longest since thesquad went bowl-less for eight straight seasons between 1977 and 1984.
OFFENSE: The only area that is not filled with question marks for Colorado isthe offensive line which returns four starters. Second-team All-Pac 12 lefttackle David Bakhtiari leads a unit that also has its starting center (GusHandler), right guard (Ryan Dannewitz) and right tackle (Jack Harris) back.
From there the Buffaloes will be trying to find players to step up and takecontrol of starting roles. Texas-transfer Connor Wood will likely get the firstchance at quarterback but another third-year sophomore, Nick Hirschman, willalso be in consideration for the job.
“We might not make a decision until into the season, depending on how thecompetition looks between those guys,” quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer said, “Idon’t think we want to paint ourselves into a corner one way or the other.”
Tony Jones is expected to be the starting running back to replace RodneyStewart. At only 5-foot-7, Jones doesn’t have the size of an every down backand his numbers from last season were not particularly stellar (78 carries,297 yards, 2 TDs), meaning backups Josh Ford and Malcolm Greer should seeplenty of action.
Paul Richardson was supposed be back at wide receiver after catching 39 passesfor 555 yards and five touchdowns last season, but the senior will miss theentire season with a torn ACL suffered during spring practice. That will leavethe already weak receiving corps in even worse shape as the rest of the depthchart at the position remains relatively unproven. Sophomore Tyler McCulloch(10 receptions in 2011), Keenan Canty (14 receptions in 2011) and red shirtfreshman Nelson Spruce, who impressed in the spring, figure to be primaryoptions.
“That’s a big role to fill because (Richardson) is just a special, specialplayer,” McCulloch said. “It doesn’t necessarily create pressure but there’sjust a lot more urgency to have everyone step up. Everyone is going to wantto step up individually, but as a unit, as a whole, we all need to step up.”
DEFENSE: With the offense’s inexperience, the defense is the more seasoned unitby default. However, with six returning starters from a team that ranked 102ndin the nation in total defense, that doesn’t mean much.
The team will look to its linebacking corps for its strength with threestarters returning. The biggest contributor coming back will be Douglas Rippy,who was leading the team in tackles before succumbing to a torn ACL half waythrough 2011. He will be joined by Jon Major on the outside, while Derrick Webbmans the middle.
Senior Ray Polk is another welcome returnee at the safety position. With awealth of experience and the team’s top returning tackler, the 6-foot-1Polk will need to set the tone for the secondary. Also back as a starter isGreg Henderson, who will team with highly-rated recruit Yuri Wright at thestarting corner spots.
Up front, the Buffaloes will be much less experienced with six true freshmanlikely to play on the defensive line in 2012.
“They’ve been told early if you want to play, then come and get you some. So,we’ll see,” defensive tackles coach Mike Tuiasosopo said.
Senior Will Pericak (31 total tackles in 2011) is the lone returning starter,but Juda Parker and Chidera Uzo-Dribe got plenty of opportunities in 2011.Uzo-Dribe was particularly impressive ranking second on the squad with 5.5sacks.
SPECIAL TEAMS: After both came in and started in their freshman seasons, punterDarragh O’Neill and place-kicker Will Oliver will both be back in 2012. Oliverconnected on 11-of-16 field goal attempts while O’Neill got plenty of attemptsand finished with a strong 42.6 yards-per-punt average.
The Buffaloes will wait until after summer camp to decide on their puntreturners, although Canty and Ford are the most experienced players on theroster.
OUTLOOK: Head coach Jon Embree has quite a task ahead of him this season. Witha team filled with freshmen and sophomores he’ll need to get his young squadto play at a high level if the Buffaloes want to be more than just inrebuilding mode.
That test begins on September 2 against Colorado State in Denver. After that,Colorado plays at home against FCS opponent Sacramento State. Then theBuffaloes are on the road for back-to-back games against Fresno State andWashington State. Two more home games against UCLA and Arizona State follow.Then the Buffaloes play what might be the toughest two-game stretch any team inthe FBS will face this season with road games against USC and Oregon inconsecutive weeks. After that gauntlet the Buffaloes play three of their lastfour games at home.
Last year was not a fun season in Boulder and 2012 isn’t shaping up to be muchbetter. With a challenging schedule and a largely unseasoned roster, theBuffaloes will again struggle this season and have to wait a few years beforereally making an impact in the Pac-12.