By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: On paper, a 4-8 record was an excellent improvement for Colorado under first-year head coach Mike MacIntyre. After all, the Buffaloes had won a total of four games in the two previous seasons combined.
However, Colorado's final record was misleading, as two of those wins came against teams outside of the FBS level. The Buffaloes did beat rival Colorado State in the season opener, 41-24, but they went just 1-8 in Pac-12 play. Each loss was as ugly as the last, with the Buffs routed just about every week in conference play, including such monstrous setbacks as a 59-7 loss to Washington, a 57-16 final to Oregon, and a 54-13 stomping at the hands of Arizona State.
Colorado has a ton of experience back from last year's squad, so the hope is that being forged in such punishing fires will yield a team with a ton of toughness and improved talent.
OFFENSE: There are only a few teams in the Pac-12 that are not offensive powerhouses, and Colorado is one of them. However, unlike Stanford, which has been dominant despite it, and Utah, which has been solid, the Buffaloes' inability to keep up with their fellow league members has left them behind in the dust. Colorado was dead last in the Pac-12 in total offense last season (369.9 ypg). It was also last in 2012, and next-to-last in 2011, its first year in the league.
Perhaps seven returning starters on that side of the ball can help nudge the team higher in the rankings.
One of those returning starters is quarterback Sefo Liufau, who performed admirably as a freshman. He completed a mediocre 59.4 percent of his pass attempts for 1,779 yards and 12 touchdowns to 8 interceptions. All in all, a decent run, considering he only played in eight games, but that won't cut it if Colorado hopes to start making some noise in the Pac-12.
Liufau's job of improving is made that much harder with Paul Richardson gone. Richardson was far and away the best receiver for Colorado last season. He had more than twice as many receiving yards as any other player on the team (1,343), and his 19 catches of 20 yards or more was more than the rest of the team had combined. Nelson Spruce (55 receptions, 650 yards, 4 TDs) steps into the limelight as the top option now, while D.D. Goodson (22 receptions, 306 yards, 2 TDs) and redshirt freshman Bryce Bobo will also contribute to the passing attack.
"I think Nelson Spruce is a player that made a ton of plays last year in different ways made a lot of plays, especially as the year got going on, and I feel good about that," MacIntyre said when discussing his receivers. "I think (Bobo)'s gotten better and better. Bryce Bobo and some of those guys are going to make plays on the receiving corps."
Instead of using a feature back, the Buffaloes will likely get the most they can out of Christian Powell and Michael Adkins. Powell is a tough runner, who led the team in rushing last season (562 yards), despite averaging only 3.8 yards per carry. Adkins has more of a burst and is a flashier runner, netting 535 yards on 103 carries, while leading the team with 6 rushing touchdowns. He was the only player on the team to go over the century mark in rushing during a game last season.
The offensive line features three returning starters in guards Kaiwi Crabb and Daniel Munyer, as well as tackle Stephane Nembot. The rest of the rotation is fairly young and inexperienced.
DEFENSE: A major reason Colorado has not been able to compete in the Pac-12 with a lackluster offense, while Stanford and, to a lesser degree, Utah has, is because it does not balance slow offense with strong defense. The Buffaloes were the second-worst defensive team in the conference last season, allowing 468 ypg. They also tied for the fewest sacks in the league (17) and ranked next-to-last in tackles for loss (71).
Just like on offense there are plenty of returning starters, who, if they improve, could help push Colorado at least toward the middle of the Pac-12 pack.
Up front, defensive end Samson Kafovalu and defensive tackles Josh Tupou and Juda Parker are back, ready to get after the quarterback a bit more frequently. Not having sack leader Chidera Uzo-Diribe (4.0 sacks) means one of the three desperately needs to step up. Kafovalu is the best bet, after posting 3.0 sacks last season.
The leader of the entire unit resides in the middle of the field, with Addison Gillam (119 tackles, 3.0 sacks) being a linebacker with all-conference talent. He led the Buffs in tackles and ranked fourth in the league in the category last season. That was just as a freshman, so expect big things from him this time around. Woodson Greer will line up at linebacker as well after starting four games in 2013.
Cornerback Greg Henderson heads up a secondary that struggled to stop opposing quarterbacks last season, but has a glut of returning starters. Along with Henderson, cornerback Ken Crawley and safety Jered Bell were important parts of last year's unit. Henderson tallied 68 tackles, Bell had 67 and Crawley finished with 50, while the three combined to collect 9 of the team's 10 interceptions.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The speciality positions will also be manned by familiar faces, with Will Oliver at place kicker and Darragh O'Neill at punter. Oliver connected on 17-of-24 field goal attempts last season, with three of his misses coming from beyond 50 yards. O'Neill averaged 40.5 yards per punt.
Spruce was the primary punt returner, but he had only nine chances with the defense rarely creating crucial stops.
OUTLOOK: In MacIntyre's second season, the Buffaloes could very well take a step back in terms of wins, with only one FCS foe on the docket. However, if they trade a win or two for some more competitive games, that would still be a step in the right direction.
Colorado has a shot to start 2-0, like last year, with games against Colorado State and Massachusetts to begin the season. The Buffs then play three of their next four at home, including the conference opener against Arizona State. The schedule does not feature Stanford, but a trip to face Oregon and a home date against UCLA will still make for a difficult back end.
"I see the work ethic, the attitude. I see the responsibility and accountability," MacIntyre said of the outlook for his team. "So to me that shows me we're heading in the right direction. Now they've got to do it in the heat of the moment and do it in the games."
With 17 returning starters, there is experience to burn for Colorado. However, if that experience doesn't yield improved production, the whole season will likely go up in flames.
08/22 10:49:43 ET