2011 Record: 3-10 (2-7 in Pac-12)
Head Coach: John Embree (second year head coach)
Last Bowl Game: 2007 season Independence Bowl: lost to Alabama 30-24
Stats to Cheer: return top three tacklers
Stat to Fear: converted 35.98% of third downs in 2011 (11th in Pac-12); scored on 76.32% of red zone trips (10th in Pac-12)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 3; Defense: 6; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Jon Major (65 tackles, 3 sacks), S Ray Polk (69 tackles), CB Greg Henderson (58 tackles), DT Will Pericak (31 tackles), LB Chidera Uzo-Diribe (5.5 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Tony Jones (297 yds rush, 27 rec), WR Paul Richardson (tore ACL in spring), OT David Bakhtiari
Inside Scoop with AllBuffs.com:
CFBZ: Jon Embree went 3-10 in his first year at Colorado. We all knew it would be a rebuilding season. What are your thoughts on the job he did in year one?
AllBuffs.com: Year one was a disappointment that also moved things in the right direction. Traditions and culture were largely restored after being completely torn down by the Hawkins error. Embree didn't get it all the way there. This is still a team that hopes to win instead of expecting to win. That's the next step. But winning two of the last three games and finally ending a historically bad road losing streak set the stage for improvement in 2012. But 3-10 is 3-10. It's never acceptable and it will never be considered a successful season.
CFBZ: Colorado losses their leading passer, rusher and top receiver. Who will be the key players this year for the Buffaloes at the skill positions on offense?
AllBuffs.com: Tons of question marks here.
The one position we feel fairly confident in is RB. Tony Jones is the former Player of the Year in New Jersey for the #1 high school team in the nation, Don Bosco Prep. After redshirting in 2010, Jones saw limited action in 2011 behind Rodney Stewart, but still managed 27 receptions and just under 500 yards of offense. Getting the start at the season finale win at Utah, Jones averaged 6 yards per carry on 12 attempts. Jones will carry most of the load in 2012, with a half dozen RBs competing in fall camp to earn carries behind him.
Wide Receiver is where the Buffs were supposed to have our best player, but Paul Richardson went down with a knee injury in the spring. When P-Rich is healthy, he's capable of dominating (11 catches for 284 yards and 2 TDs against Cal). But it's unknown if he's going to play this season. Behind him is WR by committee and hope that some freshmen step up. Nelson Spruce (RS-FR), Jeffrey Thomas (FR) and Gerald Thomas (FR) are the names mentioned most often.
Quarterback was the biggest question mark heading into fall camp. Connor Wood, a sophomore transfer from Texas who was a starter in the Army All-America game in high school, was QB1 in the spring. Nick Hirschman, another starter, was injured in the spring but did have one start last season. Jordan Webb just joined the program late this summer and is the former starter at Kansas, where he completed over 60% of his passes (editor note: on August 15th Jordan Webb was named Colorado's starting QB). And finally, there's true freshman Shane Dillon, a 4* recruit who most see as the QB of the future.
CFBZ: Colorado gave up the most points in the Pac-12 last season. Who needs to step up on the defensive side of the football?
AllBuffs.com: Defense gives the Buffs reason to feel confident this season. There are potential stars on each level of the defense.
On the defensive line, senior Will Pericak is a returning All-Conference performer at DT who was a freshman All-American a couple years ago. On the outside at DE, we have Chidera Uzo-Diribe who had 5 1/2 sacks as a sophomore last year and is expected to have a breakout season.
Linebacker is the strength of the defense. On the inside is senior Douglas Rippy, an All-Conference performer last year despite missing 6 games due to injury. On the outside are leading tackler Jon Major (senior) who led the team in tackles and junior Derrick Webb who may end up being the best of the group.
The defensive backfield was ravaged by injuries in 2011. There were 3 instances of having so many guys out that players were moved from offense to defense and became emergency starters the same week. The two names to watch are senior Ray Polk, who has the potential to be one of the top safeties in the conference this year, and Gregory Henderson, who started every game as a true freshman at cornerback last season on the way to All-Conference honors. With several players returning from injury and a 6-player DB recruiting class led by 4* CB prospects Yuri Wright and Kenneth Crawley, the secondary should be much improved in 2012.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for 2012 and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
AllBuffs.com: To answer the second question first, a successful season in 2012 is getting to a bowl game. The key will be getting off to a fast start in the first 3 games (Colorado State, Sacramento State, Fresno State). With such a young team, building confidence and banking wins early is vital. My gut tells me that this is a 5- to 7-win team this year.
Some coaches are lucky enough to come into a new situation with the cupboards full. That was not what Jon Embree walked into and he's probably going to be fighting an uphill battle for a few years as he attempts to right the Colorado program. As was mentioned in our Q&A, Colorado did win two of it's last three games (one coming at Utah) so there is positive momentum to the program despite winning only three games last season.
On offense, Colorado averaged just 19.8 points per game. They also lose Rodney Stewart and their top two receivers. Jordan Webb has just been named starting QB and that probably doesn't elicit a ton of excitement from the fanbase (Webb had 13 TD vs 12 INT last year at Kansas) but he looks like he could be the most efficient choice for this season. OC Eric Bieniemy has been talking about more being added to the Colorado playbook this fall so it should be interesting to see how that plays out with all the new pieces in place.
Not only did Colorado average the least amount of points in the Pac-12 last season, they also allowed the most (36.5 ppg and 39 ppg in conference play). The strength of the defense is in the middle of the defense at linebacker. The key will be if the young players step up on the defensive line and if the secondary can stay healthy. Overall, the Buffs look to be improved on this side of the football.
The schedule makers did no favors to Colorado. They play at USC, at Oregon and they pick up Stanford and Washington from the North as well. The good news is that the schedule opens up well for the Buffaloes. They start out with three straight non-conference games, two of which could be tough but the Buffs should win them. Then they play three teams that all have new coaches. After the first six games is where the going gets very tough but the opportunity is there for the Buffaloes to get some positive momentum and gain some confidence. Colorado will be improved this year but they still have a long way to go before they can get back in the mix in the Pac-12.
2012 Prediction: 4-8
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