Are the Colorado Buffaloes back on ‘The Rise’?

Oct 28, 2017; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes quarterback Steven Montez (12) prepares to pass the ball in the second half against the California Golden Bears at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

After a year of growth, the Buffs are poised to return to college football’s postseason

*A version of this story appears in the July issue of Mile High Sports Magazine. Subscribe here!

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The 2017 season wasn’t the ideal follow up to what many saw as the Buffs’ rebound year in 2016. They won just five total games, only two of which came against conference foes.

The loss of the team’s top defensive backs (Chidobe Awuzie, Ahkello Witherspoon and Tedric Thompson) showed on the field last season. Add the loss of Isaiah Oliver from the 2017 roster, and it might be easy to think that the Buffs will once again struggle in 2018.

But that line of thinking might prove to be wrong.

Steven Montez is a year older and has had time to work with new quarterback coach Kurt Roper.

It also helps that the team is full of offensive weapons, especially when it comes to the wide receiving corps. Darrin Chiaverini’s Black Out Boyz are evolving into one of the top receiving groups in the country.

Laviska Shenault Jr. and K.D. Nixon enter their sophomore years out of DeSoto, Tex.; both showed flashes of their potential a year ago. Juwann Winfree will also become a favorite target for Montez and company after showing his breakout ability in last year’s loss to USC where he casually caught five passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns.

The ground game got a big boost with Virginia Tech’s Travon McMillian coming in as a graduate transfer. He and redshirt freshman Alex Fontenot might not replace what Phillip Lindsay was able to do on the ground, but they’ll provide balance to the CU offense.

“It’s going to be more of a two-headed monster at running back rather than what you saw with Phillip Lindsay the last couple years,” BuffStampede.com publisher Adam Munsterteiger said. “The biggest question is what kind of a push does the O-line get?”

The offense hasn’t been the problem though, as the Buffs struggled more defensively in 2017. They ranked 109th in FCS by giving up 450.6 yards per game.

Derek McCartney is gone, but the front seven for CU is not without game experience. Jacob Callier could have a breakout season as he showed a knack for getting through the offensive line and attacking the quarterback.

Now how can this roster attack the schedule?

The Buffs will likely go 2-1 in non-conference games, beating Colorado State and New Hampshire, but likely losing to former Big 12 rival Nebraska on the road.

Colorado opens the conference slate with games at home against UCLA and Arizona State. The Buffs have played the Bruins tough in recent years so getting them at home could be the deciding factor.

“I certainly think that’s a winnable game,” Munsterteiger said.

As is Arizona State. USC and Washington are likely losses, putting the Buffs at 4-3 heading into homecoming against Oregon State. That’s a likely win.

Next up is Arizona and new head coach in Kevin Sumlin. After an embarrassing loss in Boulder last year, this seems like it has revenge game written all over it. There is just one small problem.

“Khalil Tate is back,” Munsterteiger points out quickly.

A loss at Arizona and the Buffs are now 5-4.

Another two-game homestand comes next as Washington State and Utah head to Boulder. Those games fall in the same ‘getable’ category that Munsterteiger mentioned earlier. With that being the case, assume the Buffs split, dropping one to Washington State before rebounding against Utah.

Sitting at 6-5, the Buffs are bowl eligible with one game remaining at Cal. There is no reason the Buffs can’t win that one and finish the season 7-5 and earn a trip to either the Las Vegas, Heart of Dallas or Cactus Bowl.

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VITALS

  • Last Postseason Appearance: 2016 Pac 12 championship game and 2016 Alamo Bowl (both losses)
  • Best-Ever Finish: 1990 National Champions
  • Last Season’s Results: Last in the Pac 12 south division (5-7 overall, 2-7 Pac 12); did not qualify for bowl game
  • Current status: Over/under for wins in 2018 is 4. (Southpoint Casino, Las Vegas)

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ONE MAN’S OPINION

“Unless you are one of the elite teams in the Pac 12, you have to be able to steal two games that you weren’t supposed to win. You have to do one of those at home and one of those on the road. It doesn’t matter how it happens. There has to be a team or two that you’re not expected to beat, but you somehow pull off a win. This season, it’s two weeks in a row (for CU); I think the big two-week stretch is on the road against Arizona and at home against Washington State.” – Nate Lundy, Co-host of Mornings at 5280′

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WHAT THE BUFFALOES HAVE

Black Out Boyz – Most pundits will point to the loss of the receiving corps from a year ago, but the Buffs might actually be better when it comes to the wide receivers. Laviska Shenault Jr., K.D. Nixon and Juwann Winfree will have people talking this season.

Steven Montez – The junior quarterback enters the season as one of the more experienced quarterbacks in the conference. He played a major role in helping the Buffs to the Pac 12 championship game two years ago. He’ll play a big role in the Buffs’ postseason hopes.

Friendly home schedule – There’s not one home game on the slate that the Buffs can’t win. The toughest games on their schedule (Nebraska, USC, Washington) all come on the road. Four to five wins at home is not out of the question for this team.

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WHAT THE BUFFALOES NEED

Trench Warfare – One of the glaring problems with CU last year was on the offensive line. Steven Montez rarely looked comfortable in the pocket. Both he and the running backs will rely on a more experienced O-line to get more consistent movement up the field.

Tackling – The Buffs struggled on the defensive side of the ball to the point they gave up over 450 yards per game. Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot must get better play out of his unit if the Buffs want to add a 13th game to their schedule.

Fast Start – A loss against CSU would be a disaster. Since taking over as head coach in 2013, Mile MacIntyre has lost to the Rams just once and that number needs to stay the same. A 2-1 start for the Buffs is manageable. A 1-2 start severely decreases the chance of CU reaching a bowl game.

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TWITTER POLL RESULTS

We asked you, on Twitter, what the Buffs need to do to make the postseason this year. Here are the results:

  • Must beat Nebraska – 19%
  • Steven Montez at a near all-confernce level – 22%
  • Surrendering than 375 yards per game – 17%
  • It just ain’t happenin’ – 42%

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FOOD FOR THOUGHT…

Last year’s regression for the Buffs needs to be a one-time thing. After a standout 2016 season, expectations have been raised for the CU football program. The dialogue from the team for the last several seasons has been about “rising” and it being “our time.” The time for talk is over. The Buffs need to return to postseason play on a regular basis and there can be no more waiting for next year for it to happen.

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