The Colorado Buffaloes open up their season Friday with the Rocky Mountain Showdown, and head coach Mike MacIntyre is hoping the Buffs’ record will match their improvement.

A year ago, CU’s 4-9 record was the mark of a bad team, but MacIntyre believes much of their success went unrecognized.

Two years ago, defense was definitely a problem for the Buffs, as they were ranked near the bottom in virtually every significant defensive category, including scoring defense — they ranked 116th in the nation and 11th in the Pac-12. Last year, though, they took a step forward and improved their scoring defense by 11.5 points.

“I feel like our defense is very mature and we have a good D-line,” MacIntyre told The Big Show with Irv and Joe on Mile High Sports Radio. “We just have to go show it. We have to play well. It’s by far the best defensive talent we have had since I’ve been here.”

One reason for MacIntyre’s optimism is Addison Gillam, who looks to make his return from an injury-riddled few seasons. Last year, he was only able to play two games before injuring his knee. The injury required two surgeries and ultimately ended his 2015 season. Gillam is healthy now and will add depth to their defense.

“It’s great having Addison back,” MacIntyre said. “He has battled through all of these different injuries and we have been kind of treating him like a vet during camp. Make sure he is completely healthy and ready to roll. It’s really exciting having him back. His freshman year, he was phenomenal.”

On the other side of the ball, though, the Buffs lost a key piece. Wide receiver Nelson Spruce, who is now a member of the Los Angeles Rams, holds nearly every Colorado receiving record and accounted for 89 receptions for 1,053 yards and four touchdowns last season.

“[Spruce] is a great player and phenomenal leader,” MacIntyre said. “He was so dependable. You could depend on him in every game and every practice. We are definitely gonna miss Nelson, there is no doubt about it.”

But MacIntyre is hoping that the run game, behind Phillip Lindsay, can pick up the slack.

“We feel like Phillip Lindsay is our leading guy. We have some other guys that we’re gonna throw in there,” MacIntyre said. “We play pretty fast so you do have to substitute a little bit. Hopefully Phillip will take the reins a little bit and run with it. He is a really tough, good football player that we’re excited about.”

The Buffs hope to dominate in the Rocky Mountain Showdown and build on their overall record of 63-22-2 against Colorado State.

To hear the full interview with Mike MacIntyre, including what he thinks about playing in the Rocky Mountain Showdown, listen to the podcast below…

Catch The Big Show featuring Irv & Joe Monday-Friday from 12p-2p on Mile High Sports AM 1340 | FM 104.7 or stream live any time for the best local coverage of Colorado sports from Denver’s biggest sports talk lineup.