Colorado Buffaloes 2017 Season Preview
The Colorado Buffaloes had a dream season in 2016, going 10-4 (8-1) earning a berth in the Pac-12 championship game for the first time in school history. While the season started on a high, it ended on a low-note as the Buffs dropped their final two games to Washington in the Pac-12 Championship game and to Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl.
With the loss of crucial seniors and leaders specifically QB Sefo Liufau and DB Chidobe Awuzie, the Buffs will need to find new leaders to step up and carry the load.
The offense that was so balanced and so effective throughout last year running the ball consistently while still carrying an up-tempo pace – at least until the final two games. But now it has the chance to be even better if a few key parts come through.
Phillip Lindsay returns as the all-around back the offense can work around when needed, with a few good-looking options behind him. Trying to pave the way is a line that allowed too many sacks and didn’t exactly blast away for the ground attack, but comes back experienced and stronger with four starters back around star left tackle Jeromy Irwin.
The biggest question mark is QB Steven Montez who filled in successfully at times last season when Liufau was injured. This is his team now, and after completing 83 out of 140 passes for 1,078 yards with 9 TDs and 5 INTs last year, he will need to become more consistent if the Buffs are going to make it back to a bowl game. One thing that will help Montez is the return of the Buffs top nine pass catchers from a season ago.
If the Buffs can maintain their time of possession, something they did very well last year with Lindsey and the running game, they have a chance to stay in a lot of games.
Absolutely brilliant, the defense was a rock in the secondary and tough up front, finishing 19th in the nation in overall D while allowing just 21.7 points per game. There might be a ton of work to do after losing most of the key parts, but the drop-off shouldn’t be too massive.
The top names missing from last year’s defense: Chidobe Awuzie (Cowboys), Jordan Carrell (Cowboys), Kenneth Olugbode (Browns), Tedric Thompson (Seahawks) and Ahkello Witherspoon (49ers).
All five will likely make their teams 53-man roster in the NFL. That is special.
The secondary is the biggest issue after losing three all-star caliber playmakers to the nation’s fifth-most efficient pass defense. Afolabi Laguda returns, though, at one safety spot, and there’s hope for the replacements to fill in fast, starting with special teams star Ryan Moeller at safety and Isaiah Oliver a good one at one of the corner gigs.
Rick Gamboa is a tackling machine middle linebacker inside the 3-4, but with the early retirement of Addison Gillam, eight of the top 11 tacklers are gone. The line has undergo an overhaul, but Leo Jackson should be a solid at one end.
Tedric Thompson was a ball-hawker of a safety, coming up with seven interceptions for a secondary that picked off 15 passes and was all over the field.
Afolabi Laguda is back after finishing third on the team in tackles, but Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon will be missed on the corners. With Colorado State ready to bomb away in the opener, and Washington’s Jake Browning and UCLA’s Josh Rosen to deal with before the end of September, the defensive backs have to rock.
Key Player to a Successful Season
QB Stephen Montez, Soph. – The talent is undeniable. The 6-5, 225-pounder out of Texas has the big-time arm, the mobility, and the size, but he still needs to prove he can put it all together and become a consistent passer. He stepped in when Sefo Liufau was banged up, and came up bit with 333 yards in the win over Oregon and followed it up with 293 against Oregon State, but he threw five picks on the season and struggled with his accuracy at times. It’s his offense to run now, and he just might be good enough to lead the way to a huge season. At least that’s the hope.
Playing in the Pac-12 always represents its challenges and that is the case in 2017. Everything came together in the dream 2016 season, but this year’s team won’t be quite as good, and the Pac-12 South won’t be quite as bad. Starting out 3-0 is a must against Colorado State, Texas State and Northern Colorado, and it’s not asking for the world to win four of the last nine games with home dates against Arizona and Cal in the equation. However, don’t be shocked if CU is the underdog more often than not in Pac-12 play.