By the time CBS was able to switch from the Syracuse game to Colorado’s game against Colorado State last Friday night, the Buffs were up 14-0 and well on their way to a blowout victory over their cross-state rivals. An impressive start, to be sure, but it needs to be tempered by the knowledge that Colorado State is really, really struggling this season. The week prior, the Rams used the “Week Zero” rule to open the season against Hawai’i, who has resurrected their explosive run-and-shoot attack that got the Warriors to the Sugar Bowl during the BCS era. Hawai’i rolled up over 600 yards on the Rams and took a commanding 37-7 lead in the third quarter. (Only to struggle to hold the lead, like many run-and-shoot teams do, down the stretch.)
So with that perspective, Colorado’s 596 yards of total offense isn’t quite THAT impressive. Quarterback Steven Montez was deadly efficient in the game, completing 22 of 25 passes for 338 yards and four touchdowns. Not to mention opening the scoring with a 38 yard touchdown run. Half of those completions were to sophomore Laviska Shenault (6’1” 200 lbs.) for 211 yards, including an 89 yard touchdown catch. Last season, Shenault only caught five passes as a freshman. Sophomore K.D. Nixon (5’8” 185 lbs.) added six catches for 112 yards and a touchdown last week; he only caught two passes as a freshman.
Senior running backs Kyle Evans (5’7” 175 lbs.) and Travon McMillian (6’0” 209 lbs.) emerged from preseason practices as co-starters; McMillian rushed ten times for 103 yards, including a 49 yard touchdown, while Evans rushed 12 times for 59 yards last week. Junior Beau Bisharat (6’2” 225 lbs.) added seven carries for 52 yards.
The emergence of sophomore inside linebacker Nate Landman (6’3” 220 lbs.) pushed senior Drew Lewis, last year’s leading tackler, to an outside linebacker spot. Landman proved it a good decision last week with a 16 tackle performance that earned him Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors. Junior cornerback Delrick Abrams was the Buffs’ second leading tackler with nine last week.
At first glance, Colorado looked impressive in their season opener. But that opinion probably should be tempered based on just how back Colorado State appears to be. Below is the original preseason preview of the Buffs.
As I sat down to begin previewing Colorado, I couldn’t help but go back and revisit my last preview of the Buffs. While the names have all changed, it seems one thing has remained constant over the past 13 years: Colorado football has been mostly awful. They were bad under Dan Hawkins, they were awful with Jon Embree, and they’ve been bad under current coach Mike MacIntyre.
Except for one season: 2016. For one beautiful season in the Flatirons, everything came together. The Buffs won ten games and the Pac-12 South, and ended the season ranked in the top twenty for the first time in fifteen years. But alas, midnight struck and Cinderella’s carriage turned back into a pumpkin. The Buffaloes reverted back to form last season, going 5-7 for their 11th losing season out of the last 12 in Boulder.
With only three returning starters on offense, it looks like yet another rebuilding season for the Buffies. One of those returning starters is sophomore quarterback Steven Montez (6’5” 225 lbs.), an honorable mention all-Pac-12 honoree as a sophomore. He completed over 60% of his passes for 2,975 yards, 18 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. He went six weeks between interceptions at midseason for a school record interception-free streak of 172 pass attempts. He’s also a dual threat, rushing for 338 yards and three touchdowns last season. Sophomore Sam Noyer (6’4” 215 lbs.) appeared in four games, completing 48% of his passes for 119 yards as a backup. Arriving this fall is freshman Blake Stenstrom (6’3” 205 lbs.), who split snaps at Denver’s Valor Christian last season with some guy named Luke McCaffrey.
Phillip Lindsay, the second-leading rusher in Colorado history, has finally moved onto the NFL’s Denver Broncos, leaving a huge hole in the Buffaloes backfield. How big? Last year’s top backup running back, junior Beau Bisharat (6’2” 225 lbs.) rushed just 21 times for 61 yards. (Lindsay’s 301 carries last season set a school record.) Bisharat will probably be counted on to fill a “big back” role (think Imani Cross) for Colorado in 2018. Redshirt freshman Alex Fontenot (6’0” 190 lbs.) probably looked like the best running back coming out of spring practice, but he’ll likely end up being the backup to Virginia Tech graduate transfer Travon McMillian (6’0” 205 lbs.). McMillian’s career at Virginia Tech went backwards after rushing for 1,042 yards as a freshman in 2015, falling to 671 yards as a sophomore and 439 last season. That regression seemed to match up with the Hokies transition from Frank Beamer to Justin Fuente, who had embraced a running back by committee approach. As the presumed starter for the Buffs, he’ll look to get a workload that closer matches his third-team all-ACC freshman season.
It’s even cloudier at receiver, where four of last seasons top five receivers have departed. The lone returner is senior Jay MacIntyre (5’10” 190 lbs.) who caught 28 passes for 396 yards and two touchdowns. 14 of his 28 receptions came in the last four games of the season. Senior Juwann Winfree (6’3” 210 lbs.) broke out last November, finally recovered from an ACL tear suffered in August 2016, with a 163 yard, two touchdown day against Southern Cal. If he stays healthy, he’ll put up big numbers for the Buffs this fall.
The offensive line is in a major rebuilding process after losing three starters to graduation, including former all-Pac-12 left tackle Jeromy Irwin...and the best returning starter, junior Tim Lynott (6’3” 300 lbs.), is returning from a ruptured Achilles suffered in November. The recovery for the former freshman All-American is ahead of schedule. Fellow junior Aaron Haigler (6’7” 295 lbs.) started nine games last season on the right side and was named the most improved offensive lineman this spring. After that, it’s pretty much an unknown. Redshirt freshman Jake Moretti is expected to be a contributor despite being sidelined the last two years by a knee injury prior to his senior season in high school.
Probably one of the biggest factors in last year’s regression for the Buffaloes was the departure of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to Oregon...well that and some big graduation losses going into last season. Unfortunately, second year defensive coordinator D.J. Elliott still has work to do to fill those holes.
Up front, it might fall onto senior defensive end Chris Mulumba (6’4” 280 lbs.) to lead after a solid spring. Last season, Mulumba led the returners on the line with 39 tackles last season. Mulumba originally signed with Central Florida in spring 2016, but academic issues kept him away from the field. Hopes are high that junior college transfer Mustafa Johnson (6’2” 285 lbs.) will be an immediate contributor this fall along with redshirt freshman Terrance Lang (6’7” 275 lbs.).
The core of the Buffaloes defense will be senior inside linebackers Drew Lewis (6’2” 225 lbs.) and Rick Gamboa (6’0” 240 lbs.), who led Colorado last season with 94 and 90 tackles respectively. Lewis is a quarterback’s nightmare who’s 30 quarterback pressures leads all returning linebackers in college football, according to Pro Football Focus.
Colorado LB Drew Lewis recorded 30 QB pressures a season ago - tied for most among all returning FBS linebackers pic.twitter.com/0zLP0lrdwA— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 5, 2018
Gamboa, a three-year starter, was named preseason third-team all-Pac-12 by Athlon Sports earlier this month. But the Buffs will need to replace both outside linebackers; most likely, junior college transfer Davion Taylor (6’3” 220 lbs) will fill one of those openings. Taylor split time between spring practice and track, finishing sixth in the 100 yard dash at the Pac-12 outdoor championships last month.
In the secondary, only senior strong safety Evan Worthington (6’2” 200 lbs.) returns after being named honorable mention all-Pac-12 last season. Third on last season’s Buffs’ defense with 87 tackles, Worthington also led Colorado with three interceptions last season. At the other safety position, senior Nick Harris (6’0” 190 lbs.) is the presumed starter. Hampered by a hamstring injury, Harris’ claim to fame is earning Pac-12 defensive player of the week honors as a sophomore, coming off the bench against Washington State. At cornerback, junior college transfer Delrick Abrams (6’3” 180 lbs.) will like be paired up with either sophomore Trey Udoffia (6’0” 185 lbs.) or junior Dante Wigley (6’1” 192 lbs.). The Udoffia/Wigley combo combined for 61 tackles and 16 pass breakups last season.
This Colorado team looks like more of the same from the last dozen or so years, at least at this point. Unless, of course, the newcomers and transfers blossom immediately, but that’s asking an awful lot. Other than at quarterback, there’s simply too many question marks on offense to expect much this season for the Buffaloes.