Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Rocky Mountain Showdown Colorado Buffaloes vs CSU Rams Preview...

(Note: I touched on this briefly in my last post, but after re-reading it, there wasn't enough breakdown of these two teams and this games history, so I decided this was necessary.  I have also changed my prediction.)

The Colorado Buffaloes and Colorado State Rams face off for the 85th time on Sunday September 1st.  This is one of the few in-state rivalry games that is played on the first weekend of every season.  There have been a few rare exceptions since the series renewed annually in 1995, but this was once the premiere match-up in college football to kickoff the season.  The game called for a bigger venue after the Buffs and Rams had been in the national rankings yearly.  The Rocky Mountain Showdown kicked off in Denver (initially at the old Mile High Stadium) in 1998.  The 1999 game was what finally put CSU on the map in this series and opened up a can of hatred and anger between fans and shot of even more cans of tear gas.  This was the notorious tear gas game and what led to no beer sales and some of the weirdest scheduling and decision making for this annual game.

The series hit its highest peak in 2003 and the largest attendance figure of 76,219.  This was the year after Bradlee Van Pelt (CSU Jesus or Van Mullet, Van Punk A**, Sh!the@d, etc to CU fans) spiked the ball in the face of Rod Sneed and with both teams coming off successful seasons and expectations as high as ever for CSU, the vitriol was on full display.  It was a rainy, cold, dark day and fans got soaked tailgating and the stuff that happened in the parking lots angered many.  This game had big play after big play and was roller coaster filled of emotions for both sets of fans.  The Buffs prevailed with a late touchdown and the game is thought of as one of the best even though that season was a disappointment for both programs with CU finishing 5-7 and CSU 7-5. 

When the Rocky Mountain Showdown returned to Denver in 2006 after two years in Boulder, it had lost much of it's luster and history.  Gary Barnett was let go after a scandal full of lies and allegations that had no criminal history attached to them and CU was coming off being blitzed the last 4 games of the year.  On top of that Colorado had just lost the previous week to Montana State, a FCS school, and looked lost under peppy Dan Hawkins.  The Rams were coming off a bowl loss and had a depletion of talent.  The Rams edged out a win in 2006 but finished 4-8.

From 2007-2011 Colorado won every game in Denver (but lost at Folsom in 2009).  After being as low as 65,000 fans in 2006, the return to Denver in 2010 brought in the lowest number ever seen there with just under 61,000 tickets sold but seemed more like maybe 55,000 in attendance.  In 2011 and 2012 an all-time low was reached in attendance with 57,186 in 2011.  Last year's numbers were higher in ticket sales but attendance did not show it since it appeared maybe 30,000 Buff fans showed with 15,000 Ram fans.  As of noon on Tuesday, only 47,800 tickets had been sold.  Student sales (they started school this week) and single game and discount tickets may add 10% to this total and put the final tickets sold around 52,800.

This attendance numbers are understandable with Colorado coming off its worse season in school history at 1-11 and a losing record in seven consecutive season and Colorado State having a losing record in 6 of 7 seasons.  However, there is many bright spots to see coming into this game.  Colorado State finished their season with wins in 3 of the last 5 games and they are coming off a win in this Showdown and an offensive minded coach that comes from big time football in Jim McElwain.  Colorado has made hires to show they care about football and have a coach with a great pedigree at multiple levels of coaching and results in turning around a program, like the almost extinct San Jose State program, in Mike MacIntyre. 

The Rams return 19 starters from a team that beat CU.  They have a full year under Jim McElwain's system and their is a very eerie quietness that is coming from Fort Collins.  There is a lot of hush-hush about the starting quarterback and what they are doing as a team. 

The Colorado State Rams return a very upperclassmen heavy offense with two returning starters at every spot but Wide Receiver.  The big question mark is quarterback where Garrett Grayson, Conner Smith and Nick Stevens are competing for the starting job.  Grayson and Smith have started games for CSU, while Stevens is a true freshman that has impressed McElwain and made his decision more difficult.  The Rams offensive line is big, averaging just over 6-4 and 300 lbs.  4 of the 5 are RS (Redshirt)-Senior with their LT being a RS-Junior.  This group paved ways for Donnell Alexander and Chris Nwoke last season.  Neither was special last year but combined they had over 1100 yards and 6 scores together.  The Rams spread the ball around with no player exceeding 428 yards or 35 receptions.  The Rams have always loved to rely on the Tight End under many coaching staffs and this year is no exception with Cartwright and Gillmore running in their double tight single back base offense.  The Rams have added some speed and unknown in true frosh REC Rashard Higgins.  This offense began putting point on the board late in the season after not eclipsing 21 in the first 7 games, so their comfort should spell some success against CU one would believe.  The Rams kicker Jared Roberts and hit every field goal against CU and was 9 for 10 in 2012.  He is very solid.

The Rams defense is filled with transfers from JUCO schools that fill the holes a lack of recruiting for McElwain's system had.  They return a solid LB corp that doesn't have gawdy numbers but are all solid.  Cory James was a nightmare for CU last year and they better have an eye on him in 2013!  CSU seems to have more size than they have ever had as a group.  They also have a heavy Texas feel to their defense which is where Colorado schools have found the most success.  Shaquil Barrett is a force to be reckoned with defensively and this group will push CUs offensive line to step up.

The Colorado Buffaloes start afresh with a new Pistol Offense that has taken over as the craze in the college game with the Spread dying out.  The Buffs have been very positive and open about their team.  The public was given access to practices until about a week ago and the biggest thing coming out of camp is there seems to be a more organized, crisper practice with more getting done than has been seen for quite some time.  How that does in a game?  The fans are as lost as they seem to be in Fort Collins on what to expect from their football program.

The good news for the Buffaloes is they have an electrifying playmaker coming back in Paul Richardson.  Rather than rush his rehabilitation and put his knee at risk, he sat out the entire 2012 season after a promising 2011 was cut short with injury issues and him playing hobbled to finish out 2011 and then ligament tears in the off-season heading into 2012.  Richardson's numbers over an 11 game span from the end of 2010 to mid-2011 was All-American worthy from the end of his freshman season into his sophomore season with 56 reception, 924 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Those numbers would put Richardson amongst the Top 10 Receiving seasons in Colorado history.  His ceiling appears higher than those numbers with 80-90 reception, 1200-1500 yards and 12 TDs.  San Jose State has a REC by the name of Noel Grisgby that this staff believes isn't as talented as Paul Richardson that had 80-1300-9.  The Buffs additionally return Christian Powell, a nearly 700 yard back with 2 TDs that missed 2 games, didn't play hardly against CSU and was used sparingly in others.  The Buffs additionally have solid possession WR back in Nelson Spruce and Tyler McCulloch.  The Buffs have added a slot position and have the speed in DD Goodson that was out of place as a rusher.  Their line has all had playing time but two of their most talented lineman left in Alex Lewis and the early departure of David Bakhtiari to the NFL.  However Gus Handler, Daniel Munyer and Jack Harris are all holdovers that played most of last season.  The Buffs additionally have a home run threat in Tony Jones to go with Powell.  Their unknown starts with most important position, Quarterback, where a crowded group of 8 that thinned to 4.  Connor Wood is a transfer from Texas that has taken over the lead role after sounding like a scout stud his redshirt year and looking lost in his light game action seen in 2012.  He was highly rated coming out of high school and the Buffs need to see that player to have any hope of seeing some success.

The Buffs defense lost a key cog in Will Pericak.  It also lost three long-time but often injured starters in Jon Major, Ray Polk and Doug Rippy.  Each player had great promise going into Colorado and due to numerous issues, just didn't ever get to that tradition of great defensive players.  The Buffs do return a defensive captain and their most consistent and hardest hitting player in Derrick Webb at WLB and have a third year starter in Chidera Uzo-Diribe who has the potential to have a great end to his CU career and post double digit sacks after reaching 7 last year.  A player that seems to find the ball and seems to be on Year 6 as a Buff is Paul Vigo.  The Buffs remaining front 7 is inexperienced and will have to grow quickly to keep the big uglies from CSU from dominating the Line of Scrimmage early.  The Colorado secondary was exposed all season.  They didn't make plays and had many growing pains.  The good news is some of these guys got better and there is a two deep for CU in the secondary that all have double digit starts.

What this all means for the outcome of the Rocky Mountain Showdown:
The Rams are a much more experienced team with a complete year under the McElwain system.  However, this is the same group that held on to a victory against a Colorado team that was so badly outcoached the second half when Colorado stumbled repeatedly, the Rams seemed to as well. A year under McElwain probably helps with those stumbles and makes Colorado State more entertaining on offense to start 2013.

The Buffaloes have experience across the board, but have been kicked repeatedly.  This staff seems to have the teams mind right and this team has more weapons and will have an established backfield and receivers to put up numbers offensively. 

Uunlike last year and years past, this game is not going to be a boring game where the teams are just tripping over themselves repeatedly.  The Rams should eating up clock on offense and the Buffs striking quickly and then following it up with spreading the ball around the field.

This is a complete toss-up game and many unknowns, but the speed and ability to spread the ball around and make more big plays on offense for the Buffs has me believing that the Buffs will win this game in a closer than expected 31-27.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Colorado Football Camp Recap & CSU Preview

This weekend I was fortunate enough to go with my family (in-law side) to the Scholarship Luncheon up at Byron "Whizzer" White Club Level in Folsom Field.  This is the same area we had my father-in-law's, Zane Kunkel, Celebration of Life last year.  As you can see, it is the most beautiful setting in all of college sports with the Flatirons in the background and the beautiful Architecture of the University of Colorado Buildings.

We attended the event because my mother-in-law and family decided to donate to the Scholarship Fund in Honor of Zane (Paying It Forward-Kunkel on Pages 8 & 9 of Magazine or 9 & 10 of PDF).  The scholarship in Zane's Memory goes to a walk-on football player, for the next 5 years, that is either a junior or senior that earned his scholarship like my brother-in-law/Best Friend for his 5th-year senior season. 

The Scholarship Luncheon allowed us the opportunity to meet the young man that earned his scholarship and hear from the new Athletic Director, Rick George, new Head Football Coach, Mike MacIntyre, a couple team captains in Paul Richardson and Derrick Webb and converse with some great people at CU.  After attending the Spring Game, attending part of this practice and keeping a close eye on what is going on with Colorado Football more intently than years past, there is reason for optimism.  I have highlighted some of this in my article about Rick George after he was hired (Rick George Takes Colorado AD Job Running) and many about Mike MacIntyre and his staff as you can see in my previous blog posts on here.  I feel this way more so than ever.  I coincidentally, and very fitting for the type of unique person I am, met Rick George in the restroom where he introduced himself to me (though no introduction was needed on his part) and we shook hands (yes we both were sanitary and washed our hands first) and we talked briefly about my excitement of him taking over (I may have sounded like a teenage girl meeting a boy band member and if I did, I apologize).  After seeing Mr. George interact with the group, hear him speak about CU's future, but mainly what needs done before that, his honest and genuine nature can be seen through his sincerity in every interaction he had with us and the others around us.  He locks in on you and isn't giving a pep rally speech and is the leader CU needed.  The players even mentioned him being on the football field within 30 minutes of starting his first day at Colorado.  He knows in order to build the athletic program at Colorado, it starts with the football team. 

That's where I have seen a big difference compared to the last 7 years.  The practices are more organized and a sense of something being accomplished and improving.  Mike MacIntyre is as honest and sincere in how he speaks.  It's not just coach speak as I have read too many "fans" put out there.  MacIntyre says the things that I would have wanted to hear as a player, that I said myself when I coached.  He has instilled the belief that every game is winnable and the staff will do everything possible through their game plan and teaching to make that happen.  There is no, settle for a bowl, or circle a few games but let's go out and try to win every game. 

But what's this all mean to Colorado Football in 2013 against CSU?

Like I alluded to earlier, the practices seem to have more structure, more reps, more emphasis on getting something accomplished and caring about the program and each other.  Last year, I didn't see that from the staff finger pointing to each other, the players and just a mess.  There is more talent and experience at areas that was without experience last year, mainly secondary.  Derrick Webb mentioned in his 5th-year that this was the toughest camp he has ever been involved in.  To me that is sweet music.  Football camp is not supposed to be easy, it's supposed to be difficult.  You are supposed to push your body and challenge yourself to get better.  This group believes in each other and the staff they are coached by.

Colorado improved at Quarterback by simply giving the reigns to Connor Wood.  He looked uncomfortable last year, but he had two possession WRs with little playmaking ability.  Wood separated himself in Spring by using that playmaker in Paul Richardson.  The Buffs move the ball around with their new Pistol offense and it will be a much quicker offense with no huddle and moving the ball down the field and the misdirection the Pistol formation brings.  This isn't the slow Pro Formation that was ran last year.  Christian Powell showed big play ability with huge games last year.

Colorado has a strong Defensive End in Chidera Uzo-Diribe.  He contains well and is a beast of a pass rusher that should approach double digit sack totals in his senior year.  The LB corp lost two starters,  but may have gained speed in the undersized but hard hitting Paul Vigo.  This defense and team is lead by the electric personality and physical gift of Derrick Webb.  Webb can bring a room together but he can knock a player out with his physical gifts.  He was Colorado's best LB last year and is a natural leader.  Secondary is still young but was thrown to the fire last year.  They look to be stronger with a much improved Kenneth Crawley and the shutdown consistency of Greg Henderson in his 3rd season.
So this all brings us to CSU Week and the Rocky Mountain Showdown:
This is a big game for both programs.  CSU needs to take that next step and see if they can potentially get to a bowl game and move the program closer to what it was years ago under Lubbick.  CU needs to start the MacIntyre era on the right foot and go into Central Arkansas with some confidence.  Additionally, the last 3 head coaches have lost their first game at CU with the Barnett drubbing against CSU, Hawkins inability to take a bowl team the previous season over a FCS school in Montana State and the Hawaii drubbing Embree took in his first game.  CU fans want to see a sign of things changing for the better.  Both programs need to turn it around and a game where both teams look good would go a long way.  If it's the bumbling awful game with the awful attendance seen last year, there will be even more questions raised by the pessimistic "FANS".

Colorado State is coming off a season where they finished fairly strong with wins in 3 of their last 5 games after losing 6 straight after their win over Colorado in Week 1.  It was Jim McElwain's first season after departing Alabama as Offensive Coordinator and the Rams took their lumps, but he seemed to have his team improve.  The Rams have a pair of solid backs in Chris Nwoke and Donnell Alexander that look to share the load this season and a strong offensive line with experience across the board starting four seniors this year.  Quarterback seems to be up in the air but they have experience there with Garrett Grayson and Conner Smith.  Grayson has more starts, but Smith played well at the end of last season.  At TE/WR there is a lot of returners, but no one that was a consistent playmaker at any point last season.  McElwain has a strong offensive mind and it will be interesting to see what he does with this group.

On Defense, there is a lot of experience and playmaking ability back from a squad that shut down CU in the second half.  They filled holes via the JUCO route and found success doing so in 2012.

Last season McElwain and staffs adjustments in the second half of the Rocky Mountain Showdown were the difference in a close game.

This all said, Colorado has a much more talented group offensively with the return of Paul Richardson and the return of Christian Powell.  They have a quarterback that isn't just a game manager like they had with Webb last season.  Connor Wood makes mistakes where he puts the ball and it may lead to some picks that drive Buffs fans crazy but he has more receiving threats to spread the ball around this season to ease those mistakes with big play making ability.  The Buffs seem to have more talent than CSU but always do in what has became a huge rivalry.

The Buffs kick off on the right foot and win 34-20 with Paul Richardson welcoming himself back to college football and showing what was dearly missed last season. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fantasy Football and The Death of the Super Fan...

Fantasy Football has made fans of a team more like an excited casual observer.  The Super Fan dies a little each year fantasy football gains popularity.  Don't get me wrong, the interest in the game has continued to increase and fantasy football is a huge reason for that.  But, what fantasy football has also done is make a fan of a particular team disconnect with the emotions from a big Win or heartbreaking Loss.  The main reason is that "Super Fan" that lived and died by how his or her team did every Sunday (or Monday or Thursday or whatever other day they will try to play on next) is more concerned about their team.   I believe that "Fan-dom" is still there and really hits at seasons end/playoffs when all but one teams fans are celebrating a victory in the last NFL game of that season.  I remember I was pretty freaking bummed when the Broncos lost against the Ravens and it has ate at Denver fans the entire off-season. 

I remember the atmosphere in Denver and how sad I'd be as a kid on Monday at school when the Broncos would lose and how it seemed like the day was dark and cold even on a warm and sunny fall/winter day.  The city was in a funk.  The grocery store was a bunch of zombies afterwards.  People bought 3.2 beer after to drown their sorrows (this was before liquor stores were open 7 days a week like you spoiled 21-25 year olds have only known in Colorado).  After a win you'd hear people screaming down the street and people high fiving at the grocery store enjoying that watered-down beer and the Foam Broncos bricks sat above the TV instead of ripped in half and laying in front of the TV.  People would call in screaming on a Wednesday still pissed off and hungover from the Loss that wouldn't be cured without a Broncos Win.  Hell, as a kid there was this idiot Rich "G-Man" Goins that sat on 103.5 The Fox Billboard until the Broncos won.  It was pure Super Fan-dom.

Things are much different with NFL teams sports fans.  It can be attributed to many factors, but as I eluded to earlier, the main reason is FANTASY FOOTBALL.  The reason the Super Fan has died is Fantasy Football has became readily accessible for all ages.  Heck, my cousin did a study and drafted a league in school a couple years back at age 9 or 10 I believe.  I started getting into fantasy football about 13 years ago when I was a sophomore in college sitting in the computer labs and my e-mail host, Yahoo!, sent me an e-mail about fantasy football.  I was an engineer major at Mines with a deep love for math, stats of NFL players (I would read all the statistical leaders weekly and year to date in the paper from about age 10 and on) and football in general, why not?  The only available leagues were either salary cap leagues or snake auction leagues back when the internet hit and fantasy football became available to the masses in the late 90s/early 2002.  Yahoo hosted a live online draft, it was entertaining but took 3-4 hours.  I think my first team was half re-draft.  I stayed active that year but I was still more interested in how the school of the road and my favorite college team up the road, Colorado Buffaloes, and lifelong NFL team Broncos were doing.  I played each year with moderate success and interest.  Still, the Broncos and the adopted in-laws team of the Packers along w/ my Buff Love were what made or broke my weekend.

After years of Yahoo Snake Drafts and deep benches and playing against people I had no face or idea who they were and with my interest decreasing in fantasy football due to real football, coaching wrestling at a local high school and mainly a fiancĂ©e and house that had my attention, in 2007 a co-worker let me know he had an opening in his Fantasy Football League and wanted to see if I was interested.  It was an Auction League, used Accumulative/Total Point Scoring and had a $100 buy-in.  There were unique rules (some that I later disagreed with but we all have our own rules and rights so I probably was a bit of an ass how I approached it, but who would expect anything less from an Ace like me?!) but it was the most fair way I had ever seen fantasy football conducted.  It was more like the college game that rewarded a great season, rather than who snuck in and get lucky to have the healthiest players and match-ups at the end of the season.  It rewarded the best overall fantasy football manager in the league. 

So some knowledge and background from the above.  Money Leagues have been around since the inception of fantasy football in the 60s.  It was actually the way many leagues were done before the internet made it available to the masses and had all these free leagues where only about 40% of the people stay interested.  Money Leagues tend to keep owners interested longer and is a form of gambling that is cheaper than playing cards 17 weeks a year.  An Auction Draft is where each owner has a salary to draft their team.  Some require each roster spot you draft has a dollar value.  Some require just the starters be drafted with that and some vary.  Auction drafts allow a team to draft in many varieties (look for future post about that) but the biggest draw to it is everyone in the league has a shot to get the top players and a team can spend the majority of their money and land the 2 highest regarded players.  That is impossible in Snake Drafts and another reason Auction leagues are now options on the major sites these past couple years after being something only the live in-house draft could accomplish.

So back to the 2007 Draft:  I learned quickly that the live in-house (or bar) group of people drafting together is the best way to conduct a fantasy football draft.  There is more involvement (i.e. shit talking, bravado, food and for the dumb asses that like to donate money-drunkenness), more enjoyment and you get to interact and really get into the league from the beginning.  I remember that first draft, I knew the commish that invited me into the league (my co-worker at the time) and had seen 3 or 4 other people at Poker tournaments he hosted but it was a little overwhelming.  I was The New Guy.  I was last to arrive and I was nervous as could be.  I sat back and bid but made a ton of rookie mistakes that I still make today.  Auction Drafting does one thing to you that Snake doesn't, if you fall in love with a player, rather than reaching on them a round or two early, you spend too much of your budget to fill your team with enough adequate supporting cast and I have done that a few times.  The draft lasted about 3-4 hours but it was fun.  The end to fill the bench went by quickly because people were mentally spent and you saw some guys that were reached on because people didn't care.  From watching the better owners and reading more on it, this is where the best gain their advantage and clean up building a strong bench and supporting cast to support their superstars.  In some cases, this is where breakout fantasy super stars are got for nothing.  I played another year and got my Uncle involved in Fantasy Football again after years away (he took 1st in the league) and from that the following year in 2009 we started our own league where we could call the shots.  We are both the type that when it comes to sports, we like to call the shots, just like the NFL.

The NFL finally realized they were never going to discourage the gambling of fantasy football and instead embraced it beginning in 2010 with the launch of leagues supported through their site.  Again, it was a way for them to get a piece of the pie even though they had most of the pie.  In 2013, they have now made fantasy football part of the game experience.  WiFi is now being increased in NFL stadiums so fans can use their smart phones to check how their team is doing.  Stats around the league are being updated regularly the past couple years.  So let's tie this all back together, shall we?!

I was the Super Fan, the guy sitting next to me was the Super Fan, the lady in the Manning jersey was the Super Fan The key word is WAS.  We are all checking our smartphone instead of being really upset about how bad the team is playing or super excited and enthralled in what is happening in the game, we are more worried about some player we could give two shits about when we trade him to some sucker after he has two good weeks and we know is at his highest value.  We go to work Monday and instead of bitching about the game to someone, we bitch about how bad our fantasy team was.  We hardly talk about the game and how amazing that last minute drive was, because we are too concerned about what is going on with OUR team, the Blitz Craig Plops, the ManningUp Maniacs, The Brady Bunch, etc, and not our NFL franchise team we buy jerseys of and go through the motions with every week until the playoffs. 

The NFL's ticket sales and waiting lists are hurting.  Football on TV is such a great product and the ability to relax and spend less money while enjoying comfort and getting a great experience are huge.  And fantasy football accessibility is as well.  That's why the local Target isn't empty during a game like it used to be.  There is TiVo, there is WiFi, 3G, 4G and now as the Manning family told us in an awful commercial song, there is football on your phone.  The NFL Sunday ticket wasn't made mainly for the fan in Denver wanting to watch his Bears in Chicago.  It was made just as much for the guy that has to see his fantasy stars play and rack up points for him. 

So when you are bummed out after losing a weekly Fantasy Football match-up to your buddy or you take the lowest score in the league for that week, remember Fantasy Football has ruined you and killed that Super Fan that friends, family and strangers knew to stay away from after a tough loss and turned you into the mumbling crazy talking about The Pack It to Me tanking it that week instead of the Green Bay Packers win.

Long live Fantasy Football!  Good bye Super Fan!

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Early & Quick Look into Broncos 53-man roster:

QB: Manning, Osweiler, Dysert (3)-Dysert has necessary size and wouldn't last on waivers.  Need a 3rd QB.  The first two are no brainers
RB: Monte Ball, Hillman, Moreno, Hester (4)-A 5th back makes sense, but I am assuming there will be a lot of 5 REC sets and single backs, so why keep 5?
TE: Julius Thomas, Dreesen, Tamme (3)-There are cheaper options but Tamme and Dreesen are proven vets and Thomas is a REC wildcard that needs to make this THE year.
WR: D. Thomas, Decker, Welker, King, Holliday, Greg Orton (6): Andre Caldwell doesn't play Special Teams and they need 6 RECs with Holliday not having body to play WR on more than misdirections.
OT: Clady, Franklin, Clark (3)
OG: Vasquez, Beadles, Kuper, Phillip Blake (4)
C: Lilja, Ramierez (2)-JD Walton will start on the IR or PUP

25 Total Offense

Spec. Teams: Colquitt, Prater, Aaron Brewer

3 Special Teams

DE: Wolfe, Phillips, Ayers, Quanterus Smith, Malik Jackson (5): Phillips can play OLB when needed as well. 
DT: Knighton, Vickerson, Sylvester Williams, Unrein (4)
LB: Von Miller, Woodyard, Trevathan, Bradley, Irving, Steven Johnson (5): See Phillips and see the fact Nickel is main defense in today's NFL
CB: Bailey, Chris Harris Jr, Rodgers-Cromartie, Tony Carter,  Kayvon Webster, Omar Bolden (6)
S: Rahim Moore, Bruton, Ihenacho, Quinton Carter(4)- Broncos go very young

25 Total Defense

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Colorado Football to Bring Back Respectability in 2013...

Before you look forward, you must look at the past and see what must be done to fix those problems and ensure a brighter future.-Me

The University of Colorado Football Program is coming off it's seventh consecutive losing season which is the longest in school history.  In those seven years, the Buffs have only been to a bowl game once, during the 2007 season.  The Buffs longest drought without a bowl was from 1978 to 1984, from the end of Bill Mallory era through the ugly sky blue Fairbanks era and two seasons of rebuilding under Bill McCartney.  In the seven year window, the Buffs from 78-84 had roughly a 27% win percentage.  The Buffs of the past seven only slightly better winning at roughly a 29% clip.  Either way, you slice it the past seven years have been as brutal as it can get in today's power conferences for a program that was always at least respectable to watch from the turnaround in 1985 until Gary Barnett's departure near the end of the 2005 season.

Respectability; that is something that was wiped away as a Buff fan and for the football program last year.  It started with Dan Hawkins not being the right guy to come from a smaller conference to a bigger conference.  Hawkins flaws were plenty.  He did not seem to be a good game day coach.  His recruiting was pedestrian.  Few players seemed to improve greatly over their time at CU (Nate Solder may be the exception; Ryan Miller was proof positive since he seemed to stay the same or regress over his career).  He had all this coach speak but lacked coaching ability.  Last, he set the program years back by allowing his son to play Big XII football when he was Mountain West or less talent. 

Colorado paid for this until Jon Embree took over starting in 2011 but the effects of Hawkins could still be felt showing in the way the Buffs played last year.  The Buffs lacked a quarterback and leader that could make the difference and bring a team together in 2012.  They were missing much more than that as well; Embree was forced to play a secondary filled with freshman last year and fill in holes at other places with his 2012 recruiting class.  Many of those men regressed as the season went, taking beatings from the pass happy Pac 12 conference offenses.  While Embree seemed to recruit some solid young talent in his second recruiting class, the 2013 class did not look promising with very few recruits showing the interest they had the previous year under Embree.  The Buffs had the largest point differential in major college football.  They looked inept on both sides of the football.  Yes, the talent to compete wasn't there but losses to CSU and Sacramento State exposed a staff that was overmatched as well.  CU had more talent than both teams but lost close games because the other team was coached better and made the adjustments needed to win the game.  The regular weekly blowouts that came throughout the season (other than against Washington State and Utah where the staff actually made some adjustments to make those games respectable) weighed heavily on fans.  The excitement was gone early in the season and was only getting worse.  The excitement that ended with a win at the conclusion of the 2011 season was thrown away to the ski slopes and parties students and fans would rather attend than another game in 2012.  It didn't take long for the Buffs administration to see what fans saw; a lack of interest from off the field and lack of direction, overmatched coaching and a football program that was at it's lowest since 1981.  Things continued to spiral down into a Mark Sanchez like Butt Stumble from the mess of a Jon Embree press conference to the botched hiring process of having Butch Jones take the Colorado job losing out on their first choice of head football coach and sitting back and suddenly realizing they better find someone actually interested and grabbing Mike MacIntyre from San Jose State.  But the stumbling continued with a late year firing resignation of Mike Bohn as Athletic Director and then waiting over a month and a half to finally land his replacement in Rick George (More about George's hiring)

With this whirlwind of the past eight months, things have finally calmed and it appears the Buffs have the parts in place to get back to respectability on the football field in 2013.  They have an AD with plenty of knowledge on how to bring money into a business who also has a history in college football and will be that bridge that seems to have been missing between administration and football since Mike Bohn was hired.  The biggest reason that Buffs fans can look forward to a better season and future on the gridiron is Mike MacIntyre, but there are other facets to this that include players from the previous coaching staffs and the staff Mike MacIntyre has brought with him to Boulder.

Mike MacIntyre's brings a history to Colorado that is needed; COACHING!!!  MacIntyre has 23 years of coaching under his belt with a half dozen of those years working with one of the greatest football minds ever in Bill Parcells.  MacIntyre also brings building a program up to national respectability from the gutter taking a San Jose State.  He has lead a team before but also coached for years as an assistant at high levels of football to better understand the game; where as the past two coaches did not have that sort of background behind them.  The best thing MacIntyre brings with him may be his staff.  MacIntyre brought quite a few assistants from San Jose State, starting with Kent Baer as his Defensive Coordinator who has years been recognized as a great defensive mind and successful one at that.  Brian Lindgren is a young offensive coordinator, but comes with a quarterback's history.  The most successful offensive coordinators seem to have been former quarterbacks at one time.  The pistol formation will be the main one used under his system and it's a system shown to put a lot of points on the board and generate yardage and eat clock.  Lindgren seemed to work well with David Fales at SJSU and seems to have a good rapport with CUs projected starting QB in Connor Wood.  Wood seems to have taken a leadership role and taken over the teams offense under Lindgren after looking uncomfortable with the staff last year.

Notes on the rest of MacIntyre's staff:
Gary Bernardi (Offensive Line)-32 years at FBS Level with 24 of those in the Pac 12.
Jim Jeffcoat (Defensive Line)-Spent over two decades in the NFL game as a player or coach.  He has deep ties to Texas which has shown in landing some recruits for the 2014 class.
Troy Walters (Wide Receivers/Recruiting Coordinator)-Walters played 8 years in the pros and has been coaching at FCS schools the past 3 years.  He was such a hot commodity that Butch Jones (yes he of being CUs head coach overnight and gone the next day) tried to pry him from CU shortly after he accepted an offer from the Buffs.  Walters seems to really fit well with this group of Receivers and a level that was a position of weakness may now be a position of strength.  His recruiting has been successful so far with the last couple months gaining a lot of steam in the California area.  He can relate to young players and is well known for taking to social media.
Charles Clark (Safeties) and Andy LaRussa (Corners)-Both are young coaches but they have two great defensive minds to lean on in MacIntyre and Baer and they come over to CU from San Jose State so there will be a comfort there.
Toby Neinas (Special Teams)-History with Special Teams and many other positions on defensive side of the ball.
Klayton Adams (RBs/TEs)-The biggest concern/question mark.  He has no history with RBs and has a history as a lineman and with TEs the last couple years.  It can be assumed Offensive Grad Assistant Mike Pitre, a former FB at UCLA, will assist Adams here.  Additionally, Darian Hagan is Player Development Director and has a tie as RB coach.

The coaching appears to be a vast improvement on years in the FBS Level and especially years at the main positions of Head Coach and Offensive and Defensive Coordinator compared to what the staffs of the previous 7 years had.  These guys know how to coach lesser talent or talent that hasn't been coached adequately and turn them into winners.  That is exciting to see for Buffs fans and a reason for optimism.  Additionally, the Director of Sports Performance of Dave Forman seems to emphasize improving the teams health and strength combined.  The team looked slow and winded at times last year.  Forman has a history at Stanford before SJSU where in the last 4 years you can see both programs have increased speed dramatically.  From the workouts Forman had this team doing, it sounds like Colorado Football will be emphasizing this as well which is needed to compete at the Pac 12 level.

The turnaround starting in 2013 begins with the players though.  While Colorado appears to be thin in many areas, there is talent that was not there last season.  It all starts at Quarterback.  Connor Wood is the most highly recruited Quarterback the University of Colorado has had on campus since Craig Uh-Ochs.  The problem is he hasn't shown anything from it in a game situation.  Spring Football under the new staff seemed to strike something in Wood.  Almost from the first day of Spring Camp Wood seemed to take the reins of the team and drive them in the right direction.  His decisions looked sharp in camp and he seemed to have built a good rapport with his receivers, which have gone from a weakness in having two possession receivers in Nelson Spruce and Tyler McCulloch last year being the main guys to having a healed Paul Richardson back along with DD Goodson in the slot and Jeff Thomas to bring additional speed and playmaking ability to the group.  The re-addition of Richardson can not be overlooked.  Richardson was one of the highlights from the middle of 2010 to mid 2011.  In that 11 game span he had 924 yards and 11 touchdowns.  Colorado needs that production from Richardson and after finally getting healthy after a year and a half of dealing with injuries and other issues, he appears confident and ready to shine in 2013.  If healthy, Richardson has the potential to have the greatest season as a Receiver in CU's history with the offense being brought in and the high scoring games seen in the Pac 12 and college football today.   CU has only had 6-1000 yards receiving season in their history and 2013 should see the seventh time and 5th player to do so.

Colorado also returns a RB corp that is completely intact from last season.  The strength in this group is Christian Powell.  Powell had three monster games where he amassed 7 TDs and 405 yards.  He needs to stay healthy (concussion and other injury bugs haunted him in between those big games) but he has the body to be a workhorse.  Additionally, they have speedsters in Tony Jones and Donte Abron that have shown the ability to hit the big play for long touchdowns. 

The strengths on offense seem to lay in those areas alone.  The offensive line has 3 guys that started the majority of last year and another that got significant playing time but they lost two players from last year with one of them perhaps lining up at LT for the Green Bay Packers in 2013 in David Bakhtiari and the other transferring to Nebraska in Alex Lewis.  Jack Harris moves from RG to LT, Stephane Nembot is a mountain at RT but has a slow first step and the G-C combo of Handler and Munyer is solid but not spectacular.  While I don't think this unit is as bad off as some do, they do lose the strength of their line and will have to have guys take the next step and perhaps some young guys step up to cover for injuries to improve from the terrible season the team had last year.  As they say, it starts up front.  The other area up front is the Tight End position.  They lost Nick Kasa whom converted into a solid player after switching late his junior year from DL to TE.  They currently have a lot of untested players there and Tight End is a nice safety valve for the college quarterback.  A couple players performed well, especially Alex Wood, but this is an area that has been lacking much talent brought in.  Hopefully a young guy gets into the fold and contributes immediately.

This all circles back to quarterback.  Connor Wood HAS to have a solid year and take this offense over.  He can not make the fans want to play a true freshman in Sefo Liufau who is fairly well recruited but appears a little lean and the history of success for true frosh QBs is not high for teams coming off such tough seasons.  A wild card is Jordan Gehrke, a late JUCO transfer.  He may be given every chance to play if Wood looks bad.  If Colorado is to have any hope, they can't play the quarterback shuffle again this year.

Defensively, there is excitement... because of the coaching experience.  Otherwise, there are question marks aplenty.  The good news is they have a player in Chidera Uzo-Diribe who looks like he should have a big year ahead of him with the potential of having double digit sacks.  Currently, there are guys who have seen snaps but haven't made much of an impact.  Hopefully a more experienced coach at this position and a year under their belt makes them take that next step.  They have a lot of players with experience on defense but for a defense that got taken to the wood shed constantly, how good of news is this?  It appears they have more speed at the LB position losing the step slow Jon Major and the constantly injured Doug Rippy, but other than Derrick Webb they don't have anyone that has started but a few games.  Brady Daigh showed flashes when filling in but coming off injury he is currently the second team MLB.  Early in fall camp when the pads come on, the staff will be able to decide who fits best.  Secondary was an absolute hole in 2011 due to not having enough players and 2012 due to the youth.  In 2013, the corners may be the best strength on defense.  Greg Henderson has been the highlight of the past two years, hardly getting beat and playing solid defense no matter who he faces.  His game is a lot like Chris Harris of the Broncos, formerly Kansas.  Strong, shorter, not highly touted but you can put him on anyone and make that receiver quiet.  The other corner is Kenneth Crawley who struggled most of the year but really started to come on for the Buffs as the season developed.  They have solid depth in Yuri Wright and Josh Moten as well as some solid RS-Frosh and true frosh to push for nickel and dime positions.  At Safety, they have one of the longest tenured Buffs that if healthy is a solid Safety in Parker Orms.  Orms played out of position at corner for a couple seasons due to the attrition at that position.  He is a little slow for the Pac 12 but it doesn't show as much when he's at Safety.  If he can stay healthy, he is a great anchor to have in the back.  Terrell Smith, Jered Bell and Marques Mosley all have ability.  Bell was a solid pass defender before a knee injury the past season kept him from playing.  Mosley never seemed to improve at Safety but showed flashes.  He has talent but being forced to stay on the field due to a lack of a back-up was hard on him and it showed.  With this group and a year under their belt and the experienced staff, this defense should at least see improvements to be in the double digits of the 70s-90s in pass defense rather than the bottom 20+ teams like last year.

Their Kicking and Punting should  be strengths with Darragh O'Neil rated amongst the nations best punters in the pre-season.  Will Oliver didn't get many opportunities to kick, due to being so far behind in games and the previous staff's coaching decisions, but has shown ability.

Colorado is once again young but they have a ton of players returning with great experience.  Their departing senior class was nothing that made you yearn for another year from them but the desire to see if hopefully there was something better.  Colorado has the pieces to return to respectability in 2013 from a staff that is going in saying the right things and pumping some light and positivity back in this program.  The spring game and practices were the most organized and well done that fans have seen for many years.  The negative aspect of chewing out players and the feeling that there is no chance to improve is being wiped away with Mike MacIntyre's ability to really excite this group.  While Colorado may have a difficult time winning more than 2-3 games, the direction appears different.  It appears they are moving up and forward.  The thought is CU will have a toss-up game against CSU, should win against FCS Central Arkansas and other than that, there is little to no chance.  Others see it that they have 3 winnable first games (thought they should be reminded CU was no match for Fresno State last year) and then there are 3 more winnable games that could come out of Arizona State, Arizona, Cal, Oregon State, Washington & Utah.  The eternal pessimist says 1 win, the eternal optimist says 6-7 and a bowl game.  The realist will say "I see this team improving daily already.  I don't care how many wins they have, I just want them to get better, show signs that years to come will be better and most of all that this 2013 team brings back respectability to CU!"