2012 Colorado Preview – Stopping The Slide
Colorado RB Tony Jones
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Colorado Buffaloes
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- By Richard Cirminiello
Jon Embree's first season as the head coach at his alma mater was supposed to be challenging. It was. Now, he and his staff are looking to gradually build on last year's 3-10 campaign.
Head coach: Jon Embree
Second year: 3-10
Off. 19, Def. 21, ST 5
Lettermen Lost: 30
Ten Best Colorado Players
1. OT David Bakhtiari, Jr.
2. LB Jon Major, Sr.
3. LB Doug Rippy, Sr.
4. DT Will Pericak, Sr.
5. CB Greg Henderson, Soph.
6. DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Jr.
7. QB Connor Wood, Soph.
8. FS Ray Polk, Sr.
9. RB Tony Jones, Soph.
10. LB Derrick Webb, Jr.
Sep. 2 Colorado State
Sep. 8 Sacramento State
Sep. 15 at Fresno State
Sep. 22 at Washington St
Sep. 29 UCLA
Oct. 6 OPEN DATE
Oct. 11 Arizona State
Oct. 20 at USC
Oct. 27 at Oregon
Nov. 3 Stanford
Nov. 10 at Arizona
Nov. 17 Washington
Nov. 23 Utah
Last season was tough on Embree, who was accustomed to different results as a player and an assistant with the program. He knew his Buffaloes had slipped considerably under Dan Hawkins, but this far? The losing was a bitter pill to swallow, but so was the state of the program, which wasn't ready to compete on a high level in its debut in the Pac-12. So, the coaches went to work with a bottom up approach, hitting the recruiting trail as hard as the practice field. Colorado may not have been bowl-ready in 2011, but it wouldn't be because of a lack of trying.
The Buffs will likely remain on the outside of the postseason picture, but after a full season under the new regime, they should be better positioned to compete on a week-in, week-out basis. The stark reality is that Colorado simply lacks the depth and overall talent at this time to make a lot of noise in the conference.
On the bright side, the program used a slew of young kids who'll be far less unsure of their assignments in the second year with Embree in charge, and closed out 2011 with a pair of November upsets. Hope can be found in those underclassmen, such as RB Tony Jones, CB Greg Henderson and former Texas Longhorns QB Connor Wood, who've bought into the staff's teachings and energy.
The last time the Buffaloes finished above .500 it was 2005, so the transformation in culture will be an ongoing process in Boulder. Fans must be patient. The players and coaches just need to keep giving maximum effort in order to endure this lean time.
Colorado is still in the early stages of a difficult rebuilding plan. However, there's cautious—and justifiable—hope that the second chapter of this story won't be quite as traumatic as the first one.
What to look for offense: A new collection of go-to guys. Whether it's Connor Wood or Nick Hirschman behind center, he'll need to develop chemistry with a new set of players now that RB Rodney Stewart and WR Toney Clemons have graduated, and WR Paul Richardson has been lost to a knee injury. There's just no escaping the fact that the Buffs are going to be young, with underclassmen dominating the starting lineup. Sophomore Tony Jones, who plays as if he's channeling Stewart, has pulled ahead at running back. Redshirt freshman Nelson Spruce and sophomore Tyler McCulloch are the two receivers most likely to attempt to pick up the slack left by Richardson's season-ending mishap.
What to look for on defense: A breakout season for DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe. His junior year about to begin, Uzo-Diribe is on the verge of becoming a dangerous pass rusher for the Buffaloes. He's always had the requisite get-off and athleticism, but now he's got a little more bulk needed to better compete on an every down basis. Last fall, he finished second on the team with 5.5 sacks purely on a situational basis. This fall, he'll have an opportunity to double that number, while grabbing the attention of all-league voters and possibly pro scouts.
The team will be much better if ... it can find a way to increase its total of takeaways. In 2010, the Buffaloes created a mere 19 turnovers. In 2011, the number dipped to 15, lowest in the Pac-12 and just 105th in the country. If Colorado is going to narrow gap on the conference's more talented members, it'll need to locate an edge in less conventional ways. Special teams is one possibility, but the Buffs are very good in that area yet. A more attainable goal would be to generate a few more big plays that halt drives, and shift the momentum of a game.
The Schedule: The Buffs start out with three of the first four games away from Boulder, but that counts the season opener against Colorado State in Denver. With a little bit of luck they could be just good enough to start out 4-0 if they can get through the new coaching staffs at Colorado State, Fresno State and Washington State, then they get home dates against two more new coaching staffs against UCLA and Arizona State. Any and all fun over the first half of the season will go bye-bye with back-to-back road dates against USC and Oregon, but three of the final four games are at home including a winnable date against Washington before closing out against Utah.
Best Offensive Player: Junior LT David Bakhtiari. Bakhtiari has shown signs of becoming the next in a growing line of linemen who use Boulder as a stepping stone to the NFL. After playing right tackle in 2010, he excelled as current New England Patriot Nate Solder's successor on Tyler Hansen's blindside, earning a spot on the All-Pac-12 Second Team. He graded out highest among the team's blockers, made just a single penalty all year and generally did a terrific job of keeping the pocket clean.
Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Jon Major. Major left doubts that he was all the back from 2010 season-ending MCL sprain, leading his team with 85 tackles, while adding seven stops behind the line. He'll once again be the leader of the Buffaloes D, both physically and emotionally. An instinctive and rugged 6-2, 240-pounder, he'll sift and grapple his way through traffic in order to find his target. Major has also shown a knack for being clutch and timely, often saving his biggest wallops when the other guys are looking to convert on third and short.
Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Connor Wood. Or sophomore Nick Hirschman. It's been almost a decade of futility for Colorado at quarterback, and it's high time that a paradigm shift occurs. The Buffs believe they have two budding, albeit inexperienced, hurlers capable of going against the grain in 2012. Yeah, there will be hurdles for the underclassmen, such as their lack of reps and proven receivers, but they have the raw physical skills that none of their recent predecessors possessed. Even if the numbers aren't gaudy early on, it'll be up to one of the quarterbacks to cultivate more hope by becoming the face of the program.
The season will be a success if ... Colorado is still in the hunt for bowl-eligibility in November. At this early juncture of the Embree era, the program will be judged by its progress, both in the standings and on film. The Buffs need to be a more competitive member of the Pac-12 this fall, especially with a first half schedule that's conducive to a fast start. Only one of their first six opponents, UCLA, bowled last season, and the Bruins wound up two games below .500. Colorado is capable of capturing enough games in September and October to be mathematically alive for the postseason in the final weeks.
Key game: Sept. 2 vs. Colorado State. Sure, it's a rivalry game, but it's also a potential tone-setter for the Buffaloes. A resounding win in Denver could provide the school with the boost it needs to carry it through upcoming winnable games with Sacramento State, Fresno State and Washington State. A loss, however, would be a potential damning indication that Colorado has made only nominal strides—or worse—from last season's 3-10 disappointment.
2011 Fun Stats:
- Average first down gain: Colorado 4.8 – Opponents 6.2
- Third down efficiency: Colorado 36.0% – Opponents 46.8%
- Blocked kicks: Colorado 1 - Opponents 6
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