2014 CFN Preview - Colorado Buffaloes
Colorado LB Addison Gillam
Colorado LB Addison Gillam
Posted Jun 5, 2014

CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - It's slow, but the Buffs are starting to make steady progress. (Getty Images)

Colorado Buffaloes

Preview 2014

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By Rich Cirminiello
- 2014 Colorado Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players

- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Mike MacIntyre
2nd year: 4-8
5th year overall: 20-29
Returning Lettermen
Off. 23, Def. 28, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 21
Ten Best Buffalo Players
1. LB Addison Gillam, Soph.
2. WR Nelson Spruce, Jr.
3. CB Greg Henderson, Jr.
4. DT Josh Tupou, Jr.
5. RB Christian Powell, Jr.
6. OG Daniel Munyer, Sr.
7. QB Sefo Liufau, Soph.
8. CB Chidobe Awuzie , Soph.
9. PK Will Oliver, Sr.
10. CB Kenneth Crawley, Jr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 29 Colorado St (in Denver)
Sep. 6 at UMass
Sep. 13 Arizona State
Sep. 20 Hawaii
Sep. 27 at Cal
Oct. 4 Oregon State
Oct. 18 at USC
Oct. 25 UCLA
Nov. 1 Washington
Nov. 8 at Arizona
Nov. 22 at Oregon
Nov. 29 Utah

It's a slow process, but the Buffs are finally moving in the right direction.

Second-year head coach Mike MacIntyre is a fixer, and he's fixing to get Colorado a little closer to its first bowl game since 2007 and its first winning season since 2005.

The Buffaloes improved by three wins a year ago, while breaking in a new coach and a true freshman quarterback, Sefo Liufau. Beyond the simplicity of the record, this team executed a little tighter and played with more confidence, trends that figure to continue again this fall.

In 2013, the Buffaloes scored 7.6 more points than in 2012 and allowed 7.8 fewer points per game. It's not only a start, but also evidence of the impact of MacIntyre, the guy who led San Jose State to 10 wins and a No. 21 ranking in the final 2012 AP poll. San Jose State.

MacIntyre is off to a nice start in Boulder, where the challenges of competing in the Pac-12 are numerous. And he and his staff have done it by using a slew of underclassmen.

Going young last fall means Colorado returns a whopping 53 letterwinners and 15 players who started at least six games on offense or defense in 2013. The Buffs are banking on being more mature and less uncertain, especially behind center.

In Liufau, the program feels it finally has a young quarterback it can build around for the foreseeable future. And if Liufau suffers through a sophomore slump, former JUCO transfer Jordan Gehrke has looked tailor-made this offseason for the Pistol attack.

Coordinator Kent Baer's defense may have taken a statistical step in the right direction in 2013, but there's a ton of work still left to be done. Topping Colorado's priority list is to toughen up in the trenches. The Buffs' inability to hold up at the point of attack dramatically impacts their ability to move a pile or effectively get after the quarterback. If Colorado gets even a little more physical, behind the likes of rising DT Josh Tupou, it'll have a direct and immediate impact on the numbers and the outcomes of games.

Last year's four wins were Colorado's most in three years, and it was done with a lot of pups in the lineup. With MacIntyre meticulously nurturing the development of his young kids, Colorado is poised to inch a little closer to respectability this fall.

What to look for on offense: Patching up the O-line. The Buffs were ineffective at the line of scrimmage last season. And now they need reinforcements at the two most important positions, center and left tackle. Colorado is set at guard with Daniel Munyer and Kaiwi Crabb, and Stephane Nembot has 19 career starts at right tackle. Sophomore Alex Kelley is the frontrunner at center after playing 97 snaps in 2013. Left tackle could come down to who's healthier, junior Marc Mustoe or sophomore Jeromy Irwin. Mustoe broke his leg last year, and had yet to be cleared to lift weights in the spring. Irwin has a high ceiling that can't be realized until after he's fully recovered from foot surgery.

What to look for on defense: The need for a pass rush. Colorado had two defensive linemen with at least three sacks last season. Chidera Uzo-Diribe graduated and Samson Kafovalu missed the spring because of academic issues. The name to watch at defensive end is Derek McCartney, who was named Most Improved Defensive Lineman following spring. The 6-3, 240-pound redshirt freshman, and grandson of legendary Buffs head coach Bill McCartney, has shown the get-off and intensity that this D desperately needs.

The team will be much better if ... it starts faster. Yes, the Buffs improved versus the prior season, but not so much in the first half of games. The only quarter Colorado won in 2013 was the fourth, the proverbial case of too little, too late. The average halftime score of a game was 23-11 in favor of the other guys. The Buffs need to get out of the gate a little quicker this year, keeping the offense from having to operate in a frenetic hurry-up mode.

The Schedule: The Buffs have their share of tests, including the annual rivalry date with Colorado State in Denver to kick things off, but there are breaks. Missing Stanford from the North isn't bad, but they have to go to Oregon and also face Cal, Oregon State and Washington in interdivsional play. Even with two good streches of three home games in four, it'll be rough with road games at USC and Arizona to go along with the date with the Ducks. Fortunately, the non-confrence slate isn't bad with UMass and Hawaii to face as well as CSU.

Best Offensive Player: Junior WR Nelson Spruce. Every young quarterback needs a security blanket, either a clutch receiver or a back who can absorb some heat. For sophomore Sefo Liufau, that guy is Spruce. Spruce has already started 21 games, and he's continuously improving as a polished pass-catcher. He does plenty of little things that help a battery mate, such as coming back for balls when the pocket collapses, and securing even bad balls. Spruce is ready to step up and assume a larger share of the passing game now that all-star Paul Richardson is in the pros.

Best Defensive Player: Sophomore Addison Gillam. Colorado caught a break for a change. Gillam played at such a small school in the hills of California that other Pac-12 programs didn't even know his name, allowing the Buffs to scoop up a budding star. Gillam is much more than a tackling machine from middle linebacker. He's already a team leader, whose work ethic and quest for perfection is rubbing off on teammates around him. If Colorado takes another step forward in 2014, Gillam will surely be spearheading it on defense with his physical, vocal and emotional leadership.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Sefo Liufau. The Buffaloes are hoping to take the next step forward on offense, which is going to require Liufau to build on his solid debut out of high school. He started seven games in 2013 to lay the groundwork for the future. Liufau must not only evolve as a passer, but the staff is banking on him becoming a more dangerous runner out of the Pistol as well. The encouraging reality for Colorado is that Liufau is so mature and level-headed that he'll embrace the challenge of being a team leader.

The season will be a success if ... the Buffaloes win two league games. It's a modest pursuit, sure, but one that'll mean Colorado is gradually climbing up the Pac-12 ladder. It defeated lowly Cal last year, yet was generally pummeled the rest of the time. Since the non-conference slate includes games with Colorado State, UMass and Hawaii, two Pac-12 victories positions the Buffs to have a crack at going 5-7. And progress is the buzzword in Boulder these days.

Key game: Nov. 29 vs. Utah. Colorado has already caught up to Cal in the Pac-12 pecking order. Its sights are now locked on to Utah, which had to hold off a Buffs' rally last November to secure a 24-17 victory. MacIntyre's rebuilding process will be gradual, with Colorado content to move up the ladder one rung at a time. The balance of the conference schedule is littered with teams that are out of the Buffs' reach at this time.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Average score after three quarters: Colorado 14.6 – Opponents 32.4
- Yards per rush: Colorado 3.4 – Opponents 4.9
- Times penetrated opponent 20: Colorado 32 - Opponents 62

- 2014 Colorado Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players