Colorado faces one of the most challenging schedules in the nation.
By: Athlon Sports | 6/5/11, 4:56 PM EDT
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PAC-12 South PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Jon Embree, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Eric Bienemy | DEF. COORDINATOR: Greg Brown
No one is going to confuse the Buffs with some of the more explosive offenses in the Pac-12, but this team has enough talent to surprise those who underestimate it.
The offense is loaded with experience and likely will start a number of seniors, including quarterback Tyler Hansen, running back Rodney Stewart, tight end Ryan Deehan, receiver Toney Clemons and three offensive linemen. But there isn’t a lot of depth, and injuries at any of those positions could be trouble.
Hansen earned the starting job early at the end of spring practice. Coaches really had no choice, with Hansen demonstrating he was the man for the job by absorbing the new offense quickly and directing it with the type of efficiency and consistency redshirt freshman Nick Hirschman and junior transfer Brent Burnette couldn’t match.
Hansen was the starter through the first seven games last fall before he suffered a ruptured spleen that ended his season. He set a school record by completing 68.3 percent of his passes, but he threw only six touchdown passes and had six interceptions. Those numbers will have to improve drastically for him to be successful.
Stewart ran for 1,318 yards as a junior and racked up more than 1,600 yards of total offense. The new West Coast system figures to suit his talents well. Sophomore wide receiver Paul Richardson is the big-play threat. He made four plays covering 50 yards or more as a true freshmen in 2010.
The offensive line should be solid despite the loss of All-America left tackle Nate Solder, but was dealt a blow in early summer with the departure of center Mike Iltis.
The big question mark defensively is on the perimeter, where departed senior cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown must be replaced. Defensive coordinator Greg Brown likes to be aggressive, and he depends on his cornerbacks’ ability to cover one-on-one to free up teammates. No one emerged to claim either job in spring.
The strengths of the unit are two experienced safeties, Anthony Perkins and Ray Polk, and the linebacking corps led by juniors Jon Major and Doug Rippy. The defensive line also features a strong cast of veterans, led by Will Pericak, Conrad Obi and Chidera Uzo-Diribe. True freshmen Juda Parker and Stephan Nembot could get some opportunities for early playing time as well.
If the Buffs can get competent play at cornerback, they could be competitive against the explosive offenses around the Pac-12. If not, coaches will have to get creative.
There will be a training camp battle for the placekicking job between sophomore Justin Castor, whose only 2010 attempt was blocked, and true freshman Will Oliver. CU needs consistency here after the roller-coaster ride of the past three seasons in the kicking game. Sophomore Zach Grossnickle is the favorite to handle the punting.
There’s excitement around the program with the arrival of a new coach, CU alum Jon Embree. But this is largely the same team that went 5–7 last year.
Colorado faces one of the most challenging schedules in the nation. The Buffs play 11 teams from BCS Conferences, and their 13-week schedule lacks a bye.
Anything but a last-place finish in the Pac-12 South would be a surprise.