Pac-12: Colorado Buffaloes
David Dermer/Getty ImagesAlex Lewis' decision to transfer leaves a hole to fill on Colorado's offensive line.
So be it. This is just another among the challenges MacIntyre has to overcome at Colorado.
Lewis missed all of spring ball after having shoulder surgery in November. The Buffs were certainly looking forward to getting him and his experience back in the fall, but in his absence others were able to work in at the position -- meaning they won't be starting completely from scratch when fall camp comes around. Still, Lewis was all-league honorable mention last year, so his departure isn't an insignificant one by any means.
Just another obstacle Mac & Co. will have to deal with moving forward.
So where does this leave the Buffs up front?
- Left tackle: Jack Harris moves over, and he has some experience after starting 11 games last year -- six at right guard and five at right tackle. He finally got some consistent playing time after missing the majority of 2011 with an ankle injury. Depth is a huge issue, here, however.
- Left guard: Vacated by Lewis, junior Kaiwi Crabb sat atop the post-spring depth chart while Lewis was rehabbing his shoulder. Sophomore Jeromy Irwin will also be in the mix and sits second on the depth chart.
- Center: Gus Handler is solid and will probably be on the Rimington watchlist again. He started the final 10 games of 2011 and started five games last year before suffering ankle and knee injuries. Other than learning a new system and adjusting to a new set of starters on the line, the Buffs are set in the middle. Brad Cotner sits behind Handler on the depth chart, and Daniel Munyer also has some experience at center after filling in for Handler last year.
- Right guard: Munyer, who missed most of spring with a fractured fibula, was an all-league honorable mention last year and should be 100 percent by August. He started all 12 games last year, six at right guard and the remaining six at center filling in for Handler. He's probably Colorado's most consistent performer on the line. Alex Kelley will back him up.
- Right tackle: Stephane Nembot played in 10 games last year, starting seven. Injuries forced him into action during his redshirt freshman season, so the sophomore has some experience. Marc Mustoe is No. 2 on the depth chart.
The Buffs also have five linemen coming in -- most of them with good size already (Gunnar Graham, 6-foot-5, 305 pounds; Jonathan Huckins, 6-3, 310; Sam Kronshage, 6-5, 275; John Lisella, 6-4, 240; and Colin Sutton 6-5, 295).
It's likely one or more will have to, at the very least, crack the two-deep and help provide some depth.
What they're selling: Rich Rodriguez's offensive system worked wonders at West Virginia and introduced the nation to Denard Robinson at Michigan. In 2012, the explosive offense scored at least 34 points in 10 of the Wildcats' 13 games.
What they're missing: The Wildcats don't have the Territorial Cup, which went to Arizona State following a 41-34 victory last season. If Arizona is going to climb the Pac-12 ranks, it'll need to win at home and lock up local talent over the Sun Devils.
Arizona State Sun Devils
What they're selling: There's a new attitude at Arizona State, as Todd Graham took the Sun Devils from the most penalized team in the country to one of the least penalized in just one year. Installing that discipline and accountability has been a major selling point for recruits signing up to play with Graham.
What they're missing: The Sun Devils won their final three games of the season for the first time in more than three decades, but losses to UCLA and USC leave them looking up at the Pac-12 South leaders in the battle for national prominence.
California Golden Bears
What they're selling: One of the top public universities in the world, Cal will always be able to pitch its strong academics to recruiting. The new facilities and revamped California Memorial Stadium will help accentuate the package with a pretty bow.
What they're missing: Coach Sonny Dykes has recent Pac-12 experience, but his three years at Louisiana Tech took him completely out of the minds of West region recruits. In-state recruits, essential to Cal's recruiting success, are unfamiliar with what Dykes' systems look like in game action, although the Golden Bears will have a chance to make several statements this fall.
What they're selling: The Buffaloes need playmakers at a multitude of position on both sides of the ball. Playing time and the ability to make an instant impact are certainly on the table for Colorado recruits.
What they're missing: Colorado was two points away from a winless season in 2012 and has very little on-field momentum heading into 2013. The Buffs have just four wins in two years in the Pac-12, and until that changes, it'll be difficult to win significant recruiting battles.
What they're selling: The noisy uniforms and noisier Autzen Stadium provide the flash, but there is plenty of substance in the fast-paced offense the Ducks run. It's unlikely that will slow down under new coach Mark Helfrich.
What they're missing: Mostly obviously, they're missing Chip Kelly, which has left a slight cloud over how the program might change direction or continue unaltered under the new staff. But the possibility of looming NCAA sanctions means the Ducks can't sell completely smooth sailing to recruits in this class.
Oregon State Beavers
What they're selling: The Beavers can sell credibility, not just on the field, but with the coaching staff as well. Mike Riley and his staff have proven they can win in Corvallis and year after year, the Beavers' coach comes across as incredibly genuine to recruits.
What they're missing: In state, Oregon State is the decided underdog when it comes to flash and national appeal. The Beavers aren't often referred to as a "dream school" by recruits, so there is rarely a sure-fire commitment for coaches when they go out of state.
What they're selling: Arguably no school in the country has the combination of academics and athletics of Stanford. When you're recruiting student-athletes, that's a good place to start.
What they're missing: Despite the recent success, Stanford is never going to be able to put together the game-day atmosphere of some of its Pac-12 competition, including Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington.
What they're selling: Jim Mora's staff has Southern California buzzing about the new direction UCLA is headed. That's a good thing for the Bruins, who have climbed out of the shadow of USC.
What they're missing: The Bruins had a chance to completely pass USC, but dropped their final three games of the season. There is still a question about whether they've jumped the Trojans for good and until that is settled on the field this season, the Trojans will likely get the benefit of the doubt, regionally and nationally.
What they're selling: No Pac-12 program can fall back on tradition like USC. And now with the John McKay Center, old school meets new school in a much-needed facility upgrade.
What they're missing: Rumblings about Lane Kiffin's job security began after a 10-point loss to UCLA, grew louder after a loss to Notre Dame and became deafening after a Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech. Despite athletic director Pat Haden throwing his full support behind the coach, recruits and their families are having difficulty believing Kiffin and his staff are there for the long haul.
What they're selling: Offensively, there is plenty of intrigue as to how co-offensive coordinators Dennis Erickson and Brian Johnson direct the attack. Overall, there is still the memory of what Utah was able to accomplish as a BCS spoiler in 2008, and Kyle Whittingham hopes to spark some of that magic in the Pac-12.
What they're missing: In two years, the Utes are below .500 in the Pac-12 and missed out on a bowl game last season. At this point, it's still an uphill climb in terms of convincing recruits they can cause an upheaval in the conference standings.
What they're selling: It's tough to find a coaching staff with more energy on the field or recruiting trail, starting with head coach Steve Sarkisian and moving to every assistant coach on the staff. It's a young group that relates incredibly well to recruits.
What they're missing: The Huskies have yet to win eight games in Sarkisian's three years in Seattle, so hitting that number would be a big step toward proving there is some growing on-field momentum.
Washington State Cougars
What they're selling: Mike Leach is still one of the most interesting personalities in college football, and despite some stumbles in his first year at Washington State, recruits are still interested to see what the Cougars can do this fall in his second year.
What they're missing: The Cougars need wins and they need them now. Washington State hasn't posted a winning record since 2003 and when it comes to on-field performance, it simply can't compete with a majority of Pac-12 teams.
2. Oregon: While Stanford and Oregon feel like 1A and 1B, you have to account for the uncertainty of the Ducks' changing coaches, particularly when it's one with as big a presence as Chip Kelly. The returning talent, including Heisman Trophy hopeful Marcus Mariota at quarterback, is strong on both sides of the ball.
3. Arizona State: The Sun Devils and UCLA feel like 3A and 3B as the South Division favorites, but the Sun Devils welcome back 16 starters compared with 13 for the Bruins. The biggest question is at receiver, where incoming players are being expected to immediately compete for starting spots.
4. UCLA: There's a lot to like on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Brett Hundley and outside linebacker Anthony Barr. There are questions at running back and in the secondary. Answer those, and get better play out of the offensive line, and the Bruins could be sniffing the top 15.
5. Washington: The Huskies welcome back 20 starters for the re-opening of a renovated Husky Stadium. It's fortuitous that this looks like coach Steve Sarkisian's best team. The biggest question was whether quarterback Keith Price would bounce back from a poor 2012 season. His strong spring, as well as improved play from the offensive line, hints that this could be a Top-25 team.
6. Oregon State: The Beavers are held back, at least in terms of perception, by two things: (1) Uncertainty at quarterback; (2) A worrisome crossing of the fingers at defensive tackle. Neither Cody Vaz nor Sean Mannion separated himself at quarterback, and the Beavers are counting on junior college transfers to fill their two voids at defensive tackle. Still, there's enough here to merit a preseason Top-25 ranking.
7. USC: This low power ranking has nothing to do with talent or potential. The Trojans have enough talent, if things come together, to play in the Rose Bowl. But coach Lane Kiffin sits on the hottest seat in the conference, the Trojans are adopting a new defense under Clancy Pendergast, and there are questions at quarterback and in the secondary. The Trojans might be the most volatile team in terms of predictions. They could win 10 games. Or six.
8. Arizona: Arizona's two main questions are about absence (replacing quarterback Matt Scott) and presence (essentially the entire two-deep returning from a bad defense). It's difficult to believe the Wildcats' quarterback play will be as good as it was last season, but it's also difficult to believe the defense won't be vastly improved. Off-field issues for running back Ka'Deem Carey seem as though they will be resolved, but there is no escaping receiver Austin Hill's knee injury.
9. Utah: The best news for the Utes this spring was improved play from the offensive line and the seeming maturation of quarterback Travis Wilson. There are, however, plenty of questions on defense at all three levels, and it will be interesting to see how Dennis Erickson operates as a co-offensive coordinator.
10. California: Cal also is a volatile stock. A gander through the depth chart has a lot of "what if." As in: What if the Bears get good quarterback play in 2012? What if running back Brendan Bigelow stays healthy? What if the offensive line improves? What if the defense is as good as the recruiting stars suggest it should be? Answer those "what ifs" positively, and this is a bowl team.
11. Washington State: There is every reason to believe the Cougars will be better in Year 2 under Mike Leach, starting with the seasoning all those young players received the hard way in 2012. But it's difficult to see the Cougs eclipsing too many other teams in the conference pecking order. The No. 11 spot here could come with five wins.
12. Colorado: Colorado will be better in coach Mike MacIntyre's first season than it was in 2012, mostly because it can't get any worse. The Buffs were one of the nation's youngest teams last season, and it showed. They figure to be bigger, stronger and smarter this fall. But probably not so much as to escape the basement here.
1. Quarterback competitions (mostly) unresolved: Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon State and USC entered spring with straight-up QB competitions, and none arrived at any clarity at the position, though some seemed to hint at a front-runner. B.J. Denker looked like the Wildcats' best healthy QB, while Cal's Zach Kline seemed to assert himself slightly for the Golden Bears. At Colorado, Connor Wood's case was helped by attrition. USC's and Oregon State's battles were too close to call.
Further, returning veteran starters with something to prove, including Washington's Keith Price, Washington State's Connor Halliday and Utah's Travis Wilson seemed to assert themselves to varying degrees, though Austin Apodaca could push Halliday in the fall.
2. New coaches, new ways: Sonny Dykes took over at California as did Mike MacIntyre at Colorado. Both, as could be expected, brought changes. Mark Helfrich replaced Chip Kelly at Oregon and, as could be expected, he changed almost nothing. The most obvious change at Cal was open practice, which former coach Jeff Tedford's abandonment of curiously coincided with the Bears gradual decline. The Bears will adopt a no-huddle, spread offense, replacing Tedford's pro-style scheme, and switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense, a reverse of the overall Pac-12 trend. MacIntyre arrived preaching relentless optimism and a pistol offense, while defensive coordinator Kent Baer will retain a 4-3 scheme, but hopefully get better results with his version.
3. Defense, line play look strong: The Pac-12 heads into 2013 poised for a banner year. Oregon and Stanford look like national title contenders -- both are likely preseason top-five teams -- while as many as seven conference teams seem like top-25 candidates. Some of the reasons for the promise are typical: returning QBs and skill players. But what's potentially a bigger reason for improved national standing is the physical side of the game: Offensive line and defense. Nine teams have at least seven starters coming back on defense, while seven teams welcome back four starters on the offensive line. Only one team, Utah, doesn't have at least three starters back on the O-line. Further, there's as much, if not more, star power coming back on the lines and on defense than at the skill positions.
2012 record: 1-11
2012 conference record: 1-8 (Last in South Division)
Returning starters: Offense 9; Defense 7; Kick/punt 2
Top returners: WR Paul Richardson, WR Nelson Spruce, LB Derrick Webb, RB Christian Powell, C Gus Handler, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, CB Kenneth Crawley.
Key losses: TE Nick Kasa, OL David Bakhtiari, LB Jon Major, DB Ray Polk.
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Christian Powell* (691)
Passing: Jordan Webb* (1,434, out indefinitely with knee injury)
Receiving: Nelson Spruce* (446)
Tackles: Derrick Webb* (88)
Sacks: Chidera Uzo-Diribe (7)
Interceptions: Jered Bell*, Jon Major, Marques Mosley* (1)
1. He's back: After missing all of 2012 with a torn ACL, wide receiver Paul Richardson is back and healthy. This is a huge boost for an offense that was lacking an explosive playmaker. In four Colorado scrimmages this spring, he had eight catches for 294 yards and three touchdowns. It's not the greatest barometer, but the fact he's on the field and running by defenders is a very positive sign.
2. Starting from scratch: Colorado has an entirely new coaching staff for the first time since 1979. So a good chunk of spring was spent reading name tags. It was also spent getting the team used to running a no-huddle offense. New coach Mike MacIntyre noted that the 15 practices were simply about introducing concepts -- which was accomplished. Translating those concepts into progress on the field will be a bigger task this fall.
3. Filling holes: Obviously, nothing is set in stone. A new coaching staff means a complete evaluation of every position. But there were some names that jumped out as candidates. D.D. Goodson made the move from tailback to wide receiver -- giving them a little more speed and depth at the position. January enrollee Addison Gillam jumped to the top of the depth chart at linebacker and cornerback John Walker made a big push in the secondary -- probably Colorado's deepest and most hotly contested position group.
1. QB questions: Last year there were three -- Jordan Webb, Nick Hirschman and Connor Wood. This year there are three -- Wood, Shane Dillon and incoming freshman Sefo Liufau. There are rumblings Webb might make it back by October -- but even then you have to wonder if he'll be close to 100 percent. Still, there are lots and lots of question about who will be running the new offense.
2. Sorting out the line: Just when it seems like the Buffs are starting to get a little continuity on the offensive line, right guard Daniel Munyer breaks his fibula during a fumble drill. It's not all completely up in the air -- and they do have a solid returning center in Gus Handler -- who should again be on the Rimington Trophy watch list. But there is still a lot of evaluation to be done.
3. Time to grow up: By now we all know about Colorado's youth in the secondary. A lot of freshmen played last year (1,476 snaps between a trio of freshmen defenders) and they learned the hard way what it's like to guard Pac-12 receivers. The maturation of this group is critical because improved secondary play will trickle down and take some of the pressure off of the front seven. This group has the athleticism and potential to be very good. The question is, will they?
We're going through the Pac-12 and picking out one game that seems most important -- or potentially most revealing -- for each team from our vantage point today.
And then we'll let you vote from a list of potential options.
We're going in reverse alphabetical order.
Most important game: Sept. 1 vs. Colorado State
And it's against a little brother who humiliated the Buffaloes last year, a 22-17 Rams victory that set a horrible trajectory for perhaps the worst season in Colorado history.
The Buffs never recovered from the opening-day defeat. The next week, while Colorado State was losing to North Dakota State on its way to a 4-8 finish, Colorado lost to Sacramento State, an FCS team. The next week, it was bludgeoned into submission at Fresno State, 69-14, a quintessential white-flag performance from a team that didn't seem to want to play football anymore.
You probably can trace a 1-11 finish and the firing of Jon Embree to the woeful performance against the Rams. Ergo: In order to move on and up, the program needs to win this eminently winnable game.
It needs to win for its beleaguered fans. It needs to win for MacIntyre to get off to a good start. It needs to win so the Buffs develop confidence. It needs to win because it's a Pac-12 team and Colorado State is a Mountain West Conference bottom-feeder (no offense intended, Rams).
If Colorado loses? Wait. Let's start with the good side of things.
If Colorado beats the Rams, it gets to celebrate a win for the first time since Sept. 22, 2012. It also likely would start 2-0 with Central Arkansas coming to Boulder the next week. That means it could double its 2012 win total two games into the season, which is a good thing.
Then Fresno State comes to town. There should be a revenge angle there fueling the Buffs, though the Bulldogs look like a tough out, with 16 starters back from a crew that went 9-4 last year.
So the number is 2-0. It gives a program that has been miserable something to enjoy and build on. On a less scintillating note, it's possible that those will be the Buffs' only two wins in 2013. At this point, they figure to be underdogs over the entirety of the remaining schedule, with the first three Pac-12 games being particularly tough: at Oregon State, Oregon and at Arizona State.
But the path to three or four wins only starts with 2-0.
If Colorado loses? Well, that would be bad. Fans would throw up their hands, "Same lousy team." Players would lose confidence, "Man, we stink." And that would be no fun for MacIntyre and his staff as they try to reverse the course of this once-proud but now sagging program.
MacIntyre and Colorado need a good start. They won't get one without winning the opener. So the date with the Rams is circled in red.
Nick Hirschman announced via twitter Friday that he intends to transfer after he graduates this semester. Coupled with Jordan Webb's ACL tear that will keep him out of the 2013 season, the Buffs two most experienced quarterbacks are no longer an option for new head coach Mike MacIntyre.
MacIntyre said Hirschman and Connor Wood were tied atop the depth chart when the Buffs broke camp earlier this week and a source close to the program said that there had been no change in Hirschman's status before he met with MacIntyre mid-morning on Friday to tell the coach his plans.
Both had separated themselves from the pack this spring. In four main scrimmages, Hirschman was 32-of-50 for 433 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception. Wood was 36-of-56 for 589 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
However, it was ultimately that lack of separation between the two that led to Hirschman's decision.
“I felt at this time that it has been three years, a great three years, but with no decision made at the end of spring ball, it was personal choice that it was time for me to move on,” Hirschman said in a statement released by the school Friday afternoon. “I am hoping for the best for each and every teammate, and each and every coach. It’s been a wonderful experience here, I’m still really happy about my choice to come to Colorado and I made a lot of good friends here. I will never regret my decision coming out of high school to become a Buff and I’m hoping everything will work out for everyone.”
Last year the bulk of the snaps went to Webb, but Hirschman also made two starts and eight appearances. He completed 55 of 93 passes for 589 yards with two touchdowns and seven interceptions. The junior will have two years of eligibility left.
“Nick’s a phenomenal young man, a great team player, and I was looking forward to watching him mature this fall and to see how he would do in the battle for starting quarterback job," MacIntyre said. “We hate to lose him, but we do wish him the best.”
MacIntyre granted him a release from his scholarship to all schools other than any other Pac-12 Conference school or an opponent on CU’s 2013 or 2014 schedules.
With Hirschman's departure, Wood becomes the lone frontrunner. He appeared in six games last year and was 21-of-42 for 265 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions.
Chasing him will be redshirt freshman Shane Dillon -- a highly-touted recruit who was hit-and-miss during the spring as the Buffs adjust to the pistol offense. Another highly-ranked recruit, Sefo Liufau, is also to compete immediately when he arrives in the fall. ESPN.com ranked Liufau, from Tacoma, Wash., as the No. 19 dual-threat quarterback nationally.
Uzo-Diribe, cousin of former New York Giants star and new Atlanta Falcon Osi Umenyiora, probably has an NFL future, but you may know little about him because he played on the nation's worst defense in 2012. That defense was attached to probably the worst AQ conference program.
He labored in anonymity, recording seven of his team's 19 sacks and 10 tackles for a loss, for a defense that yielded 5.9 yards per rush, the worst run defense in program history. He will be a three-year starter for a team that won nine games during that span, including just one last year.
James Snook/USA TODAY SportsColorado's Chidera Uzo-Diribe has used his athleticism effectively to make up for a lack of overall football experience.
"I definitely felt that, but I've never had it affect my game," the 6-foot-3, 254 pounder said. "I always came out and did my best regardless of what the outcome was. My film is my résumé and I want to put my best things on film."
Of course, there's new hope in town for Uzo-Diribe's final season. Coach Mike MacIntyre came to town bubbling with enthusiasm with a message that he can transform a flagging program that not too long ago was in the national championship mix, at least if you don't consider "Home Alone," "Dances with Wolves" and Madonna ancient cultural artifacts.
"These guys bring a whole lot more energy than the last staff," Uzo-Diribe said. "That's been the big difference this spring."
The Buffaloes are now eyeballing the offseason after the spring game on Saturday and a final practice Tuesday. Without question, they have a long way to go, but after 15 practices there were whiffs of hope that the program could trend up this fall.
Uzo-Diribe is a rare bird on one of the nation's youngest teams: He's a respected and productive veteran. While looking back over the rotten entrails of the previous three seasons isn't very pleasant, it also might help because whatever the Buffaloes did during that slog, they should be advised that the opposite course is likely better.
"I can't pinpoint one thing that did it," Uzo-Diribe said. "I feel like the biggest thing with a new coaching staff is getting everyone to buy in. I think we didn't have a buy-in with the last staff. That's a big thing we have to do with Coach MacIntyre. We have to buy in with what they need us to do."
Talking about enthusiasm and "buying in" are canned responses that every team tends to give when there's a new coach. The Buffs did it when Embree was hired. But there is one specific attribute MacIntyre's staff can point to that distinguishes it from Embree and his staff, or even Embree's predecessor, Dan Hawkins.
MacIntyre knows how to lead a program out of the muck.
"Seeing what they did at San Jose State, we feel like they can do the same thing here," Uzo-Diribe said. "That right there helps me get ready to play next season."
Uzo-Diribe, a son of Nigerian immigrants, is new to football. He didn't start playing until his junior year of high school. He's still learning the nuances of the game, and that still shows up on film, most often against the run. But he's an outstanding athlete with great quickness and ability to change direction for a 250-pounder. That alone will get him drafted in 2014.
It should help him this fall that his position coach, Jim Jeffcoat, knows more about getting to the quarterback than probably any college coach. The 15-year NFL veteran recorded 102.5 sacks in his career, which ranks 26th in NFL history.
Uzo-Diribe knows NFL teams will judge him, not his teammates. But a great defensive player makes guys around him better. If the Buffaloes defense improves dramatically next fall, that would put a check mark in another box for him. And if the defense improves dramatically, the Buffs have a shot to win a few more games and surprise some folks.
That no one expects that to happen is something that Uzo-Diribe and his teammates are well aware of.
"We have to use that as fuel," he said. "We know where we were last year and we definitely want to improve. We need that to help fuel us, to motivate us, to better ourselves each and every practice."
Buy or sell Colorado winning the South?
Sell: So far, new Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre has said all of the right things -- chief among them is that it's going to take time to turn the Buffs from a struggling program to legitimate players in the league. It will take time for the systems to really take hold and time for the players to integrate to the way MacIntyre likes to do things.
I believe him. It is going to take a while.
Never mind that Colorado has enough quarterbacks to field a starting five for a basketball team. It's the lines that need the most work -- on both sides of the ball. A lack of experience never bodes well when installing a new offensive system with, potentially, a first-year starting quarterback. Look at the lines in the rest of the division. They are fierce. Colorado doesn't measure up yet.
It's not all doom and gloom for Colorado. This half of the Pac-12 blog likes to take the glass-half-full approach. It's possible that by this time next year, we'll be talking about the Buffs as having the best secondary in the Pac-12. At some point, all of those youngsters they played last year and will play this year will have to grow up. And when they do, it's very possible that we'll have a different take on this team in 2014 and beyond.
But realistically speaking for 2013, four to five wins would be considered a major step forward and a postseason berth would be phenomenal. It's OK to be excited for the future, but there are no illusions about Colorado in the present.
AP Photo/Brennan LinsleyNew Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre has his work cut out for him for several seasons to come.
That's not the situation for Colorado.
Colorado ranked 120th -- last -- in the nation in scoring defense in 2012. The Buffaloes were 117th in scoring offense. They "led" the nation with a negative-28.17 scoring differential, despite playing four games decided by a touchdown or less, one of which was a loss to FSC Sacramento State.
This team will be better than 2012. Call that a guarantee. It will win more games. It will be more competitive in losses. The product will be less "oh no" for fans.
But that's mostly based on a "nowhere to go but up" situation.
As much as Kevin and I both like the MacIntyre hire and his approach thus far -- realizing he's yet to coach a game, of course -- Colorado won't win the South Division next fall. It's a good bet, even today, that it won't win the South in 2014.
MacIntyre has undertaken a rebuilding project. A quick fix is unlikely to happen and probably isn't advisable. Next fall, the Buffs will try to lay the foundation for a positive future. But it won't be in the conference title hunt.
He chatted with ESPN senior writer Ivan Maisel about the big building project ahead of him. It's a great read as MacIntyre talks about how he's been down this road before.
Here's what he told Maisel:
"Every person, when I told them I was thinking about taking the job," MacIntyre said of San Jose State, "there wasn't one person, not one person out of the 100 I asked, who told me I should take the job. And then when we were successful, I had people call me and tell me, 'I thought we'd never hear of you again. I thought your career would be over as a head coach when you took that job.'"
The story also talks about how Butch Jones and Gary Andersen both passed on Colorado -- meaning MacIntyre took on a job that that scared others off.
"I just think that sometimes when you're not being successful in any business or any organization, you kind of isolate and make assumptions about other people," MacIntyre said. "I think in any business or corporation or team, once you knock down barriers and knock down walls, and start being vulnerable, then you can grow. And that's what we are working on now."
You can read all of Maisel's story here.
"Excruciating is a good word for it. It was pretty painful," Buffaloes receiver Paul Richardson said. "All I could think about last season was what I could have done or how I could have helped."
And Richardson knows exactly what people think of Colorado as the calendar flips into 2013.
AP Photo/ Matt McClainColorado's Paul Richardson is optimistic as the Buffaloes work to rebound from an awful season.
That last part is true. Still, there is a high degree of confidence out there that Colorado will again inhabit the Pac-12 basement. Sure, it should be improved compared to 2012, but that's largely based on the belief the Buffaloes were one of the worst teams in conference history last fall. It feels like things can't get any worse. So there's that.
And yet ... maybe there's a little more than that.
The Buffaloes welcome back 18 starters from an absurdly young team. They played 22 freshmen, including 13 true freshmen last fall. Some teams played more, such as Texas, LSU and Ohio State, but those teams are recruiting different sorts of players, elite prospects with no assembly required. Colorado was forced to play guys who were not physically ready for Pac-12 play. And it showed.
At the very least, they will be more ready this year. If the Buffs get a breakthrough at quarterback -- redshirt freshman Shane Dillon, a former Elite 11 quarterback? Incoming freshman Sefo Liufau? -- Richardson is a game-changer with the ball in his hands, just ask California, which yielded a school-record 284 yards receiving to him in 2011.
While many only see the mess that former coach Jon Embree presided over, Richardson sees the potential improvement new coach Mike MacIntyre inherited.
"I don't think Coach MacIntyre is in a bad position at all," he said. "I think he was given an opportunity to move up to this coaching job at a really good time. We're going to have some key players back and our young guys are going to have experience. To me, he came at a perfect time."
Embree, who was fired after just two seasons, is a sore subject for many Buffs, including Richardson. While the team is going through spring practices preaching optimism and looking forward, looking back still evokes grumbles.
"I was very upset to say the least [at Embree's firing]," Richardson said. "It was very surprising. I had a really good relationship with coach Embree. It caught us all off guard. Some of us were pretty bitter."
He then adds, "But we've grown from that. I miss Coach Embree. I miss [offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy]. I miss the staff. But all we can do is go forward. We've got to turn this program around and start winning some football games."
A 6-foot-1, 170-pound junior from Los Angeles, Richardson was second on the team in receiving yards (514) and touchdowns (6) as a true freshman in 2010. He looked like a potential All-Pac-12 performer in 2011 before a knee injury sidelined him for four games. His 2012 hopes were dashed when he tore his ACL the final week of spring practices.
The only question with Richardson, who has good speed and reliable hands, is health.
"I feel incredible," he said. "I know I'm more explosive than I was before. I know I'm faster than I was before. I'm more mature. I'm stronger. I'm a better leader. Conceptually, I'm grasping the offense and I'm able to pull guys along with me."
Asked if his "pulling guys along" includes figuring out who will be throwing him the ball, Richardson is noncommittal. It's too early to make a call at quarterback, though MacIntyre has said he plans to narrow the competition to three guys before spring practices hit the half-way mark on March 22.
"It's a healthy competition," he said. "There are kids people expect to start, but every day somebody is showing something different. I can't tell you who is winning the race."
Richardson's career has been star-crossed thus far. But if his luck changes, so might the Buffs' fortunes.
"I think we'll be .500 or above," he said. "The best thing I can say is don't sleep on Colorado football. We're a work in progress, but it is progressing over here."
The quarterbacks took center stage as California held its first spring scrimmage. The Bears worked in 90 plays over a 45-minute stretch in full pads.
Four quarterbacks got work with Jared Goff completing 13 of 23 passes for 168 yards and three touchdowns. Zach Kline completed 6 of 8 throws for 134 yards -- including a 97-yard touchdown to Joel Willis. Austin Hinder was 6-of-10 for 83 yard with a touchdown and Kyle Boehm was 0-for-3 with an interception.
“We were trying to throw every possible scenario that we could throw at them today to see if it affected their thought process or the way they played or handled things,” said head coach Sonny Dykes. “I didn’t think it affected any of them. I thought they all did a good job of just trying to go out there and execute plays and not try to do too much.”
The Cardinal held their second open practice of the spring session with a 77-play scrimmage.
Quarterback Kevin Hogan completed 15 of 21 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown. Evan Crower -- currently fighting to be Hogan's primary backup -- was 10-of-17 for 87 yards.
Even though the Cardinal front seven was able to get some penetration, head coach David Shaw said he was pleased with how the offensive line is coming together.
“It’s been fun to watch the guys start to gel this early,” Shaw said. “Usually we don’t gel on the offensive line until training camp so it’s been fun to watch.”
New head coach Mike MacIntyre is still evaluating what kind of players he has to work with. At this point, he's not too worried about position switches and he's certainly not going to name a quarterback this spring. Right now, it's all about attitude.
"I'm looking for effort," he said after practice Friday night. "I'm looking for kids that listen and pay attention and we're trying to set the tempo of everything we want to do. It's more of an overall team thing. Of course, you are watching positions and doing all that, but we're still out here in pajamas. Real football will start Tuesday.
"They are taking notes in meetings. They are listening out there. They are taking coaching very well, which is important. To me, that's part of discipline."
His hope is that seven or eight practices into the spring session, he can start narrowing the number of quarterbacks down to about three -- maybe four -- who can carry over the competition into the fall.
But Colorado starts its spring session with renewed enthusiasm. New head coach Mike MacIntyre has program-rejuvenating credentials, and there is some hope that all of the youngsters who were thrust into action last season will take a big step forward in 2013.
New staff/systems: Colorado will be switching to the pistol offense, so there is going to be a lot of fundamentals work that needs to be done. Also, it is adjusting to an entirely new coaching staff. There are no holdovers from the last regime.
QB competition: Lots of options, but lots of question marks as well. There are five quarterbacks on the roster, plus a sixth coming in. The hope is that a couple will emerge as front-runners and it can carry over until the fall when a starter will eventually be named.
Maturing secondary: Colorado might have the brightest up-and-coming secondary in the league. A very young secondary last year picked up a ton of experience. Can it take a step forward this spring and wow the new coaching staff?
Defensive depth: Not a lot of experience at linebacker. Only three defensive ends who have ever played. While the secondary might be a bright spot, there's a lot of developing that has to happen in the front seven.
Developing receivers: Paul Richardson is back, which is huge. Grayshirt Jeff Thomas should also be a contributor. With the guys who got work last year, how does this newly bolstered receiving corps fit in with the new offensive scheme?