Even after 2-10 year, Buffaloes thinking bowl this season
On the field, there's still plenty of work left to do.
Coming off a 2-10 season, the Buffaloes have been picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South by just about everyone, including the league's media poll.
That hasn't deterred third-year coach Mike MacIntyre from discussing bowls with his Buffs. He's unabashed in his belief the team has the talent to make the postseason for the first time since 2007.
After all, they return junior quarterback Sefo Liufau and senior standout receiver Nelson Spruce. The running game is solid, with Christian Powell expected to receive a bulk of the carries, and the defense revamped under new coordinator Jim Leavitt, who spent the last four years as linebackers coach for the San Francisco 49ers.
''The way I see everything now is we're definitely moving in the right direction,'' MacIntyre said. ''The program is growing.''
This offseason, the university made headway in phase two of its $156 million expansion of the athletic complex. That included upgrading the locker rooms and renovating the Dal Ward Center. The third phase involves a new indoor practice facility.
''The building doesn't win games. But the building helps you do it,'' MacIntyre said. ''Our kids right now, I know it has given them more of a sense of pride. More of an understanding, a sense of, `Hey, they really do care around here. They really want us to be special.'''
The success of Colorado is riding on Liufau and his right arm. He set numerous single-season passing marks last season, such as yards (3,200), completions (325) and TDs (28).
Only two wins to show for it, though. The Buffs lost four of their games by five points or less.
''We'll be more used to the situation we were put in last year, those close games that could've gone either way and we didn't make the plays,'' Liufau said. ''This year, we'll be prepared and ready to make those plays.''
Liufau bulked up to 240 pounds in the offseason, making him more difficult to bring down.
''He's doing a great job as a leader,'' MacIntyre said. ''I feel good about where Sefo's improvement is. I feel good about where he's going, his knowledge and his experience and ability to make plays.''
Things to know before Colorado opens the season with a trip to Hawaii on Sept. 3:
SPRUCED UP: Spruce will once again be Liufau's safety blanket. The wideout with the Velcro hands hauled in 106 passes for 1,198 yards a year ago. ''I'm blessed with a great receiving corps,'' Liufau said. That includes Shay Fields, whose big-play potential keeps defensive coordinators from exclusively focusing on Spruce.
NO BREAKS: With 13 games, the Buffs go nonstop without a bye week. That's caused MacIntyre to alter the team's schedule, giving them Mondays off from practice. ''That will give them some more time to recover and relax and get ready for the week,'' he said.
SIMILARITIES: When he was in his third season at San Jose State, MacIntyre's team made a big leap and finished 10-2. Now in his third year in Boulder, MacIntyre was asked if he sees any parallels. ''I see that the young men understand our culture and have bought into it completely,'' he said. ''I see a lot more vocal guys holding guys accountable. ... That's winning in football. That's caring about other people.''
REMEMBERING THE PAST: This will be the 25th anniversary of the Buffaloes' national title, when they went 11-1-1 in 1990 and beat Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. Also, Larry Zimmer will return to the broadcast booth for a 42nd and final season. The voice of the Buffs missed the final six games last season after a fall in his home.
BIG O-LINE: Behind 6-foot-7, 300-pound tackle Stephane Nembot, the Buffs are hoping to improve their running game and become a top-25 offense. ''That's something that we're working at hard and something that we'd like to be able to do,'' MacIntyre said.