Pac-12 South Preview: Colorado Buffaloes

After losing its top three offensive players and getting a new coach, then combining it with a shortened offseason and its no reason why Colorado is expected to be the Pac-12 bottom dwellers
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As part of our Pac-12 South Preview, we will be examining each Pac-12 team. We will break down their schedule, their offense and defense and what should be considered a successful or failure of a season.

Up next are the Colorado Buffaloes — a team expected to go through a lot of growing pains.

Nov 23, 2019; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes running back Alex Fontenot (8) dives for a touchdown against Washington Huskies defensive back Myles Bryant (5) in the third quarter at Folsom Field.

Nov 23, 2019; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes running back Alex Fontenot (8) dives for a touchdown against Washington Huskies defensive back Myles Bryant (5) in the third quarter at Folsom Field.

Underlying Theme
When Karl Dorrell was hired during the offseason, it signaled a massive change with the Buffaloes. For the first time in three years, consistency is expected for a team that is on its third head coach in three years.

The process will be very slow as Dorrell is inheriting a team that has a number of holes to fill, especially at the quarterback and wide receiver position. 

Colorado fans got used to seeing Steven Montez throwing the ball to Laviska Shenault Jr., but now both players are gone and in must step replacements. The only problem is that nobody knows who those replacements will be.

Sep 21, 2019; Tempe, AZ, USA; Colorado Buffaloes quarterback Steven Montez (12) throws to running back Alex Fontenot (8) against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the first half at Sun Devil Stadium.

Sep 21, 2019; Tempe, AZ, USA; Colorado Buffaloes quarterback Steven Montez (12) throws to running back Alex Fontenot (8) against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the first half at Sun Devil Stadium.

The theme for Dorrell this season is to establish a culture that his players and future recruits can rely on. Showcase an exciting brand of football and get this team headed in the right direction for future success.

Overview
2019 Record: 5-7 overall, 3-6 Pac-12
Started out 3-1, including an upset victory over then-ranked Nebraska and beginning Pac-12 play with a 34-31 victory over Arizona State. After losing five straight conference games, the Buffaloes responded with wins over Stanford and Washington before suffering a blowout loss to Utah in the season finale.

Schedule = Week 5 Is Vital / SI Prediction in Bold
*Saturday, Nov. 7 — vs. UCLA (L)
*Saturday, Nov. 14 — @ Stanford (L)
*Saturday, Nov. 21 — vs. Arizona State (L)
*Saturday, Nov. 28 — @ No. 21 USC (L)
*Saturday, Dec. 5 — @ Arizona (L)
*Friday, Dec. 11 — vs. Utah (L)

It's highly likely that Colorado will be the underdog in every game this season. There aren't many chances for a victory with a rebuilding roster, but that's why everything will come down to their Week 5 trip to the desert. 

Offense = Establish Identity
Losing Montez and Shenault will be extremely difficult to replace, but there is some sort of hope regarding the running game. The Buffaloes return their two leading rushers from last season in Alex Fontenot and Jaren Mangham, who combined for 1,315 yards and eight touchdowns on 292 carries (4.5 ypc). 

Oct 19, 2019; Pullman, WA, USA; Colorado Buffaloes running back Jaren Mangham (1) avoids the tackle of Washington State Cougars safety Skyler Thomas (25) in the first at Martin Stadium.

Oct 19, 2019; Pullman, WA, USA; Colorado Buffaloes running back Jaren Mangham (1) avoids the tackle of Washington State Cougars safety Skyler Thomas (25) in the first at Martin Stadium.

The only issue is that Colorado has a very suspect offensive line, and it could be tough to open up holes for the running backs. 

The quarterback battle is coming down to Sam Noyer and Tyler Lytle. Noyer is the superior athlete, except he played safety last season after spending his first two season at quarterback. Lytle might have the higher ceiling, but he only has five career passes.

Having a solid running game and decent offensive line could really help elevate the quarterback position, but he still needs someone to throw to. KD Nixon and Dmitri Stanley return as the top two targets, ranking third and fourth last season in catches and yards, respectively.

Oct 25, 2019; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes wide receiver K.D. Nixon (3) pulls in a touchdown reception in the second quarter at Folsom Field.

It's unknown what this offense will look this upcoming season under Dorrell — but the one thing that's clear is that an offense identity needs to established for growth later on.

Defense = Gamble And Hope For The Best
There are without a doubt a couple of nice building blocks for Colorado on this side of the ball.

Nate Landman is one of the top returning linebackers in the conference, one of five players to record over 100 tackles last season (114). Defensive ends Mustafa Johnson and Terrance Lang make for a solid duo after combining for 11 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. The secondary is led by safety Derrion Rakestraw, who finished with three interceptions last season.

Nov 30, 2019; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Utes tight end Brant Kuithe (80) past Colorado Buffaloes linebacker Nate Landman (53) for a fourth quarter touchdown at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Nov 30, 2019; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Utes tight end Brant Kuithe (80) past Colorado Buffaloes linebacker Nate Landman (53) for a fourth quarter touchdown at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Other than those four players, there are holes everywhere on this defense. In order to be successful, the defense is going to have to gamble a lot and hope it pays off. Getting turnovers and giving the offense more opportunities will be key. Yes, it will lead to be big plays by opposing offenses, but that was already going to happen.

Season Outlook
Any victory would be huge for the Buffaloes, especially after everything they've lost and gone through this past offseason. Establishing a culture where the players and future recruits can identify and enjoy would be success. Showcasing an exciting brand of football and getting this team headed in the right direction would be a success. 

Being competitive in the games, and maybe sneaking in a victory over Arizona on the road would be a step forward.

The only way this season is a failure is if the coaching looks completely outclassed in the conference and the team is blown out in every contest.

Final Prediction
Record: 0-6
*I don't think Colorado has what it takes to win a game — although if Utah struggles that mid-December game in the snow could make things interesting. Even then, the Buffaloes best chance is on the road at Arizona in Week 5. While I think Colorado goes winless, I do think they show more fight than expected and set the stage for future success.

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