Mike MacIntyre thinks his second version of the Colorado Buffaloes will be better than the first, but that puts a little pressure on the opening game.
Colorado plays its annual rivalry game against Colorado State at a neutral site in Denver on Friday. Last year, Colorado beat CSU 41-27 for one of just four wins on the season.
MacIntyre thinks the Buffs can do better this season, but another win over the Rams is necessary to show improvement right away.
"I want to build this program into a successful national power again," MacIntyre said. "I think we're making the steps in the right direction. I wish I could wave a wand and it would happen tomorrow or yesterday, but I think we are doing that. The reality is that things have changed drastically in the last six months."
MacIntyre said he often hears a similar refrain from people who visit practice.
"I had a couple pro scouts come up to me that have been up here for a while and they said we look like a different team physically when we just walk on the field, and I think we do," MacIntyre said.
Colorado has a chance to get off to a good start with the softest part of its schedule coming at the beginning. After a rematch against Colorado State, Colorado plays three of its next four games against teams that went 1-11 last year -- Massachusetts, Hawaii and California.
The Buffaloes return seven starters on offense, including quarterback Sefo Liufau. The offensive line returns starters Kaiwi Crabb and Daniel Munyer at guard and Stephane Nembot at tackle.
Colorado returns its top five rushers from last season, including Christian Powell and Michael Adkins II, who combined for more than 1,000 yards. Nelson Spruce is the top returning receiver while Kyle Slavin is back at tight end.
On defense, six starters return, including all three linemen -- Juda Parker, Justin Solis and Josh Tupou. The secondary brings back cornerbacks Greg Henderson and Kenneth Crawley, while Addison Gillam is back at linebacker.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--CB Kenneth Crawley returns for his third season as a starter. He was an honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection as a freshman, when he started 10 games. Last year, he had 50 tackles to rank seventh on the team and had two interceptions, which both came in the end zone.
--LB Addison Gillam originally signed to play at San Jose State, but switched to Colorado when Mike MacIntyre was hired. Gillam was the first freshman to lead CU in tackles and he paced the conference with 8.9 stops per game. He earned honorable mention all-conference honors as a true freshman. He had 18 tackles against Oregon, including 14 unassisted, to set a school single-game record in that category.
--WR D.D. Goodson likely moves into the starting lineup as a senior. He is a versatile weapon for Colorado as he ranked third on the team with 22 catches for 306 yards and two scores last year while also rushing four times for 42 yards. He had a 75-yard touchdown catch against Oregon.
--DL Josh Tupou is a third-year starter who impressed the coaches with a strong performance in spring practices. He started seven games as a freshman and all 12 last year. He had 38 tackles last season, including three for loss. He closed out the season with a career-high nine tackles against Utah. He has dropped 25 pounds since last season and was listed at 325 pounds this fall.
SERIES HISTORY: Colorado leads the all-time series with Colorado State 62-21-2, including a 8-5 record in Denver.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've just seen a difference in his work ethic and how he works. He's got a lot more zip on the football consistently. He's more accurate. He's worked hard at it and he's stronger." -- CU coach Mike MacIntyre, on sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scouting the running game: The Buffs return many of the players who struggled to get the run game going last year, when CU averaged 120.8 yards per game on the ground. Christian Powell is the top returning rusher after getting 562 yards last year. He is the power back while sophomore Michael Adkins II is the speed back who averaged 5.2 yards per carry while finishing with 535 rushing yards last year. Tony Jones also returns, and a couple of freshmen will be in the mix if the veterans don't show improvement from last year.
Scouting the passing game: Sefo Liufau took over as the starter during the second half of last season and completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 1,779 yards and 12 touchdowns. This year, he knows he is the starter from the beginning of the season, but he won't have top receiver Paul Richardson this year. Nelson Spruce becomes the No. 1 receiver after catching 55 passes for 650 yards and four touchdowns last year. D.D. Goodson moves into the starting lineup after catching 22 passes last year.
Scouting the run defense: Colorado has a veteran front with Juda Parker returning as a starter at defensive end, and Justin Solis and Josh Tupou also back on the line. Linebacker Addison Gillam returns after leading the Pac-12 with 107 tackles as a true freshman. LB Woodson Greer III had 34 tackles in a reserve role last year while Ryan Severson got experience on special teams, but will start at linebacker as a sophomore.
Scouting the pass defense: CU's secondary could be one of the better ones in the Pac-12, led by returning starters Kenneth Crawley and Greg Henderson at cornerback. Chidobe Awuzie also has starting experience at cornerback. The Buffs took a hit when FS Jered Bell suffered a torn ACL in fall camp, but Terrel Smith is back after missing all of last season. Cornerback Yuri Wright also returns after missing last year due to injury.
Scouting the special teams: This is an area of strength for the Buffs, who have seniors Will Oliver and Darragh O'Neill. Oliver has been the kicker since his freshman season and has made 34 field goals in his career. O'Neill is also in his fourth season as the starter and has a career average of 42.3 yards. Ryan Severson averaged 22.1 yards per kick return and is back along with Nelson Spruce, who returned two kicks for an average of 31.5 yards and led CU with nine punt returns for 45 yards.
DRAFT PROSPECTS (includes 2015 NFLDraftScout.com rating as applicable):
--CB Greg Henderson (No. 35 cornerback, 302nd overall) -- Ranked third on the team with 68 tackles last season and led the Buffs with four interceptions.
--P Darragh O'Neill (No. 7 punter, 343rd overall) -- Averaged 40.5 yards per punt last season with a long of 56.
--K Will Oliver (No. 15 kicker, 957th overall) -- One of 30 preseason nominees for the Lou Groza Award after he converted 17 of 24 field goal attempts last season.
--OL Brad Cotner suffered a concussion during preseason practice and is out indefinitely.
--DE Markeis Reed aggravated a groin injury in practice and will not play against Colorado State.
--DE Tyler Henington suffered a torn ACL in practice and is out for the season.
--S Jered Bell suffered a torn ACL in practice and will miss the season. He plans to petition for a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA.
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