Pac-12 preview: Colorado

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

BOULDER, Colo. -- Coach Mike MacIntyre said his new job at Colorado isn't as bad as it looks.
"The future is bright, no matter what you hear out there," MacIntyre said.
MacIntyre was hired after three seasons at San Jose State to replace Jon Embree, who went 4-21 in two seasons with the Buffaloes. Colorado has not had a winning season since 2005 and is 25-61 since that time.
MacIntyre took over a similar situation at San Jose State, which went 1-12 in MacIntyre's first season, then improved to 5-7 in 2011 and 10-2 last year, finishing ranked No. 24.
"I think the similarities would be that both programs had great history, great times, and it wasn't too long ago that Colorado was one of the top 15 programs in the country, year in and year out," he said. "We need to get back there."
Colorado returns 19 starters, including nine on offense. The roster also includes 21 true freshmen. The Buffs return their top three rushers and receivers, but must find a new quarterback to run MacIntyre's pistol offense.
Three quarterbacks that had eligibility remaining will not be on the team this year and another will not be ready to start the season.
Jordan Webb led the team with 1,434 passing yards and eight touchdowns last year, but suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the spring and is out indefinitely. Nick Hirschman, who threw for 589 yards and two scores, transferred to Akron and Shane Dillon transferred to San Diego to play basketball. John Schrock gave up football to focus on academics.
That leaves four quarterbacks are battling for the starting spot, topped by Connor Wood, a transfer from Texas who threw for 265 yards in seven games last year.
Also in the hunt are sophomores Stevie Joe Dorman and Jordan Gehrke and freshman Sefo Liufau.
Whoever lines up at quarterback will have an excellent target in wide receiver Paul Richardson. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound junior had 73 catches for 1,069 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament that forced him to miss last season.
As a sophomore, he set a school record with 284 receiving yard on a record-tying 11 catches against California. He is the playmaker that Colorado's offense was missing last year, but said he is 100 percent this season.
"It was a humbling experience not being able to compete with my teammates and you can't help but wonder and think about what I could be doing to help them," he said. "During the offseason I took time to gain weight, get stronger, faster, get healthy so I would be able to help my guys during the offseason heading into fall camp."
The defense was young last year when it gave up 30 or more points in each of its last 11 games, but eight starters return on that unit.
One newcomer who may improve the unit is linebacker Addison Gillman. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound true freshman is listed on top of the depth chart at inside linebacker heading into fall camp. If he holds onto that position, he would be the second true freshman in school history to start an opener at linebacker.
Gillam graduated from Foothill High School in Palo Cedro, Calif. in 2012 and signed with San Jose State, but delayed his enrollment due to an injury. When MacIntyre went from San Jose State to Colorado, Gillam followed him and joined the Buffaloes in time for spring drills.
SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: Colorado opens the season with its traditional rivalry game against Colorado State at a neutral site in Denver. The Rams beat the Buffaloes 22-17 in last year's opener. Colorado has a good shot at a win in its second game when it hosts Central Arkansas, an FCS opponent. The Buffs stay at home to face Fresno State before opening Pac-12 Conference play at Oregon State.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: The Buffaloes need to find an answer at quarterback after rotating three quarterbacks at times last year. Wood is the favorite with Dorman, Gehrke and Liufau behind him. "I know it sounds crazy, but I do think all four are really improving," coach Mike MacIntyre said. "Now, I still think that Connor Wood is ahead, he is still doing a good job but it's fun to watch other guys make plays and throw the ball accurately and make checks. It gives you confidence that you hopefully have more than one guy."
AREAS OF CONCERN: Colorado's defense has to get better, although it would have a hard time getting worse. Last year, the Buffs ranked last out of 120 teams in FBS by allowing 46 points per game. Colorado ranked 117th in the nation by allowing 488.5 yards per game and 115th by giving up 226 rushing yards per game. New defensive coordinator Kent Baer arrived from San Jose State with MacIntyre and he has previous experience in the conference as defensive coordinator at Washington, California, Arizona State, and Stanford. The Buffs have eight returning starters on defense, including linebacker Derrick Webb and safety Terrel Smith, its top two tacklers from last year.

--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.

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