By Rock Mayock 11:00 p.m. | In the world of sports there are two kinds of transition seasons, reloading and rebuilding. Without a doubt 2012 will be a rebuilding season for second year head coach Jon Embree. Injuries and personnel turnover have decimated an already thin roster. Will the storm clouds of failure finally break along the peaks of the majestic Rocky Mountains? Let’s look at what Embree will be dealing with.
OVERVIEW: If one word could serve as a capsule collection definition for the movement afoot at Colorado it would be youth. The Buffaloes have already lost a ton of offensive skill position players to graduation and injuries. Defensively they return the core of the line and secondary but that is not necessarily a good thing because the 2011 squad was terrible. Embree will lean heavily upon a combination of freshmen recruits and Juco transfers to bolster his depleted ranks. Luckily the Buffaloes’ early season schedule is conducive getting young players the experience they will need as they hit a brutal mid season stretch that features consecutive games at USC, at Oregon and home against Stanford. Let’s look at who Embree will be developing on both sides of the ball.
OFFENSE: The deficiencies on offense are numerous. The area that requires immediate attention is the QB position. Now that Tyler Hansen has graduated the QB position is up for grabs in a three man race between Texas transfer Connor Wood, Kansas transfer Jordan Webb, as well as Nick Hirshman and his three foot surgeries in the past 12 months. As of Spring Ball and early Fall Ball, Wood has the edge to start September 1, against Colorado State.
Another key position that needs to be filled is running back. Last year’s leading rusher and second leading receiver Rodney Stewart has moved on to the NFL thus leaving sophomore Tony Jones and junior Josh Ford to fill the void. The only problem is that Jones and Ford combined for a total of 425 rushing yards on 100 carries in 2011, not necessarily the most stellar of performances.
The Buffaloes also need to rebuild their wide receiver corps as three of their top four receivers graduated at the end of 2011. Compounding their woes at the position, presumptive #1 receiving threat Paul Richardson blew out his ACL in Spring Ball. Therefore an entirely new crop of receivers need to be broken in. On the plus side true freshman Nelson Spruce showed flashes during Spring Ball.
The lone strength of the Buffaloes offensive will be the O-Line which returns four of last year’s five starters. Junior LT David Bakhtiari and Jack Harris will anchor an experienced offensive line that will provide Wood, Webb or Hirshman at least a fighting chance to get something going.
Ultimately the Colorado offense is a mess. The lack of game experience at QB, RB, TE and WR will make it difficult for the team to compete with the high powered offenses that proliferate the Pac-12 for at least the next two seasons.
DEFENSE: One word summarizes the Buffalo defense in 2011, terrible. The defense ranked 89th against the rush, 97th against the pass, 109th in scoring, and allowed 40+ points and 500+ yards in five consecutive games. A lot of last season’s defensive woes were due to injuries which forced Embree to use a disproportionate number of young inexperienced players. The unfortunate thing is that this season will also feature the use of a disproportionate number of inexperienced players as there are 9 incoming freshman defensive linemen and 5 freshman defensive backs. The good thing is that several of these incoming freshman such as DT Josh Topou, DE Kisimi Jagne, CB Yuri Wright and CB Kenneth Crowley will be able to make an immediate impact.
For the most part the defense will be built around a line backing corps that returns all three starters, including Doug Rippy. The focus on the linebackers is due to a VERY thin defensive line that returns senior Will Pericak but little else. Therefore the burden will fall upon the linebackers while some of those previously referenced 9 incoming freshman learn the ropes.
The secondary will need a good pass rush from both the line and linebackers because they got torched throughout 2011. Greg Henderson, Ray Polk, Parker Orms and Josh Moten all return but returning starters are no good if they can’t cover anyone. Both Yuri Wright and Kenneth Crowley are four star recruits and will immediately challenge incumbent starters Henderson and Moten for their playing time.
Due to the fact that 2011 was a throw away year due to the cupboard of crap that Dan Hawkins left him and the litany of injuries that plagued the remaining squad, 2012 is truly Jon Embree’s first year on the job. As such the expectations should be set accordingly for what the Buffaloes will accomplish in 2012. The first half of the season includes games against Colorado State, Sacramento State, Fresno State, Washington State, UCLA and Arizona State. Even with a young inexperienced team it is not unreasonable to think the Buffaloes will go 4-2 if not 5-1 in their first six games. The problem is what happens to the schedule after the midway point of the season. They finish at USC, at Oregon, Stanford, at Arizona, Washington and Utah. Therefore it is conceivable they will lose their final 6 games. A 4-8 or 5-7 season would be an improvement over last season’s 3-10 debacle.
4-8, 5th in the Pac-12 South