NCAA Football

Rant Sports 100 in 100 College Football Previews: No. 77 Colorado Buffaloes

Today, we’re 70+ days away from the kickoff of the 2012 college football season. As such, we’ll preview the No. 77 team in our Rant Sports 100 in 100 college football previews, the Colorado Buffaloes.

After a 3-10 finish in 2011, there isn’t a position on either side of the ball for the Buffaloes that isn’t up for grabs. Several true freshmen could get substantial opportunity in the early going for Jon Embree‘s squad, and how well they perform will be the most telling tale of the 2012 campaign.

Impact Players

Offense

The biggest question mark on the Buffaloes’ offense coming out of spring practice and headed into the summer is the position where a team needs the most certainty: Quarterback.

Theoretically, three signal callers could compete for the starting position this fall, with Texas Longhorns sophomore transfer Connor Wood and third-year sophomore Nick Hirschman leading the pack. With the transfer of former Kansas Jayhawks quarterback Jordan Webb to Boulder things got a little more interesting.

Wood took all of the snaps in spring practice with the first team and enters fall practice as the prohibitive favorite to start for Colorado.

Regardless of who ends up at quarterback, the Buffs will again focus on the running game to establish tone and pace on the offensive side of the football. Sophomore Tony Jones will be the featured back in offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy‘s scheme, but will be spelled on occasion by a talented trio of true freshmen, led by three-star recruit Davien Payne.

The Buffaloes’ offensive line is one of the strongest complete units on either side of the ball and should help the team to establish the running game which will be so important to the overall success of the offense this fall. Second-team all-PAC 12 left tackle David Bahktiari and center Gus Handler are the focal points and will lead the push off the ball in both running and passing situations.

A wide receiving corps with little experience is full of question marks. Sophomore Tyler McCulloch and redshirt freshman Nelson Spruce should see the most looks when the Buffs actually throw.

Defense

You know there are concerns when five to six freshmen could potentially play substantial minutes on the defensive line, and this is just the position Colorado will find themselves in this fall.

Senior defensive end Will Pericak will set the tone up front for the Buffs, and will be surrounded by a host of freshmen including nose tackle Josh Tupou who promises to see substantial time in defensive coordinator Greg Brown‘s base 4-3 set.

Sophomore defensive end Juda Parker and junior JACK linebacker Chidera Uzo-Diribe should make for a talented and tough-to-handle pass rushing duo and will be a nice compliment to the talented linebacking corps returning this fall.

The closest thing Colorado has to featured players on the defensive side of the field are linebackers Douglas Rippy and Derrick Webb, who both will be expected to make big plays all over the field in 2012 given the total lack of experience up front. Ultimately, how successful these guys are at containing the run and limiting YAC from passes made into the flats will determine the success of the unit as a whole.

It’s a bad sign when your leading tackler is a member of the defensive secondary, as was true of senior free safety Ray Polk in 2011 (69 tackles). Polk will be the mainstay in a secondary unit that is also as young as it has been in several seasons.

Schedule

It’s highly possible the Buffaloes could equal their wins from 2011 in the first three games of the 2012 season. The traditional rivalry game against the Colorado State Rams in Denver is followed up by a home test against FBS Sacramento State and a road trip to California to take on the RS No. 94 Fresno State Bulldogs in Week 3.

Pac-12 play opens up in Pullman, Washington on September 22nd as the Buffs take on Mike Leach‘s Washington State squad which could be one of the more interesting stories in the conference this season.

While an improvement over the three-win season in 2011 is certainly viable, don’t expect a return trip to a bowl game for the Buffaloes this fall. Five wins would be solid.

Kris Hughes is the College Football Network Manager for Rant Sports and a member of the Football Writers Association of America.

You can follow him on Twitter or check out his Facebook page.

Kris is also the host of Rant Sports Radio on the Blog Talk Radio Network Wednesday evenings at 8 Central Time.