In year one of the Jon Embree era the Colorado Buffaloes football program went through a culture change. A new fundamental base had to be established in order to wash off the remnants of the failed Dan Hawkins experiment. Embree set new expectations for how the Buffs should practice, how they should conduct themselves off the field and how they act in the classroom. It was a lot of non-football change for Embree and the rest of his staff but now in year two he can finally place more focus on the football aspect of the job.
That leads us to the start of fall camp which officially starts tonight with a team meeting and then continues tomorrow with their first practice of the 2012 season.
Here are five questions for CU as preseason camp gets underway:
Who will emerge as the starter from the three-way quarterback competition?
The quarterback race will likely be the most intense position battle in fall camp and it will have the biggest impact on the 2012 season. Right now it looks like it will only be a three-way battle between Nick Hirschman, Connor Wood and Jordan Webb to determine the starter for the opener against Colorado State. The “favorite” in many people’s eyes is Wood seeing that he received all of the first team reps during spring practice due to Hirschman’s foot injury. During his injury, Hirschman used that time to improve on the mental aspect of his game, which should pay off during fall practices. Jordan Webb is eligible to play right away after transferring from Kansas and is the only QB with significant starting experience. Word around the program suggests that Webb may be the early favorite after coaches were not overly impressed with Wood during spring practices. It should be an intense battle and whoever comes out on top will have earned it.
Which positions will freshmen compete for the most playing time?
There are several positions that freshmen will be able to compete for right away. The position that will have the most opportunity for playing time right away is the defensive secondary. Five freshmen, including the highest rated recruit of the 2012 class Yuri Wright, will compete for significant playing time and if they can perform like Greg Henderson did last fall camp they will have a good chance to earn some significant minutes early on. So far, the cornerbacks have been said to be “unreal” in pre-camp drills and workouts and are expected to be big players in the pass-happy Pac 12. Other positions open for freshmen to compete right away are on the defensive line after losing three starters from last season, tight end and running back.
What position will be the strength of the team on offense and defense?
On offense the strength should lie up front with the offensive line. Despite losing Ryan Miller and Ethan Adkins the O-line should be the anchor of the offense. They have three returning starters in center Gus Handler and tackles David Bakhtiari and Ryan Dannewitz. The Buffs get tackle Jack Harris back after suffering an early season injury last year, which can allow Dannewitz to move back to guard. They will have plenty of depth after Alexander Lewis and Daniel Munyer saw plenty of time last in year in relief of injuries.
On the defensive side of the ball the strength should be at linebacker. With so many questions surrounding the defensive line and the youth surge in the secondary the linebacking corp will be the leaders. Arguably their most talented backer is Doug Rippy who is almost fully recovered from a knee injury and is the leader of the group. He will likely start when he is fully healed but he’s got plenty of talent behind him in case he’s not. Jon Major, Derrick Webb, Kyle Washington and Brady Daigh make up the rest of the group that was rated as the fifth best in the Pac 12 heading into this season.
What is the biggest concern heading into the 2012 season?
It has to be the youth. They are arguably the youngest team in the country with so many freshmen expected to start and play significant minutes. It may not be such a bad thing for CU as they are still in rebuilding mode and the younger players are gaining valuable experience for the future. However, you never really know how a freshman will adapt to the college level and how quickly they can pick up the new schemes. Embree will always start the better player regardless of their age or class so he’s going with what he has and right now that’s a roster full of young players.
Is this team capable of a bowl appearance?
That’s the main goal for Embree and company in year two, to make a bowl game. Is this team ready to do that? Looking at the schedule I think it’s a possibility as long as they get off to a quick start. Their first three games are very winnable and I wouldn’t be surprised if they started out 3-0. The rest of the way I think they could scratch out wins against Washington State on the road, Arizona State in Boulder and then finish off with a win against Utah. The road games are still an iffy prediction even though the Buffs broke their road losing streak last season. They always seem to play better at home and have trouble on the road but I think they are capable of scratching out six wins especially if the freshmen adapt quickly. If the Buffs are able to secure a bowl berth, chalk up the season as a huge win and just a stepping stone for the future.