BOULDER, CO - NOVEMBER 4: The Colorado Buffaloes wear black in support of their team against the USC Trojans at Folsom Field on November 4, 2011 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
We're talking today with Ralphie Report about Colorado football. Cal played Colorado last year in a thrilling non-conference battle. We do not actually play them this year, but it is good to stay up on all the conference mates. So, we talked with David Gerhart and Jon Woods from RR about the team. They are one of the youngest teams out there and not a lot is expected from them. However, crazier things have happened in college football than this Colorado team turning out to be pretty good.
However, we all know that they will suck a lot, because Cal is missing them. Of course, we get to play the toughest teams while dodging rebuilding teams like Arizona and Colorado. Because we're Cal! It's never easy for us. But to find out more about the Buffs team I assume we would have easily defeated were we to play them this year, check out the answers after the jump. THANKS! to the fans over at Ralphie Report for these great, detailed answers. GO BEARS!
1. What were the core questions that you had hoped would be answered by Spring Practice? Were conclusions reached?
There were a bunch, so I'll try to limit this to just a few:
Who will take the reigns of the starting QB spot?
So far, Connor Wood has gotten most of the reps as the starting QB, but that's mostly because Nick Hirschman has been injured on and off since the end of last season. Hirschman has more experience (though only slightly) and has been in this offense longer, but he didn't look great in his few chances last season. Wood has a lot of potential, but we don't know if anything will come of that. We still need to see both of them healthy before we know who really has an advantage. Plus, the coaching staff is really excited about Shane Dillon, who will be joining the team as a true freshman in August and Jordan Webb, former starter at Kansas, has joined the team in July.
Final answer: No conclusions here...yet
Will Nick Kasa be able to make the transition to TE successfully?
No idea. He seems like he's progressing, and that's good because we really need him to, but he still only has a few games-worth of time at tight end in his career. Eric Bieniemy would really like to be able to roll out two-TE sets a lot, so the development of Kasa will be key for the Buffs on offense in 2012.
Are guys going to step up at positions that look thin?
Not yet. As of now, it looks like we'll be relying on multiple true freshmen at (count it up) WR, TE, CB, DT, and possibly also at DE and RB. The coaching staff expects 75% of our incoming freshmen (a full class of 25 kids) to play, and they may be key contributors. That's not a recipe for success, though in many cases they will provide upgrades over what we've had. Our recruiting had been down for so long that it may not actually be a bad thing for us to have so many new kids getting playing time. But still, relying on true freshmen is a nerve-wracking prospect.
2. Any major style changes coming our way in the fall? New offense or defense installed?
Short answer: No. Though that's not entirely true. The coaching staff spent much of their first offseason working on getting the guys to practice the way they wanted, to work on improving technique and getting into better shape. This offseason, they plan on finishing the install of the offense and defense and really focus on concepts at each position. So it won't be different on either side of the ball, just better and more complicated. And that is a very, very good thing.
3. What players emerged on offense? On defense?
On offense, the two names that weren't completely expected to be mentioned were WR Nelson Spruce and LG Alex Lewis. Spruce's development is huge because we're very thin at wideout. He redshirted last year, but he looked very smooth in high school and has good size w/ solid speed and agility. But he's going to be counted on a lot since Paul Richardson tore his ACL. Alex Lewis lined up for us more at TE last season as the blocking, on-the-line Y for us. He's transitioning to blocking fulltime now and he looks like he could be a star there on the left side of our Line. Despite losing two very experienced guards, I think our line should actually be improved this season, and that left side, with Lewis and David Bakhtiari are a big reason for it.
On defense, it feels weird to say Greg Henderson, considering he emerged last season, but it sounds like he's been improving and may end up being a leader for us. He's only a true sophomore, but after leading the defense in snaps in 2011, his improvement would be big for us. He showed a lot of maturity last year and was pretty darn good at times, but he was also a rookie and was made to look like it for stretches. His improvement will go a long ways towards shoring up what is still a pretty thin secondary. Chidera Uzo-Diribe is the other guy that was mentioned, which is a good thing. He's a pretty special athlete at DE/OLB, and he's gotten up to about 255 lbs. He was one of the team leaders in sacks last season and he's poised to join the top pass-rushers in the conference in 2012.
4. What are your biggest worries coming out of spring ball for the fall?
That we don't get the kind of contributions from the incoming freshmen that we need. It's not quite as dire as I'm probably making it sound, but to have success (for us that's having a winning record in 2012), we're going to need more than just snaps from the new guys; we're going to need quality play from them. Especially at DT and CB. We are going to need starts and positive impacts from them, otherwise we're going to have trouble breaking out of the bottom third of the conference.
5. Project your season. Contender? Pretender? Middle of the pack?
I say middle of the pack. Right now we're all potential, but there are some things to get excited about. I'm about 85% certain that our offensive line will be improved, which will help a lot. And while we're replacing a lot of skill players on offense, most of them had hit their ceilings. Not to diminish their contributions, but Jon Embree and the new coaching staff are bringing in guys with more potential than the recruits of the last regime, and that is good news for fans of the Buffaloes. We get Ray Polk and Douglass Rippy back from injury, which is good, plus more experience for guys like Uzo-Diribe, Henderson and Juda Parker. Add in some of the talented and exciting freshmen that should join the team in August and I think our defense should be a couple of notches better in all areas by the time the conference sked rolls around. I think .500 or better is attainable in 2012, and we always seem to have one surprise game in us. Last year we didn't have one, but I like our chances for one upset this season, plus more victories in those close games.
6. Any frosh you can't wait to get on campus?
Can I just say all of them? Specifically, I'm excited for Josh Tupou and Justin Solis at DT. I think they both have the potential to impact our defense right away in a very positive way. Plus Kenneth Crawley at CB, De'Jon Wilson and (hopefully!) Kisima Jagne at DE, Christian Powell at FB, Tyler Hennington at DT, Donta Abron and Davien Payne at RB, Austin Ray and Vincent Hobbs at TE, Jeffrey and Gerald Thomas at WR, and the rest of them.
Seriously, I just want to say all of them.
7. Who will you miss the most from last season? Who will be stepping up to fulfill those shoes?
You always miss a starting QB, so in addition to Curtis Cunningham, Anthony Perkins and Speedy Stewart, you've got to say Tyler Hansen. He faced a lot of adversity at CU, as did Stewart, and he overcame it. Also, Toney Clemons, who was a force for us at WR down the stretch.
8. Any particular Pac12 match-up/rivalry you are looking forward to this Fall?
It'll be fun facing off against the Crazy Pirate Mike Leach again. He's always a character. I am excited for another shot at UCLA, plus I'd like to beat Utah again to get this "rivalry" going the right way.
9. What are the specific injury concerns coming out of this spring?
We're thin at a number of positions, so any injuries at places like WR, TE, DT, DE, CB and elsewhere could really hamper CU's development.
10. Based on what you've seen, who is ready to take a major leap this fall?
Junior defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe will be counted on to lead the pass rush for the Buffaloes and help open things up for what could turn out to be a very strong linebacker unit. Behind Uzo-Diribe there is a lack of experience and his strong play could make a big difference for this defense. He lead the team in sacks for most of the season and finished with a team-high three forced fumbles.
11. Who do you want to punch in the face?
Everyone pundit who picks the Buffs to finish as the worst team in the Pac-12 this season. Doesn't mean that I don't think it will end up true, but I still reserve the right to want to punch them.
12. Who's got the best nickname on the team?
Not really any that I can think of on this team. Nothing will ever top "The Rabid Goldfish".
13. Which one of your assistant coaches is in the hot seat?
Right now, in such a huge rebuilding year, probably no one. Next year is when the fans and athletic department will begin to expect some dividends.
14. After such a tough first year in the Pac-12, what are realistic expectations for the Buffs in year 2?
It's unfortunate, but expectations can't be that high for Colorado in year two. Phil Steele just recently named the Buffaloes the youngest team in college football heading into the 2012 season and Jon Embree has said multiple times that he expects that 80% of the freshmen class could see time this year. All of that being said, the non-conference schedule is drastically weaker than in years past. With some little experience Colorado State will be a battle as always and heading to Fresno won't be easy. However, the first three Pac-12 games are Washington State in Pullman followed by UCLA and Arizona State and it isn't unreasonable that the with some breaks the Buffaloes could finish at 5-1 and only need two more victories to get to seven wins. Anything worse than 4-2 after those first six games and Buffs fans should be prepared to wait another year for a return to a bowl game.