Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, August 23, 2012

2012 Season scedule breakdown

Some dude thinks CU is the worst team in BCS football.  ('Cause, you know, I always go to a cigar magazine for my football analysis.)  Apparently, Mr Sheridan was too busy being a singer/song-writer to check out how easy CU's schedule is.  What's that... different Danny Sheridan, you say?
Regardless, while CU is certainly not a top-25 team, the 2012 schedule isn't the 13-game bear that forced the Buffs into a 3-10 record last fall, and the final record this season should be far from reflective of the "worst BCS team."  That schedule (I cringe at my inclination to call it "soft" or "weak," because no BCS conference slate can be truly labeled as such) will help the Buffs avoid the basement once more, keeping pride loosely intact while Embree and crew continue to circle the wagons.

Gone are are the seniors that would've easily formed a bowl-eligible team last year had the '11 and '12 schedules been switched.  That top-level talent, particularly offensive stars Rodney Stewart, Tyler Hansen, Toney Clemons, and Ryan Miller, will be sorely missed.  In their place is a weird Pollock-esque smattering of underclassmen and key elder statesmen.  I actually think the overall talent level of the current team is higher from top-to-bottom than the top-heavy crew which covered up a painfully thin depth chart last fall.  Essentially: what the team loses in experience and reliability, it makes up for in depth and explosiveness.  If the Buffs can find a way to leverage that, the team could do well.

Last year's stated goal was the abrupt end of the painful road losing streak.  After six failures, the team finally acheived that goal, beating "rival" Utah in SLC on the season's final day.  That win ended not only the road losing streak that stretched back 25 games to '07, but also the Ute's hopes of claiming the inaugural Pac-12 South Championship.  It was a win that Buff Nation might look back fondly upon in future years, provided it actually leads to something.  Mission accomplished.
Struttin' Embree likes checking off goals.
Encouraged by the season ending success, Coach Embree has moved the chains further down the field, stating that he wants the team to sneak into a bowl game this season.  All it will take is six wins out of 12 to meet that goal.  The schedule is waiting to accommodate.

Even with the lightened schedule, however, it's not a sure thing... 

Today, I'll be taking a look at what awaits the Buffs over the next three months.  Just like last year, I won't be throwing out any scoring predictions (I'll save those for my individual game previews), but I will be sharing how I feel about each game as we head into the season.  Add it up, and I hope to paint a reasonable picture of how the season may go.

You can find my breakdown of last year's schedule here.

Click below for the schedule breakdown...

Rating System - 

Very confident - These games are essentially shoe-ins.  The Buffs may underwhelm, but victory is assured.  Only Dan Hawkins could blow a situation like this.  Think Baylor in '02, North Texas in '04, Miami (OH) in '07, Wyoming in '09, or Montana St in '06 (whoops...).  The game will probably be played at Folsom, and against a team just looking to cash a paycheck.  CU loses a game like this, and the season will get ugly, fast.

Confident - Solid win potential here.  Even an average CU performance should earn victory.  The opponent could be strong, but the situation is ripe for the picking.  For CU to take a loss, there would have to be an underlying factor, i.e.: excessive turnovers, injuries, coaching stupidity, referee screw job, etc.  Think every time we played Kansas, games against Texas Tech in Boulder, A&M in '05, @ISU in '07, Toledo in '09, Hawai'i in '10, all CSU games.

Cautiously confident - It will take a solid effort, but I figure the Buffs should prevail.    These are often home upsets that I call, or road games against very beatable opponents. A loss in one of these games would not necessarily be a shock. Think @Nebraska in '02 and other select road games prior to '06, Florida St and Oklahoma in '07, WVU in '08, Georgia in '10, and Cal in '11.

Toss-up - Legitimate toss-up games, just as likely to win as to lose.  I really have no idea how the game will go.  The outcome will be decided by ephemera (flags, injuries, weather).  Think @OU in '02, @Washington St in '04, Nebraska in '07, and K-State games.

Slightly pessimistic - Not a great pick-up opportunity.  Road games against above-average teams, or home games against solid opponents.  If CU is a quality team, then so is the opponent, and the game is played on the road.  Think @Michigan in '94, @Nebraska in '08

Pessimistic - I'm talking win chance in the 10-25% range here.  If the Buffs are bad, this could even be a home game against a quality opponent, but usually on the road against a top-25 team.  Think that neutral site game with FSU in '08

"No chance in hell" - LOL, no.  Not in a million years.  Probably a road game against a top-ranked opponent, or a home game against an unstoppable juggernaut. A CU win would require divine intervention or a case of food poisoning.  Think @FSU in '03, @Texas and Big XII championship in '05, games against Missouri from '06-'10, Oregon in '11.

Breakdown - 

One thing you may want to pay attention to is the six new coaches littering the schedule.  In fact, the Buffs face teams with new leaders for four-straight weeks in the middle of the schedule.  That may just play a part in how I see things going down...

vs CSU (in Denver) - confident  

New coach? - Yes.

I will never, ever, pick the Buffs to lose this game.  There is simply no excuse to lose to little brother; just beat 'em, don't care how, and move on.  CSU does manage to win their Super Bowl about once out of every four tries, however, so I can't really take a win here as an absolute given... just damn likely.

vs Sacramento State - very confident  

New coach? - No.

The Hornets managed to sting Oregon St last fall, but CU needs to win easily, or at least comfortably, in the home opener.  I can't imagine anything less (mostly because the scars of Montana St are still far too fresh), and I look forward to a solid win in week two.

I should point out that the last two dances with the 1-AA enigma were less than stellar.  If CU again chokes on the lower division schedule filler, then I say we just drop the idea forever.  How busy can Miami (OH) be?

@Fresno State - slightly pessimistic

New coach? - Yes.

The mustache is gone.  After 15 years in Fresno, Pat Hill finally got the axe.  Probably most remembered in BuffNation for spoiling the season opener in 2001, Pat Hill turned FSU into a strong mid-conference power in the early 2000s.  Times grew tough over the past few years, however, and the program decided to move on, turning to A&M's defensive guru, Tim DeRuyter.

Much of the pre-season focus in Fresno will rest on what's new (coach, conference), but it's the carryover which will make or break the team this season.  QB Derek Carr (David's little brother) is running the ship, and he's a good one, more than capable of thrashing quality defensive backfields.  With the Bulldogs move to a more modern spread attack, look for Carr's numbers to go through the roof.
David Carr put Fresno on the map in 2001, can his little brother do the same?
I'm not convinced the Buffs' road woes have been banished, and I can easily see CU stumbling through what many see as an easy win.  I'm not trying to be negative, I just think this game will be a lot more difficult than many Buff fans assume.

@Washington State - toss-up

New coach? - Yes.

Hey!  Look! The pirate is back!  Coach Leach was done horribly wrong in Lubbock, and I'm actually quite glad he found his way back into the BCS coaching ranks.  I'm especially glad because, not only is he a fascinating and skilled football coach, but he has a hard time beating the University of Colorado.  Even at the program's lowest in '06 and '07, the Buffs still managed to pull the wool over the pirate's eyes. Hell, it was Leach and his Red Raiders who gave CU their last Big XII road win in '07, and CU repeatedly proved undaunted when faced with the patented Leach spread offense.  Add in the fact that Leach will need a few years to install his offense, and this game could be an intriguing win opportunity.
Welcome back, Captain Leach!
Pullman is a tough trip to an out-of-the-way hamlet (Not unlike the towns that CU was familiar with in the old Big XII), and makes for an awkward road-trip.  Additionally, the Cougar faithful will be amped for the first home conference game with their new coaching prize.  While the coaching situation might leave open some room for victory, that it's on the road gives me a lot of pause.  Just for the Leach factor alone, I'll leave it as a toss-up, but it probably should be a "slightly pessimistic."

There is a wild card, however.  I expect that P-Rich could/should be back by this point, possibly giving the offense both a performance and emotion boost.  If this is his first game back, all bets are off.

vs UCLA - cautiously confident 

New coach? - Yes.

Jim Mora?  Really?  Whatever, man.  That was a very uninspired coaching hire, and reeks of settling.  The worst part is, BuffNation doesn't get their "revenge game" with Slick Rick Neuheisel.

I think the Bruins are in for a very sloppy, and regressive season.  With only a few weeks to go, defensive captain and last year's leading tackler Patrick Larimore up and quit due to mounting concussion concerns.  That leaves a defense in turmoil, and I think could force a Bruin stumble out of the block, potentially ruining an already cloudy season prospectus.

I look at this pair of home games (UCLA and ASU) as similar to the pair with Cal and WSU last year.  Two winnable games, but probably a stretch for a young team to latch onto both.  If CU manages to win one, I'd put money on it being this one.

vs Arizona State - cautiously confident 

New coach? - Yes.

The Sun Devils collapsed down the stretch last season, turning a sure thing into a UCLA trip to the Pac-12 title game.  They reflexively fired Coach Dennis Erickson (probably a good thing) and hired Todd Graham, who was all too happy to shirk his responsibilities at Pitt to head to the desert.  If anything, Graham should bring an uptick in overall team discipline, as coach Erickson was known for letting his teams get into trouble both on, and off the field.
"Wait, where am I again?"
In addition to the coaching switch, the team is also replacing NFL QB prospect Brock Osweiler (Bronco fans should be familiar with that name), but I don't think that will matter much as they will probably spend most of their time pounding the rock with Cam Marshall.

This game will mark CU's annual blackout.  Set on a Thursday night, under the lights, and shown on ESPN, the Buffs should come out hyped to prove they're not to be forgotten.  Hopefully the black-out magic will serve them better than it did last year, when USC torched them in prime time.

I generally perceive the Sun Devils to have a better base of talent, and more capable of cushioning problems that arise from the coaching change, than the UCLA Bruins.  Of the two mid-season home games, I feel less confident about this one.  Still, should be a winnable game.

@USC - "No chance in hell"  

New coach? - No.

The first of three straight games against the league's best.  The current #1 team in the land made easy work of CU last year on national TV, as QB Matt Barkley threw for 6 TD's against the paper-thin CU pass defense.  The defense is better, but USC should have just as easy of a time against the Buffs this season.
Barkley's still there?  We're boned.

@Oregon - "No chance in hell" 

New coach? - No.

Oregon is Missouri now, adjust your calculations accordingly.  It will take years to create a defense capable of stopping these guys.  As a result, CU has about as much of a chance to beat the Ducks in Eugene as I have of dating the lovely Alison Brie.

vs Stanford - pessimistic  

New Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football? - No.

Andrew Luck may be a Colt now, but they're still a strong team who expects to win.  Shayne Skov is back, and the rest of the cupboard is still stocked with Jim Harbaugh's left-overs.  This is the year we will find out how good Coach Shaw is, however, as the time to ride his coat-tails is quickly coming to an end.

RB Stepfan Taylor should be the primary offensive weapon in Palo Alto, and he's a good one.  I think he'll find plenty of running room against the youthful CU D-line.
Taylor is one of the best backs in the west.

@Arizona - cautiously confident  

New coach? - Yes.

Rich Rod has a history of slow starts as he installs his awkward read-option offense and 3-3-5 stack defense, and I would expect no different in Tucson.  He's getting $2mil per year to coach the Wildcats, and I'm pretty sure it'll be a while before the faithful see any ROI on that money.

If only this wasn't a road game, I'd consider this a sure win. Still, against a program with some serious recent struggles against FBS competition, this game presents a prime pick-up opportunity on the road. UofA lost some serious offensive talent in QB Nick Foles and WR Juron Criner, and, combined with the scheme switch, I expect that offense to be far from prolific in '12.

Bottom line: If CU is to have any hopes of getting to a bowl, then this game is a must win.

vs Washington - pessimistic  

New coach? - No.

I still perceive these guys as second-tier in the conference.  They have the talent to move up, but something keeps getting in the way. It'll be interesting to see if they can somehow leap-frog Stanford for second-place in the north.

I really like the combination of Coach Sarkisian and whoever happens to be his QB at the time (Keith Price remains the starter).  Price should be more than capable decimating the Buffs secondary for a second consecutive season (257 yards, 4 scores, 75% passing last year).
Question of the day: is it the QB (Price) or the coach (Sark)?
A quick note on the Huskies: they'll be playing home games this season at CentryLink field (home of the Seahawks) as Husky stadium continues to be refurbished.  I don't think it'll mean all that much to their 2012 season, as the stadium is only a short drive from UW's downtown campus.

vs Utah - slightly pessimistic

New coach? - No.

Remember when we ruined their year?  Yeah, that was awesome.
Sad Ute is still sad.  From: the BDC
The Utes will be out for revenge this year, and the game could potentially mean the difference between bowl and not-bowl for the Buffs.  I'd lean on bowl-hopes being already decided by Thanksgiving weekend, giving this season-ending affair an inconsequential flavor for the home team.

Former CU QB commit Jordan Wynn is back from shoulder surgery, and looks to lead the Utes on another dark horse season.  Now that they know the ropes of BCS play, I'd look for them to have a better go-around in '12.  This game should cap off another strong season

Overall -

Please remember two things:

1)  Just because the road losing streak has ended, that doesn't mean road wins will start to come in bunches.
  • The root of the streak was as much physical as mental.  CU still has a way to go developmentally before Buff Nation can start looking for easy road pickups.
2) Just because a game is "winnable," does not mean the game will be won.
  • Winnable games are not necessarily guarantees of success, and it'll be up to the Buffs to latch onto opportunities as they present themselves.
The world is not perfect, and things do not happen in a vacuum.  Remember, when CU sees a game on the schedule against a weaker opponent as a winnable opportunity, the other team is seeing the same thing when looking at the Buffs.

It's a young team this year, and I expect plenty of youthful mistakes at the worst time imaginable. It's just what comes with the territory.  However, I also expect serious signs of improvement.  There's only two games on the schedule I see as definitive blowouts in the opponent's favor.  I think CU will be in plenty of games this fall, they just need to get their asses over the finish line with the lead.

Let's talk bowl game.  The easiest path to six wins is a sweep of the non-con schedule (two non-BCS teams with new coaches, and a FCS team), and wins against three of the four Pac-12 schools with new coaches.  Any combination of three out of @WSU, UCLA, ASU, and @UofA could put the Buffs into the post-season for the first time since 2007.  When you take a step back, that seems almost do-able.

I think that six-win plateau is the team's ceiling.  The floor?  If the Buffs can't get at least two out of CSU, Sac St, and @Fresno St, then there are more problems with the program than anyone really thinks.  In the end, I'll take the middle road.  Put me down for four to five wins, with probably two of them coming from conference play.  The program has to prove that @Utah '11 wasn't a fluke before I start believing in road wins and the possibility of anything more.

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