Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tuesday Grab Bag: Football takes the stage

Site note:  This week's schedule is a little weird, due to the Thursday kickoff.  I 'hope' to have the Hawai'i preview up tomorrow afternoon, but more than likely Thursday noon-ish.  The FridayThursday Beer Post will be up Thursday afternoon.  Stay tuned...


Coach MacIntyre decided to give us all a GameWeek gift by releasing an early depth chart.  I can't help but notice that the release came the day after the BDC's Brian Howell posted the paper's projections (mostly correct), but that's less important than the information contained therein.  Of key note:
  • There's depth everywhere; 38 returning letter-winners among the 50 available spots on the two-deep.
  • Still, only five positions list seniors on the top line -- Nelson Spruce (WR), Stephane Nembot (OT), Christian Powell (RB), Justin Solis (DT), Ken Crawley (DB).
  • Of the three positions featuring non-lettered designated starters (all on defense), all are incoming transfers, and, theoretically, were brought in for just such a purpose -- Jordan Carrell (DE), Leo Jackson (DE), and Jaleel Awini (LB).
  • Former walk-on Ryan Moeller (!) earned the starting spot at Free Safety.  Cool-cool-cool.
  • The kicking game is still a mystery, with the 'OR' tag noted at both punter and placekicker.
As Ryan Koenigsberg noted here, much of the defensive chart is skewed by a strict adherence to the 4-3 format.  As the Buffs are probably going to run a lot of 3-4, consume with large portions of salt.  NOM-NOM.


Today in the bag, I'm talking my wish list for the football season, some sparkling results from the volleyball court, and the action from the soccer pitch.

Click below for the bag...

2015 Football Wish List - 

It's that time again; time to post my yearly goals/wish list.  The team was only able to live up to two of the five on last year's list ('Stay competitive' and Sefo's 2,000 yard mark, FWIW), yet still posted what I would call a 'good' season based on overall improvement.  Such a mediocre return on expectations this year, however, will not be accepted so warmly.  It's time for the building program to bear some damn fruit, starting with a sweep of these five items:

1) Secure a bowl 'eligibility' -

Ah, an old standby.  It's been since 2007 that CU has had a season end in December, rather than November -- a continuing point of embarrassment for the program and fanbase. The approach to breaking that cherry in 2015 may not be the traditional one you'd expect.  On the surface, due to the 13th game on the schedule, CU will need at least seven wins for bowl eligibility.  Throw in the nation's toughest division set against them, and that's a pretty tall order.  That's not the end of it, however.
Bowl game?  What's that?
With a whopping total of 41 bowls on the schedule for December and January, a ridiculous 80 teams (remember to account for the playoff) will need to be assigned to a bowl this winter.  That means, almost assuredly, at least one team with a sub-.500 record will get placed in a bowl.  CU needs to put themselves in position for that exception by winning at least six games, and hoping the Pac-12 South stays as strong as it appears to be in the preseason.  While taking a losing record into a bowl would be less than ideal, would anyone really turn it down?

2) Sweeping non-conference play -

Another repeat from last year that the team whiffed on.  Should CU have any hope of the minimum of six wins required for even outside bowl consideration, they will need to be perfect in non-conference play. Luckily for them, the bar has been set rather low -- the pu pu platter that is @Hawai'i, UMass, CSU, and Nicholls State is one of the softest schedules of any Power 5 school.  That's not to say all of those games are gimmies, just that CU should/would be favored in each of them if they were kicking off this week.  You can't ask for much more.

Remember, past these four games, the degree of difficult ramps up in a hurry.  The Pac-12 is, once again, near the top of the nation in terms of top-to-bottom quality, and the South is the hardest hardcore division in the land.  Going from the non-conference slate to the conference portion will be like going from climbing Charles Mound (the highest point in Illinois, 1,235 feet) to Mount Elbert.  Best to get some licks in while the gettin's good.

3) Beat Utah - 

Whine and bitch about it all you want, but Utah is our in-conference rival (with Nebraska, of course, being our out-of-conference rival - may their beds be ever infested with fire ants).  The rest of the conference simply has bigger, more traditional fish to fry.  That's not to say future games against the 'Original 10' won't have a rival-esque flair to them, just that, unless the conference expands in the near future, the Utes are all we have.
Tyler Hansen was certainly happy the last time CU waltzed out of SLC with a win.
Don't be scared. I know you want something more 'Hollywood' in the rival column, but it's best to embrace the gifts life has given you.  For example: While USC, Arizona, and ASU have all proven to be well ahead of CU in recent years, Utah is a completely different story.  It's an attainable goal to take down the Good Ship Whittingham, and the Buffs could find themselves using victories against their western neighbors to propel themselves into respectability.  Just think, if the trip to SLC is all that stands between CU and a bowl trip this winter, you'd be pretty pumped for that game, right?  C'mon Buffs, kick their ass, get back into the modern series (now at 1-3, Utes), and make that bowl game!

4) Staying (relatively) injury free -

CU was blessed throughout summer practice to stay off the injury rolls. Tyler Hennington's freak occurrence notwithstanding, there were no major injuries reported during camp, and the Buffs closed the summer with a fully stocked roster.  While improved depth lessens the importance here, CU must remain in the good graces of the injury gods as the season progresses.

A few minor knocks have already hurt that momentum, as defensive players Tim Coleman and De'Jon Wilson are each listed as out for the opener.  Especially on the defensive side of the ball, that's a less than ideal start.  The schedule is brutally long, and football is, in and of itself, barbaric, so perfect marks here are impossible. Still, as we saw last year with the safety corps, injuries can mount in a hurry, and can put a serious dent in your ability to compete.  The Buffs have to stay (relatively) healthy this year, so avoiding a continuing string of injuries at a single position is critical.

5) Produce an impactful season on defense -

Here's some raw stats put up by the CU defense during the 2014 football season:

  • 461 total yards allowed per game, 111th nationally
  • 205 rushing yards allowed per game, 102nd nationally
  • 256 passing yards allowed per game, 100th nationally
  • 39 points allowed per game, 116th nationally
  • 4.6 tackles per loss per game, 110th nationally
  • 11 total turnovers created, 122nd nationally
  • 89% red zone scoring rate, 111th nationally

Even with the injury caveat accounted for, that's just fucking awful. There's a reason, afterall, that the Buffs have a new defensive coordinator.  While the offense was finally worth a damn in 2014 (top-40 in the country), the defense was made of the finest Swiss cheese.  That cannot continue.
Buoyed by a veteran defensive backfield, CU must force some turnovers in 2015.
The hope is that Jim Leavitt, in addition to his infectious personality, has also brought a new defensive direction to Boulder.  With a variety of defensive schemes, an attacking mindset from the linebacker slot, and a focus on creating turnovers, maybe, just maybe, the defense can finally begin to swing upwards.  I'm looking for CU to finish in the top-80 of each category listed above.

After a sputter, Volleyball roars into the season -

The Volleyball team, in spite of an opening night hiccup, got their season off to a roaring start this weekend, thanks to a pair of marquee wins at the 2015 Omni Classic.
Alexis Austin posted a strong start to her senior season.
It all started, awkwardly, with a four set wimper against San Diego on Friday.  The loss was all down to errors - CU made 39 on the night - which allowed the Toreros to keep the homestanding Buffs at bay. Hitting under .100 for the match didn't help either, as the ladies fell to 0-1 on the season's opening night.  As a lone bright spot, note that senior Alexis Ausitn collected 13 kills in defeat.  Her swinging ways would continue over the weekend, paying serious dividends.

A quick turnaround to a Saturday day/night double-header gave the Buffs little time to reflect on their loss. On the day, they'd be facing a pair of top-30 teams; #9 Florida State and #28 Oklahoma.  Rebounding in the best way possible, though, the Buffs took a pair of five set results to all but erase the memory of Friday's sputtering start.  The errors were still there (74 in total), but the overall attack was suddenly much more prolific.  In each game the ladies hit over 28%, with Austin collecting another 47 kills to raise her tournament total to an even 60.  As coach Liz Kritza said afterwards, "That’s my team, they were back."
Saturday was a complete turnaround.  From:
Looking past the rough look of Friday's affair, it's a strong start to the season for the Buffs, now up to #21 in the latest poll, who are looking to improve off of a strong 2014-15 campaign that saw them into the second round of the NCAA Tournament.  The Omni Classic was a very tough test to kick off the year, but CU held their own, leading me to believe that the Buffs can once again compete in the very difficult Pac-12. With more home stands like this one, they certainly have the potential to do just that.  Up next: a trip eastward to face Penn State and Illinois in the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge.

Another up and down weekend in Soccer - 

Coming off an an inconsistent start to the season against CSU and Colorado College, the second week of the year brought a similar set of results on the soccer pitch.

A Friday trip to Provo to face the #11 BYU Cougars went about as expected, with the Cougars steamrolling to a 2-0 result.  In front of a massive, boisterous crowd (near 6k!), a pair of first half goals was all that was needed to upend Colorado.  Senior goalie Kate Scheele was left with little chance on either effort, and the offense, other than a real nice chip from Brie Hooks, never really threatened the back of the net.
The Buffs look like a completely different team at home. From:
Returning home to face New Mexico on Sunday, however, was a completely different story.  CU got on the board early and often against the Lobos, cruising to a 4-0 win.  Four different Buffs featured on the score sheet, sparked by junior Danica Evans' 8th minute tally.  The comfortable early lead allowed CU coach Danny Sanchez to use a filling total of 22 players in the game, none for over 73 minutes of action.  A nice luxury, that.

Overall, the Buffs are now 2-1-1 on the season, with both wins coming at home by a combined score of 7-0.  Luckily, they can look to lean on that strong sense of home pitch advantage as they won't have to leave the state until October -- CU will play five of their next six games in Boulder, sandwiched around a trip to DU for the conclusion of the Colorado Cup.  Should you find yourself free on an upcoming September Sunday, feel free to swing by Prentup and take in the action.  Kickoff will be at 1pm each day.

Happy GameWeek!

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