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Colorado Buffaloes preview

Nelson Spruce is back as a fifth-year senior. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Last year’s winless Pac-12 campaign doesn’t offer much hope that the Buffs will compete any time soon in the South. If there’s a silver lining in Boulder, though, it’s that two conference losses came via double OT and two others by less than a touchdown. Converting some close losses into close wins will be a start.

Offense

How the Buffaloes beat you: There’s a bright spot for Colorado’s offensive attack: 2014 Biletnikoff semifinalist Nelson Spruce. After accounting for nearly a quarter of the offense’s output last year (1,198 receiving yards), the wide receiver opted to return to Boulder as a fifth-year senior. Spruce shared conference highs for receptions (106) and TD catches (12) last year, but if there is a knock against him, it’s his general lack of explosiveness: 11.3 ypc (No. 27 among FBS receivers, minimum 75 receptions) and just 13 catches for 20-plus yards. “I’m working to be quicker in and out of breaks,” Spruce said in the spring. “I want to show that I can be a little more explosive down the field.” So while the rush attack is not without promise (the Buffaloes gained 154.6 ypg, their highest total since 2006), the offense will still run through its NFL-caliber receiver.

How you beat the Buffaloes: No Pac-12 quarterback threw more picks than junior Sefo Liufau last season (15)—so despite losing a respectable 6 fumbles all year (No. 19 in the FBS), Colorado still finished minus-10 in turnover margin (tied for No. 112). And while the Buffs averaged 439.2 total ypg (No. 37), they just didn’t have the big-play ability to overcome big mistakes, gaining just 5.3 yards per play (No. 88).

Defense

How the Buffaloes beat you: “Our front seven is going to surprise people,” says Colorado’s director of sports performance, Dave Forman. That’s the hope, anyway, for a leaky unit that was composed almost entirely of underclassmen on its two-deep last season. The defense lacked disruption, forcing only 22 sacks (No. 88) and 55 tackles for loss (tied for 111th). But the now more buff Buffs do get back three of their top four tacklers for loss, as well as their top five sackers, including 2014 Pac-12 honorable mention NT Josh Tupou.

How you beat the Buffaloes: Colorado didn’t do much of anything well last season. “We need to make a big jump on the defensive side,” admits coach Mike MacIntyre. And it was especially prone to giving up huge chunks of real estate to opposing ball carriers: 30 rushes of 20-plus yards allowed last season (No. 122). The Buffaloes would dig themselves into holes from the outset, allowing 6 ypc on first down (No. 115), and just never recovered. They also gave up first downs on 26 percent of all rushing attempts (No. 91). And while MacIntyre insists that playing in the Pac-12 makes progress “harder to notice,” it was pretty tough to miss that the Colorado defenders were frequently out of position last year.