Spring questions: Colorado

Spring practices end the retrospective glances at the last season and begin the forward-looking process of the next fall. Departed players need to be replaced and returning starters need to get better and youngsters need to step up.

While some teams have more issues than others, every team has specific issues that will be front and center. So we begin a look at the main questions each Pac-12 team will address this spring.

Up next: Colorado. The Buffs, by the way, have already been at it in spring practice for over a week. They started their session earlier than any other Pac-12 program.

1. Will the defensive front seven develop into a more cohesive run-stuffing unit? Colorado surrendered 5.6 yards per carry last season, a full yard more than the conference's second-worst team (Oregon State, 4.6). Opponents routinely gashed the Buffs up front. There's optimism emanating from Boulder, though, that another year of experience will be the salve for this defense. Underclassmen comprised all of the Colorado's primary depth along the defensive line in 2014, so every single spring practice brings further maturation to a developing unit. So far, the Buffs seem excited about their offseason gains, and they have to be thrilled by the return of lineman Samson Kafovalu, who took last season off. Spring is a time to see if the Buffs' strengthening is leading to better flow up front. A lack thereof left plenty of gaping holes for opposing backs to barrel through last season.

2. Is this the beginning of breakthrough Year 3? The third year of Mike MacIntyre's first head-coaching job was the charm. That's when he led San Jose State to a 10-2 record and a Military Bowl championship. His success that season with the Spartans came on the heels of 1-11 and 5-7 seasons, the second of which featured a number of blown double-digit fourth-quarter leads. A closer look at MacIntyre's first two seasons in Boulder reveals similarities to his time at San Jose State: Though Colorado has struggled to win so far, Year 2 saw the Buffs develop enough of a competitive spirit to lose in heartbreaking fashion -- just like that 5-7 San Jose State team. Spring ball means that the third year is officially here, and it will be intriguing to see if the parallels to MacIntyre's first head-coaching foray continue.

3. Will strength and conditioning gains begin translating to the field? Sports performance director Dave Forman and star receiver Nelson Spruce have both lauded Colorado players for impressive gains during the recent winter conditioning stretch. It's now time to find out if those improvements will translate into wins. The Buffs lost two games in double overtime last season -- brutal, to say the least -- so they're looking for that extra boost to push them into the win column and earn the momentum that comes with a dose of success. If Colorado shows more physicality during spring than they have in the past, it will be safe to say that they're on the right track. It's taken some time for this program to rebuild its foundation from the ground up. There's now a strong demand for tangible results in the win column. Bring on the spring litmus test.