We continue looking through the Pac-12 with our season preview of Colorado.
2015 record: 4-9, 1-8 (Pac-12)
2016 FPI preseason rank: 55
2016 FPI win projection: 5.0-7.0
Key losses: WR Nelson Spruce, RB Christian Powell
Most important player: Liufau. There are weapons on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball who can do some damage in the Pac-12, but none of that matters if the Buffs can't get solid quarterback play. Liufau needs to keep the offense moving by distributing the ball to playmakers so that the defense has some margin for error.
Impact newcomer: Freshman wide receiver Johnny Huntley III. Colorado will be running an offense that is going to utilize a lot of wide receivers. With Juwann Winfree out of the mix, there are even more receptions to go around. Even with Shay Fields, Devin Ross and Bryce Bobo, the Buffs still need more guys to step up. Enter: the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Huntley, who's going to prove to be a matchup problem for defenses and a unique weapon for the Buffs.
Breakout player: Donovan Lee. Colorado's move to a hurry up offense will be a huge benefit to Lee, who will see time as both a running back (where most people know Lee, if the know him at all) and a wide receiver. But this season, he'll be a unique feature in the offense, serving in a multi-purpose role, getting lots of touches every game.
Position unit of strength: Running backs. It was hard to go against the linebackers here considering it returns Gamboa, Kenneth Olugbode, McCartney and Jimmie Gilbert, but the depth and breadth of the running back unit takes the cake. Between Lindsay, Michael Adkins II, Lee and Beau Bisharat the Buffs have a lot of different tools at their disposal when it comes to the run game. Size? Speed? Shiftiness? Power game? It's all there. Plus, Colorado brought back former Buff great (player and coach) Darian Hagan to work with this talented group.
Position unit of weakness: Quarterbacks. Liufau has the Buffs in a good position with their first-string quarterback, but every offensive coordinator in this league will tell you that you need at least two (best case scenario: three) QBs who can get the job done if you want to be competitive. So, what's behind Liufau? Junior Jordan Gehrke (who attempted 24 passes in three games last year), redshirt freshman Steven Montez (whose most in-depth action came in the spring game) and true freshman Sam Noyer. That's not the most promising situation.
Biggest remaining question mark: Will the increased offensive tempo pay off for the Buffs? Darrin Chiaverini joined Colorado as a co-offensive coordinator and wide receiver coach, bringing with him a faster approach to the offense. It's not a wholesale change, but it is going to be a bit different for Liufau and Co. moving forward. Could it be the key that cracks open the offense to making moves in the Pac-12? Or will it just be another (failed) attempt to move up in the Pac-12 that ultimately puts more roadblocks in the Buffs' way?
Most important game: Oregon State, Oct. 1. It'll be Colorado's second Pac-12 game of the season, and an opportunity to pick up a second-consecutive win over the Beavers. If Colorado can make a statement in this game it should give them confidence heading into the rest of the season.
Upset watch: Colorado State. The Buffs are favored at home against the Rams, but Mike MacIntyre needs to be on upset watch against this squad, especially after his fighting words about Colorado State late last week.
Best-case scenario in 2016: 6-6. They're favored against Colorado State, Idaho State, Oregon State and Arizona State. So if they pick up wins in all four of those games and also manage to swing two more upsets (they came so close last year, maybe they'll close the deal this year?), Colorado will be punching its ticket to its first postseason appearance since 2007.
Worst-case scenario in 2016: 2-10. Colorado loses to Colorado State in its season opener and then picks up wins over Idaho State and Oregon State, limping to another 1-8 finish in the Pac-12.
Prediction: 5-7. The Buffs win three conference games this season. Last season Colorado played UCLA, USC and Utah close, despite all three of those teams being heavily favored so it'll walk into similar matchups this season understanding what it takes to play it close, and hungry enough to make it turn out a different way this time around.