Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Colorado Football: Is the Buffaloes' Defense Equipped to Handle the Pac-12?

Over the past few seasons, football in Boulder has become a wallowing pit of despair. Thankfully, the “Dan Hawkins Experiment” has finally come to a close and the Buffaloes have a chance to emerge from his cloud of ineptness with the guidance of Jon Embree.

Although Embree has a multitude of problems to address, Colorado's stagnant defense will undoubtedly be atop of his list. 

For the past five seasons, Colorado’s defense has steadily declined.  In 2006, the Buffaloes ranked a respectable 58th in the nation, allowing 22.3 points per game.  But then the slope gets slippery. Colorado proceeded to slide down the rankings season-after-season, stumbling to an embarrassing 91st in 2010.

The explosive offenses in the Big 12 are a huge reason for Colorado’s epic downturn.  Between the years of 2006-2008, at least six Big 12 teams finished each season with “Scoring Offense” numbers in the Top 25. Yet, as the Conference’s numbers declined in recent years, the Buffaloes defense still could not right the ship.

While the Pac-10 usually has a handful of teams representing the conference’s scoring prowess amongst the nation’s Top 25 offenses, they don’t come close to scratching the totals of the Big 12. However, don’t be sucked in to thinking that transferring to the Pac-12 will provide the Buffaloes’ defense with any significant relief…because, in short, the Pac-12 is loaded like a baked potato.
From Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley to Nick Foles and Brock Osweiler, Colorado’s shoddy secondary will be under heavy fire practically every weekend. 

Although Colorado returns seven players on defense, the Buffaloes lost two starting cornerback from its 110th ranked secondary.  Jonathan Hawkins and Paul Vigo have been touted as early favorites to fill these holes, but things could easily change by opening day kickoff. 

Either way, whoever eventually wins the starting role will be vigorously tested straight out of the gates. The Buffaloes’ season opener takes place in Hawaii, and the Warriors are infamously known for their zippy offense. 

While this game could end up rattling their already-soft egos, Colorado’s secondary will get a bit of reprieve for the rest of September.  However, if they can’t find a groove by the time conference play picks up in October, they should be in a world of trouble.

All is not dreary for the Buffaloes’ on defense, though.  Senior defensive end Josh Hartigan returns and should jangle a few cages this season.  Hartigan led Colorado in sacks last year, earning All-Conference honors.  Although the Pac-12 tends to have better offensive lines than the Big 12, Hartigan should find a way to pull in decent numbers. 

All in all, people are not expecting much more from Colorado’s defense than to stop any profuse bleedings.

The Buffaloes’ offense, however, will have to do most of the heavy lifting. 

Senior quarterback Tyler Hansen showed great promise this spring.  His maturity level is definitely rising and he has the potential to put together a solid season.  Hansen’s prospects blossom even further considering he will not be alone on the offensive attack. 

All-Conference tailback Rodney Stewart adds at little sugar to the spice for Colorado, providing the Buffaloes’ offense with a viable ground option and also relieving pressure off of Hansen.

Stewart flew a bit under the radar last season and took the Big 12 by a bit of a surprise.  With the learning curve that tends to accompany a conference switch, Stewart could fall into this "stealth mode" once again.   Add on the fact that Colorado returns a veteran offensive line, and Stewart could quietly put up huge numbers again in 2011. 

If Colorado has any chance of sneaking away with a division title in 2011, they will need to harness the power of its offense.  So, while Colorado’s defense might not be fully equipped to handle the rigorous test of its first Pac-12 schedule, its offense might be able to take a few teams by surprise.

Colorado 2011 Record Prediction: 5-8