Colorado Football Spring Practice Preview: The Replacements

Head coach Jon Embree went just 3-10 in his first season with Colorado, as the Buffaloes finished in a tie for last place in the Pac-12 South with Arizona.

Begins: March 10

Spring Game: April 14

There really isn't a consensus surrounding Colorado this spring.

On the one hand, the Buffaloes closed last season with a bit of momentum after winning two out of their last three games, including a 17-14 upset of Utah in Salt Lake City. So there, optimism! The football monopoly in the Mountain West is over.

Conversely, they already lose a lot of production from a team that won just three games in 2011. So there, cue the March obituaries.

But make no mistake: they do lose a lot. Gone are quarterback Tyler Hansen, who threw for 2,883 yards and 20 touchdowns, and running back Rodney Stewart, who rushed for 854 yards and four touchdowns. Leading receiver Toney Clemons, who hauled in eight touchdown receptions, isn't back either.

So where to start on offense?

Head coach Jon Embree had been planning to start the search to replace Hansen this spring -- a two-man race between sophomores Nick Hirschman, who appeared in five games last season, and Connor Wood, a transfer from Texas. But Hirschman broke his right foot last weekend, which only postpones the search for now -- though it had largely been assumed Wood was the frontrunner anyway. Nonetheless, a starter probably won't be named until fall camp.

Embree must also figure out the rest of his backfield. The likely candidate to replace Stewart? Sophomore Tony Jones, who carried the ball 78 times for 297 yards and two touchdowns last season.

But the thing is: Colorado was, by and large, a bottom feeder last season, especially on offense. It went 3-10. It was 106th nationally in passing yards per game and 109th in points per game with 19.8. And defensively, it was last in the conference in pretty much every statistical category.

Common sense, though, would seem to suggest improvement would be on the horizon and that's a perfectly fair assumption. But remember, this isn't an easy reclamation projection. Dan Hawkins didn't exactly leave the program in the best shape, and Embree, as a result, is going to be relying upon a ton of freshmen and sophomores at key positions this fall.

That isn't necessarily promising. The depth chart isn't Embree's best friend momentarily.

But this spring, with 15 practices, should at least give some of those young players a chance to develop. Guys like cornerback Greg Henderson, who was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention a season ago, figures to be better with time. Guys like Wood and Jones will get more reps, as well, as they look to possibly become first-time starters come September.

Remember, this is a team that is in the second year with a new coach and young players. And a young team that doesn't exactly have a bevy of talent -- thank a couple sub-par recruiting classes and a coaching change for that.

What might prove to be the saving grace in September is the schedule, as the Buffaloes will open up with Colorado State, Sacramento State and Fresno State -- three winnable games. A manageable slate could give its young core some time to get its feet wet.

But we're still a few months away from that, and for now, Embree and Co. have a few things to figure out. They need to find a quarterback. They need to find a running back. Frankly, they have a fair number of these to sort out over the next couple weeks.

Follow Joey on Twitter @joeyrkaufman

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