Now that the college football season is officially over, for everyone, focus can fully turn to the chaos that is the early offseason. The coordinator carousel is in full swing and programs are making their last, heavy overtures at this year's yield of high school athletes.
Before getting into where the Buffs stand in all of this, I'd like to quickly mention how refreshing it was to genuinely pull for the Oregon Ducks on Monday night. I've been rooting for Pac teams in the out of conference since Colorado joined the league, for obvious reasons, but this sense of larger community is still a relatively new feeling for Buff fans. I couldn't have imagined wishing luck to any other Big XII school in any circumstance, or even enjoying watching other Big XII teams play. In fact, I actively hated every other program in the conference and most Buff fans had a long list of legitimate reasons to do so. In retrospect, the hatred we held for our counterparts probably verged on the side of unhealthy. (Aside from our deep and abiding Husker enmity, that is for life. See you in 2018, Lincoln.) There are blood feuds in the Pac-12, of course, and with time more history will grow between CU and the other 11 schools but this feels so much less destructive and so much more fun. It's one of the thousands of reasons I'm thankful that the Colorado Buffaloes made the leap westward. Now, onto the latest happenings.
The Defensive Coordinator Search
The Buffs have been looking to hire a new defensive leader for over three weeks now, since Ken Baer and Andy LaRussa departed to join Tony Sanchez's staff at UNLV, and along the way multiple names have cropped up in connection with the opening. Most all of them have been pure conjecture on the part of the fans and the media. The lid on this process has been sealed shut, very little information has come out from Dal Ward and this has caused fans to grow ever more anxious. It's entirely possible that Rick George and Mike MacIntyre have been turned down numerous times over the past few weeks by some of the bigger fish they've talked to, whoever they may be. As I mentioned in my list of leading candidates on Ralphie Report, it's impossible to know who's thinking what and which guys have truly been considered for the position. If you'd have asked me two weeks ago, I would have told you Clancy Pendergast is the main target. Now that's probably not the case as his name is being bounced around in connection with other jobs. Last week, Kevin Clune seemed to be a solid name and now this week that possibility seems to have fallen by the wayside as well. At this point it's a waiting game, a hire before signing day is fairly critical as some big last minute visits will be made and failing to present a defensive coach isn't the best look to kids currently on the fence.
Whomever the Buffaloes hire is going to need to have a certain amount of experience and a clear plan tailored to the personnel available in order to lift this unit up from where it's been the last two seasons. MacIntyre has preached aggressive, opportunistic play but we've really yet to see that emphasis come to fruition, ideally the new coordinator could help instill that style of play. There's experience throughout the secondary and, for the first time in a long time, some real potential and athleticism along the defensive front. The new defensive coordinator will be facing a sizable challenge but he will have some effective, even exciting, pieces to work with.
As for the other potential coaching hire, I support the idea of Matt McChesney coming onboard as an assistant strength and conditioning coach and line specialist. The position has been on offer to him for a couple of weeks now and it's clear he's having a hard time making a decision. He's had a lot of success with his player development gym, Six Zero Strength, having grown a fairly large presence in the world of Colorado high school football and it's obviously going to be tough for him to give that up, as evidenced by his decision to tweet out that he held a job offer from CU and that he's still torn on whether to accept it. McChesney is one of the most passionate (and vocal) Buff alums and he knows what it takes to consistently win battles in the trenches having been a part of the 2001 Big XII Championship team. If he's able to help Colorado's offensive and defensive lines become tougher, meaner, and stronger, and I think he would, then I hope he chooses to make the leap into collegiate coaching.
The Recruiting Front
Considering that the Buffs are coming off of a 2-10 season, and a 4-win campaign before that, the 2015 recruiting class to this point is as good as could have been hoped for. The Buffaloes have some very solid-looking verbal commitments and, in an unusual but at this point necessary move, have already signed three junior college guys to come in and provide immediate depth this year. At present, most services have this class' ranking hovering around the high 60's/low 70's, which isn't as bad as it could be. I believe this staff has found a few diamonds and there are a number of guys to be legitimately excited about. A couple of potential catches are still out there as well. Let's run through some of the key names, both those that are verbally committed and those that are still waiting to make their decision.
Lynott is the cream of the Colorado class this year and just recently turned in a solid performance at the East-West Semper Fi game, going up against similarly talented defensive lineman and winning almost all of his battles. As you can see in his Hudl tape, Tim blows guys back off the line like it's nothing. His burst off the snap is pretty impressive and his positioning once engaged is very sound. While a lot of the Colorado defensive linemen he abused aren't the most talented in the country, he showed these same moves in the Semper Fi game and the raw physical traits are there to suggest success at a higher level. Ideally he's able to take a redshirt this coming season and have another year to develop and work in CU's strength program but if he proves himself able to contribute immediately then he certainly should see the field. Tim Lynott's future in the black and gold holds a lot of promise, whether it starts next season or a year or two down the road.
Everything that's been said or written about Steven Montez, both on and off the field, has been absolutely glowing. Lightly recruited before his breakout senior season, the Buffs benefited from offering earlier and establishing a relationship with the El Paso quarterback before other programs started to take a look at him. In his senior season just completed he threw for 46 touchdowns, just 3 interceptions, and nearly 3,000 yards while leading his team to an 11-2 record. Currently at 6'5" and 190 pounds he has some room to fill out that frame but all signs point to Montez becoming the quarterback of the future for the Buffaloes and taking the reigns from Sefo Liufau in two years. Brian Lindgren may very well have found a true diamond in the rough down in El Paso.
Perhaps the recruit I am most giddy about, Gordon appears to be the complete package at running back. Here he is running away from other California football players. Rated as 4-star back by ESPN's recruiting services, Donald has breakaway speed but is also able to break tackles and create plays out of seemingly nowhere. In addition to being an every down and every situation runner, he's adept at route-running and catching passes out in the flats and then turning it up the field. The Buffs liked his blocking skills but I imagine protection is something he'll continue to work on when he arrives in Boulder. Judging by the tailback rotation utilized this past season I would bet that Gordon sees a decent amount of carries in 2015, and as the season goes on he may even assert himself as the most talented runner on the team.
Rated at 3-stars by all of the major services, TJ led the nation in sacks and was generally the most disruptive force in Utah high school football for the past couple of seasons. Fehoko fills a serious need for CU on the edge defensively, he'll be a key addition and provide depth at a position that has been severely lacking it for the better part of 5 years. The defensive line is crowded but so many guys saw time in the rotation last season that I would be fairly surprised if TJ isn't given the chance to contribute early this season. He has the ability to command double, and even at times triple, teams and could be the critical piece that helps this defense finally slow down Pac-12 quarterbacks. His future as a Buff is immensely exciting.
As for the targets that remain uncommitted as signing day draws ever nearer, two guys that CU still has a shot with stand out in particular. The first of those being Jay-Jay Wilson. If you were to draw up a football player who could play nearly any skill position, aside from QB, and any position on the defensive side of the ball, that player would look a lot like Wilson. He did some serious damage as a big, bruising wide receiver this past season, gashed and bashed opposing defenses when handed the rock at tailback, and then stepped to the other side of the ball and wrecked multiple shops as a thumping safety. Seriously, the kid (man) is the real deal. As Jack Barsch alluded to in his update post over on Ralphie Report, we would also get the pleasure of hearing "JAY...JAY WILL--SON" over the PA system in Folsom, which would be quite enjoyable. (Hear being a relative term, the speaker system is still stuck in 1990.) It's probably a bit of a long shot that he chooses Boulder, but the Buffs are firmly in the running which means there's a chance.
The second guy that may yet decide to don the black and gold is Jeremy Kelly, a senior wide receiver and cornerback out of Salesian High School in Los Angeles. Rated as a 3-star athlete, he's received offers from a multitude of Pac-12 and Mountain West schools. He's got very impressive hands and the speed to match. Kelly seems to shine more on defense, he was recently voted Defensive MVP at the Offense-Defense All American Bowl. (I wish a collegiate bowl would change its name to the "Offense-Defense Bowl.") I imagine the Buffs are recruiting him mainly as a defensive back but the options are always open, it'll be interesting to see what position he values the most and who will give him the best opportunity. With those hands and that speed, he could be a very valuable piece in a defense that's trying to become more aggressive by forcing more turnovers.
With that, this winter Buff update is concluded. It can't be much longer before CU names its defensive coordinator, as just yesterday Washington State filled their vacancy by hiring Alex Grinch away from Missouri. Now just Utah and Colorado remain without a head man on defense, and I have no idea how the Utes' search is going but if it's anything like ours I'm sure it's been very quiet. I would fully expect MacIntyre to name a DC by the end of the week, but I've been expecting that for three weeks now so we'll continue to wait and see.
As signing day inches nearer it'll be fascinating to see where the remaining recruiting dominoes fall, and then thankfully after February 4th things will again calm down and this program can ramp up for an earlier than usual spring football schedule and springboard themselves into the fall with a deeper, and more confident, football team.
Oh, and one more thing. Nelson Spruce is officially returning next season. #SPRUUUUUUUUUUCE