Defense wins championships. Every fan hears that in every sport. For Colorado, the team is hoping that another defensive step forward will translate into more wins, and potentially a bowl berth. Since Colorado moved to the PAC-12 in 2011 depth has been a hindrance that has prevented the Buffaloes from gaining any ground in the conference. This year, Colorado has the depth to compete in the conference, and it all starts in the secondary.
The Buffaloes have two potential All PAC-12 players in Tedric Thompson and Chidobe Awuzie anchoring the secondary. The pair recorded 90 and 80 tackles respectively, and helped Colorado with 5 total interceptions. In 2015, senior Akhello Witherspoon showed flashes of success, but will need to be a more consistent player if the Buffaloes are going to take the next step. Hard hitting safety Ryan Moeller will be expected to protect the back end of the secondary after missing 5 games due to injury in 2015.
Colorado’s linebacking core returns leading tackler Rick Gamboa, Kenneth Olugbode, and Jimmie Gilbert. The most intriguing part of this unit is the potential return of Addison Gillam. Gillam looks to regain the form of his freshman year in 2013, where he led the team in tackles and was voted an All American. The last two seasons he was riddled with injury, and many people close to the program wondered if he would ever play football again. He has had a strong camp and seems to have regained his passion for the game.
The defensive line is an area that needs massive improvement for the 2016 campaign. The Buffaloes had a tough time stopping the run last season, giving up almost 5 yards per carry and 198 yards per game. Josh Tupou has returned after a one-year suspension and is tasked with taking on double teams in the 3-4-scheme defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt has transitioned to. The 325-pound defensive tackle should free up Derek McCartney and give him a chance to rush the passer in a one on one situation on the outside. Jordan Carell and Jase Frank will be asked to help shoulder the load as Tupou gets back into game shape after not playing football for a year.
After shaving nearly 4 points per game off their total allowed in 2014, the second year in Leavitt’s system and a defense made up of upperclassmen should take another step forward. Last year, CU’s defense was +1 in the turnover margin, and another positive number this season will help keep Colorado in games.