The Colorado Buffaloes surprised the Pac-12 and the entire nation in 2016. Head coach Mac MacIntyre led the Buffaloes to their first winning season (10-4) in ten years. Colorado rose as high as No. 9 in the country before finishing No. 17 in the AP Poll. The Buffaloes also won seven more conference games than it did during the previous season and won the Pac-12 South Championship.
That is quite the accomplishment to say the least.
Entering the 2017 season comes a different challenge for Colorado: sustaining the success. Looking at the Pac-12 South’s history, becoming a repeat champion is hasn’t been easy.
The Pac-12 South has only one two-time champion: the UCLA Bruins back when the won the titles in 2011-2012. Since then, a new team has won the division every year. The Arizona State Sun Devils won it in 2013, then followed by the Arizona Wildcats in 2014 and the USC Trojans in 2015.
UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona went a combined 5-22 in Pac-12 play last season and filled the bottom half of the division. This doesn’t mean that Colorado will return to the basement, but it indicates that recent success doesn’t mean anything really in the Pac-12 South.
Looking at Colorado’s roster entering 2017, the hope to sustain its success may seem a little troublesome.
During MacIntyre’s first three seasons in Boulder, the Buffaloes had to rely on youth. The result of relying on those young players hurt Colorado, as it went 2-25 in league during that time span. However, that experience proved to be critical for the Buffaloes success last season as more than three-fourths of their starters were upperclassmen. But in 2017, most of the experience is gone—primarily on defense.
Eight seniors helped Colorado obtain the best scoring defense in Pac-12 play. Their departures, along with former coordinator Jim Leavitt heading to Oregon, makes people question how good the Buffaloes will be in 2017.
If Colorado is able to stay a contender, it will likely be because of its offense.
Yes, the Buffaloes do lose one of the best quarterbacks in school history, Sefo Liufau, due to graduation. However, Colorado got a glimpse of life without Liufau could be like as sophomore Steven Montez started three games for the Buffaloes when Liufau was hurt. During those three games Montez impressed and went 2-1—the lone loss was a close one to USC.
“I think the experience this year was key,” Montez said on the experience he gain in 2016 back on Dec. 11 to the Denver Post. “It helped me develop as a player a lot. Going into next year, obviously, the starting spot isn’t guarantee by any means...We’re just going to have to come in and compete, it’s going to be fun. Hopefully the experience will show that I’m ready to start.”
During his playing time in 2016—in which Montez threw for 1,078 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions—he proved to be an athletic quarterback who possesses a cannon for an arm.
Montez also feels more prepared entering the 2017 than he did in 2016.
“I think I’m a lot further ahead than were I was last Spring for sure,” Montez told 9News.
While Montez will (more than likely) have to adjust to the starting position in 2017, he will benefit from the arsenal of playmakers that return around him. Colorado brings back second-team All-Pac 12 running back, Phillip Lindsey, who rushed for 1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns while also catching 53 passes for 493 yards and one score in 2016. Along with Lindsay, the Buffaloes return maybe one of the best receiving corps in the nation as they return their top-5 pass catchers from last season (Devin Ross, Shay Fields, Bryce Bobo, Jay MacIntyre and Kabion Ento). With all the factors in play, Colorado’s offense should be better in 2017.
It will be interesting to see if he Buffaloes are able to sustain the success from last season. Colorado will enter 2017 as the hunted instead of the hunter and it definitely won’t be able to sneak up on opposing teams like it did in 2016.
“It would be two words: new era,” Montez said to ESPN when asked about the PR phrase for Colorado football in 2017.