Countdown to Kickoff: Colorado's next step? Where the Buffaloes go after 2016's breakout season

College Football

Mike MacIntyre brought Colorado football back last season.

From eras under Dan Hawkins to Jon Embree, the Buffaloes endured over a decade of mediocrity ever since former head coach Gary Barnett was forced resign following the 2005 season due to NCAA infractions.

Enter MacIntyre in 2013 who produced just one winning season at San Jose State before his first Power 5 gig, but built Colorado into a legitimate Pac 12 contender in four years. It was the Buffs' first winning season since 2005 and their first 10-win season since 2001 when they won the Big XII title and earned a Fiesta Bowl berth. Even though Colorado stumbled across the finish line to the season losing the Pac 12 Championship and Alamo Bowl by a combined score of 79-18, it didn't take away from what MacIntyre was able to reestablish at Boulder where football was aching for a return to glory. After all, he was just handed a hefty three-year $16.25 million contract extension this past week.

On offense, Colorado should be fine this season. Sure last year's starting quarterback Sefo Liufau is gone, but everything from spring camp points toward sophomore and native Texan Steven Montez as a higher-ceiling option for the Buffs' offense.

Montez played in eight games last season and threw for 957 yards, ran for 220 and had 10 total touchdowns so it's not like he'll be waking into the line of fire blindfolded.

"(The players) are real confident (in Montez)," MacIntyre told the Denver Post after the Buffaloes' spring game. "He's been on the field with them before and won some big games and they know his work ethic and they've seen his talent."

With nearly every skill position player back on offense including Phillip Lindsay who ran for 1,252 yards and two top targets in receivers Devin Ross and Jay MacIntyre, Montez should have enough to maintain, if not improve Colorado's scoring output.

The other side of the ball is a completely different story.

Not only did the Buffaloes lose eight starters from its vaunted defense that ranked second in the Pac 12, more importantly, they lost defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to in-conference rival Oregon. Scheme change won't be an issue since new defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot will also run a 3-4 system, but execution is still up in the air. Eliot's hire was puzzling to some, especially coming off such a resurgent season from Colorado. At Kentucky, Eliot's most productive defense was only ranked 59th as the Wildcats went 5-7. But it is worth mentioning that the unit was trying to mask an offense ranked 95th in scoring and 89th in total yards that season. This year Kentucky still only ranked 86th in points allowed and 85th in defensive yards allowed. But whether or not Eliot can sustain Colorado's defense isn't so much up to him as it is the players he has returning. 

According to SB Nation's Bill Connelly, the Buffaloes defense surged from the 71st most aggressive unit to the 31st in 2016 and the nation's most aggressive secondary and just like that, they're back to square one with most of the talent from that production now gone.

Where Colorado heads this year after setting lofty goals in 2016 hinges on a very untested defense.

San Marcos Daily Record

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