Colorado was supposed to have one of the most experienced offensive lines in the nation this fall if the expected group of starters survived the offseason and fall camp unscathed.
No such luck.
Senior center Mike Iltis visited coach Jon Embree's office earlier this week to inform the Buffs' first-year coach he had decided to end his career short of his senior season.
Iltis is the 18th player, including former walk-ons, to leave the program during the offseason with eligibility remaining. Some quit on their own, others were not invited back, one transferred and several medically retired.
Iltis suffered the second major knee injury of his career in the 2010 season finale at Nebraska and has spent the past seven months rehabilitating following surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, a torn medial collateral ligament and torn meniscus in his left knee. He missed the 2008 season with a torn ACL in his right knee.
When he discussed the injury and his comeback in March during spring practice, Iltis said he was progressing well and was eager to get back on the field.
Something changed in the intervening months. Embree said Iltis explained his decision as one that was less about his injuries and more about just wanting to focus on academics.
"He has decided just to pursue his education," Embree
The Buffs were expecting to have four of five starters back on the offensive line this fall along with several backups who have logged some significant playing time in their careers. But there is suddenly a large vacancy in the middle with Iltis gone.
CU has another senior center on the roster in Shawn Daniels, but he has played sparingly in his five years in Boulder and has suffered an unfortunate series of injuries as well. His recovery from foot surgery cost him most of spring ball.
The frontrunner to earn the job is likely redshirt freshman Daniel Munyer, who was solid in spring ball and earned a majority of the first-team snaps.
"I'm OK with it," Embree said when asked about his options at the position. I think we have some flexibility. I was very pleased with Daniel and Shawn this spring."
While Munyer played well and picked up the offense over the course of spring practices, expectations and intensity will rise with the start of fall camp.
Players and coaches admitted they were only using about 30 percent of the offensive system in the spring. That will change this fall and it could be a lot to ask for a redshirt freshman to master it all on top of making line calls, a role usually reserved for the center.
If Munyer wins the job in camp, he might have to lean heavily on senior guards Ethan Adkins and Ryan Miller in September.
"He has a chance to be a very good player," Embree said.
In addition to Daniels and Munyer, the latest addition to the 2011 recruiting class also could factor into the center competition in August. CU announced Thursday that Brad Cotner, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound center signed with the program after redshirting last fall at Ventura Community College.
CU also officially announced the addition of wide receiver Austin Vincent of DeSoto High School in Texas and athlete D.D. Goodson from Lamar Consolidated High School in Rosenberg, Texas. The three additions give the Buffs 23 new signees in the 2011 class.