Where is Paul Richardson?

It's a question Cal's defense will have to know the answer to on Saturday when Colorado hosts the Bears in CU's home opener (1:30 p.m. Fox Sports Pacific).

But where was the Buffs' dynamic receiver on the preseason All-Pac-12 lists?

Even Phil Steele, whose research is exhaustive, didn't list Richardson among his top 12 wide receivers in the conference.

Robert Woods (USC), Juron Criner (Arizona) and Jermaine Kearse (Washington) were on Steele's first team. Cal's Keenan Allen was on the second team, along with Marquess Wilson (Washington State) and Markus Wheaton (Oregon State).

Paul Richardson, 6, runs for the sideline in special teams practice during the University of Colorado Football team practice on Friday August 12,
Paul Richardson, 6, runs for the sideline in special teams practice during the University of Colorado Football team practice on Friday August 12, 2011. Photo by Paul Aiken August 12, 2011. ( PAUL AIKEN )

Cal's Marvin Jones was on the third team, along with Chris Owusu (Stanford) and DeVonte Christopher (Utah). And the fourth team consisted of converted running back Kenjon Barner (Oregon), James Rodgers (Oregon State) and Dan Buckner (Arizona).

Maybe the best-kept secret in Boulder is finally out after Richardson caught two touchdowns in CU's 34-17 loss to Hawaii to begin his sophomore season. In only 13 college games, the 6-foot-1 receiver from Gardena, Calif., who originally committed to UCLA before becoming a Buff, has eight touchdown catches.

Richardson's production and potential certainly caught Jon Embree's eye not long after he was hired as the new CU head coach last December.

"Paul Richardson could be mentioned with the (Michael) Westbrooks, Charles Johnsons, those guys," Embree said this week. "He could have his name up there in the stadium. He has that talent. Right now he has that work ethic and drive and hunger. As long as he keeps working and grinding, he'll have that opportunity."

Richardson already has three multiple-touchdown reception games (Kansas and Texas Tech in 2010). That ties him for third on CU's all-time list behind Rae Carruth (1992-96) and Derek McCoy (2000-03), who each had five games with at least two touchdown catches.

Over the last seven games, Richardson has 30 receptions for 499 yards and eight touchdowns. He set a CU freshman record for receiving yards (514) and touchdowns (six) last season (Westbrook had five touchdowns during his freshman season).

"He can be really special. He's a special talent," quarterback Tyler Hansen said. "I think teams are going to have to start taking notice of that and bring a safety over and start trying to take him away."

Woods had 17 catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns during USC's 19-17 victory over Minnesota to set the early standard for Pac-12 receivers this season.

After getting shut out in the first half, Hansen and Richardson connected on two touchdowns in the third quarter to pull the Buffs to within 24-17. However, the Warriors' defensive line spoiled the comeback bid by dominating the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter.

Hansen was sacked seven times and finished 16-for-30 passing with 188 yards and a late interception. Richardson had a total of three catches for 49 yards. Running back Rodney Stewart, who only rushed for 52 net yards, had four catches for 98 yards.

"We don't have any choice but to bounce back. And we will," Richardson said. "We're going to hit it hard this week and we'll be prepared for Cal."

The Bears (1-0) enter Saturday's game ranked first in the Pac-12 in total defense (218 yards per game) and second in pass defense (150 yards per game) after a strong opening day performance in a 36-21 victory over Fresno State.

Richardson did not have a catch during CU's 52-7 loss in Berkeley a year ago.

"We're going to have to be creative on offense moving him around, shifting and motioning to free him up and give him single coverage," Hansen said. "Paul being such an explosive and electric player, obviously we're going to have to get him the ball. But defenses aren't dumb, they're smart. They're going to try to take him away. That's going to free up other guys like Tyler McCulloch, Toney Clemons and our tight ends. Hopefully other guys get going."

CU offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy will continue his mission of establishing a formidable running game this season. The Buffs' offensive line struggled after starting left tackle David Bakhtiari suffered a sprained knee in the first quarter against Hawaii. He is listed as day to day.

"It affected us a lot, emotionally more than anything," Richardson said of Bakhtiari's injury. "He's a big part of their unit. Between him and Ryan (Miller), they are the leaders of their unit."

Clemons was benched in the opener after a drop and a mental error. The former Michigan transfer met with Embree this week to hash things out, but has been a consistently inconsistent player at CU.

McCulloch is a true freshman who had two catches for 25 yards in his collegiate debut. Senior receiver Kyle Cefalo added two catches for 16 yards.

Since Scotty McKnight's eligibility ran out, Richardson has emerged as Hansen's go-to-guy.

"Paul is a special talent. He is not a finished product. He can get better at technique things and he needs to get stronger," CU wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy said. "But what I like about him is he is real eager to learn and he is always in my office asking me questions. He's a willing kid. He reminds me of (former Texas receiver) Jordan Shipley that way. He's a gym rat."

Richardson is also one of the best receivers not many people around the country know about. The Buffs just need him to be in the spotlight at Folsom Field when Cal comes calling.

"He's one of those guys where very rarely will he make the same mistake twice. As a coach, you love players like that because that's how you make improvement and improve quickly," Embree said. "So I think Paul Richardson has an opportunity to be a guy that is mentioned with some of the best that have played here."