Ryan Thorburn, Camera Sports Writer
Ryan Thorburn, Camera Sports Writer ( PAUL AIKEN )

The Stanley Cup playoffs enjoyed a Hollywood ending.

LeBron James' talents have brought the Larry O'Brien trophy to South Beach.

The expanded Major League Baseball postseason will not include "Rocktober" unless the Blake Street Bummers get on a historic roll in July, August and September.

So on a 100-degree day in Boulder, it's time to look ahead longingly to crisp fall Saturdays under the Flatirons.

Sadly, the short-term forecast for the Colorado Buffaloes is mostly cloudy and cool with a chance for more cataclysmic losing.

Granted, being around a specific program all the time can leave the glass too empty.

For example, it wouldn't surprise me if Colorado State won the Rocky Mountain Showdown and squashed a young CU team's confidence before any non-conference momentum can be established.

Jon Embree picked up his first victory as a head coach at the expense of the Sheep. Jim McElwain would love to make a strong opening statement against the Buffs.

On the other hand, sometimes when you are close to a situation the glass can get too full.

For example, I think Connor Wood might run away with the quarterback competition and turn out to be a terrific player. Despite the loss of a huge senior class and the team's most explosive underclassman, it says here that the Buffs can still reach their goal of bowl eligibility with six wins.

The offseason savants who research and publish the national preview magazines from afar aren't giving the Buffs any love.

Let's face it, CU will remain an easy target until the program produces a winning season.

The Athlon national edition predicts that USC will win the Pac-12 and the BCS national championship. The Trojans are expected to dominate a weaker South Division and beat North Division champion Oregon in the regular season and the conference title game.

The magazine has Utah (7-5, 4-5), UCLA (6-6, 4-5) and Arizona (5-7, 4-5) tying for second/fourth in the South with Arizona State (5-7, 3-6) fifth.

Athlon's math adds up to an 0-9 Pac-12 record for CU in Embree's second season.

Overall, the magazine ranks the Buffs No. 84 nationally, just behind Marshall (83) and ahead of Northern Illinois (85). Boston College (86) and Indiana (89) were the only teams from BCS conference ranked below CU.

Athlon's Pac-12 unit rankings have CU 12th at quarterback, 12th at running back, 12th at wide receiver/tight end, 11th at offensive line, 11th at defensive line, fifth at linebacker and 12th at defensive back.

Nice work, coach Cabral!

On a positive note, the publication sees the Buffs getting off to a 3-0 start with wins over CSU, Sacramento State and Fresno State.

"Every game counts for us. We don't have the luxury of having guys ease their way into it. We have to go," Embree said after spring football when asked about having a roster dominated by sophomores and freshmen. "It's important that we get off to a fast start, and it's important that the kids that play understand the urgency and help us get off to that fast start."

Lindy's has USC (No. 2), Oregon (No. 5) and Stanford (No. 21) in its preseason top 25. The Buffs check in at No. 77, ahead of No. 87 Indiana and No. 89 Kansas among BCS programs.

Maybe Tad Boyle has turned CU into a basketball school.

Under "Good news" concerning the Buffs, the magazine quips -- "Give us long enough and we'll think of something."

Well, the Pac-12 TV deal kicks in. There's some good financial news.

Paul Richardson's knee injury during spring drills certainly set an ominous on-field tone for 2012 outside the closed practice field gates.

"I don't think you can manage the fans' expectations," Embree said in April. "Because you're going to have some that don't think you're going to win one game, and you're going to have some that think you're going to win all of them."

So what does Phil Steele think? His minutia-packed, finely-typed, magnifying glass-friendly publication is the bible of football preview magazines.

"There are a lot of factors pointing upward for Colorado this year," Steele writes, noting CU's crippling injuries problems and brutal schedule in 2011. "I still pick them 6th in the South because last year they were the weakest Pac-12 team (-157 yards per game) and this year they lose the most lettermen (31) and have the second-fewest amount of returning starters (nine) in the conference."

Steele has USC and Oregon meeting for the conference title game with the winner in contention for a national championship.

Offensive lineman David Bakhtiari is the only CU player on his Pac-12 first team.

Steele, like me, projects Wood as the starting quarterback and also agrees that the Buffs have a chance to get out of the gate Ralphie-style.

"The schedule also lightens up, although they still draw Stanford and Oregon out of the North," Steele goes on. "The Buffs could match last year's win total in their first three games, but this looks like another rebuilding year with the Pac-12's least experienced team."

For local college football fans, it's going to be a long, hot summer until kickoff at Sports Authority Field on Sept. 1.

For Embree, this could be another long, dark fall as a boyish band of Buffs take their lumps.

The whole shoulder to shoulder mantra will be put to the test once again.

"You have to have more patience, there's no doubt on that," acknowledged Embree, who plans to have the bulk of the 2012 recruiting class on the field this season. "You probably have to put your arm around them more than you're used to."