Anybody that looked at the Colorado football roster for 2012 and stats from 2011 could have guessed that Tony Jones would be the starting running back this year.

After all, Jones was the primary backup to senior Rodney Stewart in 2011, and Jones has more game experience than anyone else in the CU backfield.

On Saturday, the Buffs will face Colorado State at 2 p.m. at Sports Authority Field at Mile High and Jones will, indeed, be the starter. But only because he earned it.

"He understands, and I always say this, I'm coaching the starter to be the starter and I'm coaching everybody else to take your job," CU offensive coordinator/running backs coach Eric Bieniemy said. "He didn't allow anybody to take his job."

Jones, a redshirt sophomore from New Jersey, finished with 297 yards and two touchdowns on 78 rushes in 2011. He also caught 27 passes for 168 yards and two more touchdowns. He's ready to explode this season.

"Of course I am (ready)," he said. "I was born ready for this. I love having the starting job and I'm going to love coming out first drive with my teammates getting the job done, driving down the field and hopefully getting a touchdown.

"I can't explain how excited I am, just to come out and play with my team."

CU coaches have repeatedly talked about wanting to feature a powerful running attack. They recruited some bigger running backs to help do that. They also transformed Jones into a bigger running back. He added 10-15 pounds of upper-body muscle to his 5-foot-7 frame. After playing at about 175-180 pounds last year, Jones said on Wednesday that he is up to 192 pounds.

Jones said he likes his new weight, and so does Bieniemy.

"It's helped him develop more confidence," Bieniemy said. "I think he understands now he can be a more physical runner."

The added muscle should allow Jones to break more tackles and do a better job at handling blitzes. He hasn't lost his speed, either.

"He's a little different than Rodney in that he has a little more long speed," head coach Jon Embree said. "Rodney was more quick than fast, so he'd get caught at times. Tony gets out there, he's got better long speed than Rodney and he has an opportunity to go all the way with it."

After all the work he put in during the offseason, Jones hopes his muscle and speed can work together in making him a focal point of the CU offense.

"It's definitely been an extremely hard summer for me," he said. "I'm ready to come out this Saturday and perform."

Bieniemy can't wait to see the new-look Jones, either.

"I'm ready and excited to see him take off," he said. "He deserves it."

Working on third down

A year ago, the Buffs ranked 99th in the country in third-down efficiency, at 36.0 percent. Defensively, they were 102nd in the country in third-down defense, allowing a first down 46.8 percent of the time.

Embree is hoping all of those numbers improve this season, but said the trick is playing better on first and second downs.

"The key to being successful on third down is not to have it be longer than third-and-5," Embree said. "When you start looking at struggling on third down, is it because of a penalty that you're in a bad situation, or doing a poor job on first and second down?"

On average, CU needed 8.1 yards on third downs. Of CU's 189 third-down plays, 72.4 percent of them (137) were from 5 yards out or longer. A whopping 69 of those plays (36.5 percent) came from 10 yards out or longer.

When the Buffs needed 4 yards or less, they converted 65.4 percent of their third downs (34 of 52). They were successful only 24.8 percent of the time (34 of 137) when needing at least 5 yards.

Colorado opponents had it relatively easy on third down, needing an average of just 6.9 yards for a first down. Of the 156 plays, only 60.3 percent (94) were from 5 yards out or longer.

Notable

Embree praised the efforts of sophomore linebacker Brady Daigh during camp. Daigh is listed second on the depth chart, behind senior Doug Rippy, at mike linebacker. "He's a guy I'm excited for our fans to see as his career continues here," Embree said.