Sefo Liufau is trying to do something nobody has ever done at CU by leading the team in passing four years in a row. Granted, he's got three years to go, but got off to a good start last year. He completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 1,779 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Now, he's got to improve in order for the Buffs to take another step. He also likely has to improve to keep redshirt sophomore Jordan Gehrke, who had a very good fall camp, on the bench. The Buffs are hoping Liufau and/or Gehrke take every snap, because behind them is a trio of true freshmen, led by Cade Apsay. Ty Gangi and William Fischer-Colbrie are walk-ons.
This position appears to be as deep as it has been in years. Junior Christian Powell has led the team in rushing the past two years (1,253 total yards), while sophomore Michael Adkins II might be the best of the bunch. He played just nine games last year, but led the team in yards per carry (5.2) and scored six of the team's 10 rushing touchdowns. Senior Tony Jones has 866 career yards as a backup and is also a threat to catch the ball. The Buffs also love redshirt freshman Phillip Lindsay. True freshmen Donovan Lee could also find some playing time. At fullback, junior Jordan Murphy and redshirt frosh George Frazier top the depth chart.
Junior Nelson Spruce has quietly had a great career to this point, compiling 99 catches for 1,096 yards and seven touchdowns. He is the go-to receiver and his year may not be so quiet this season. Senior D.D. Goodson could be a big play-maker from the slot, and the Buffs could use a bounce-back year from senior Tyler McCulloch, who had an injury-plagued and ineffective 2013. Aside from that trio, the Buffs are counting on a whole lot of youth. Redshirt freshmen Bryce Bobo and Elijah Dunston and true freshmen Shay Fields have big-time potential, as does sophomore Devin Ross.
Sophomore Sean Irwin and senior Kyle Slavin have separated themselves from the pack and they should get the bulk of the playing time here. Tight ends caught just 19 passes last year, but that number should increase, as Irwin has made great strides since last year. Behind that duo is a pair of talented true freshmen, Hayden Jones and Dylan Keeney.
The Buffs have some good experience up front, as seniors Daniel Munyer and Kaiwi Crabb return as the starting guards and junior Stephane Nembot returns as the starting right tackle. Together, they have 58 career starts. Sophomores Jeromy Irwin (left tackle) and Alex Kelley (center) are expected to fill out the starting lineup and the Buffs like their potential. Behind that group, the Buffs have potentially eight guys they'd feel comfortable with having on the field, including juniors Marc Mustoe and Sully Wiefels and sophomore transfer Shane Callahan.
This isn't a major strength for the Buffs, but there are three experienced players at the top of the depth chart. Juniors Josh Tupou and Justin Solis and senior Juda Parker got more snaps than any other linemen a year ago. Parker is moving inside from end, but has adjusted well in practice. True freshman Eddy Lopez figures to be in the rotation along with sophomore De'Jon Wilson, who can also play end. Sophomore Clay Norgard could play, too, but last year only five tackles got much playing time.
Coaches love the talent at end, but it's very raw. Of the nine ends on scholarship, seven have never played a snap in college (four true freshmen, three redshirt freshmen). True freshmen Michael Mathewes and Christian Shaver were in the starting lineup at the end of camp, while classmate Jase Franke also figures to get playing time. Junior Tyler Henington, who has played a part-time role the past two years, is the only upperclassmen of the group, and true sophomore Jimmie Gilbert played in a reserve role last year. When healthy, redshirt freshmen Markeis Reed, Derek McCartney and Timothy Coleman could all play significant roles.
The starters — true sophomores Addison Gillam and Kenneth Olugbode — are very good and should anchor the middle of the field for the Buffs. Gillam set a CU freshman record for tackles (119), while Olugbode began turning heads in the spring. Senior Woodson Greer will play a lot, too, when the alignment calls for three linebackers. When the Buffs need to look to the bench, seniors Brady Daigh and K.T. Tu'umalo and sophomores Deaysean Rippy, Travis Talianko and Ryan Severson provide good depth.
This has been a major area of concern the past three years, but the tide seems to be turning. Senior Greg Henderson has started 32 games the past three years and is arguably the team's best corner. Junior Ken Crawley has 20 starts and although he has struggled at times, he had a great fall camp. Sophomore Chidobe Awuzie will play a lot in nickel situations and some feel he might be the Buffs' best corner. Three other sophomores — Ahkello Witherspoon, Yuri Wright and John Walker — are angling for playing time, too.
The group suffered a major loss when senior Jered Bell, the starter at free safety, suffered a season-ending knee injury on Aug. 15. CU may lean on sophomore Tedric Thompson, the projected strong safety, to anchor this group. Meanwhile, fifth-year senior Terrel Smith (19 career starts) could be a calming force. Junior Marques Mosley, who played a lot as a freshman in 2012, could be in the mix, along with true freshman Evan White, whose talent is tough to ignore. Walk-ons Ryan Moeller and Richard Yates provide solid depth.
This is probably the most stable area on the team, at least with the kickers. Punter Darragh O'Neill and kicker Will Oliver are both entering their fourth seasons as starters, and they are among the best in the Pac-12. For the first time, though, they have a new snapper, as junior Tucker Smith came in as a junior college transfer. Spruce will likely handle most of the punt return duties, while a number of players, including Lindsay, Powell, Jones and Severson, will get opportunities to return kickoffs.
Brian Howell, BuffZone.com