CU's 2017 seniors

Colorado loses 27 seniors from this past year's football team, but 28 players are slotted to be seniors next season. Here are a few of the top seniors-to-be to keep an eye on:

WR Shay Fields: He's caught 144 passes for 1,929 yards and 17 touchdowns during his career and will likely graduate among the top five in CU history in all three categories.

LB Addison Gillam: Returned this year after two injury-plagued seasons and had 66 tackles and a career-high four sacks.

LT Jeromy Irwin: Granted a sixth year of eligibility because of injuries, Irwin has started 26 career games at left tackle.

S Afolabi Laguda: Became a regular starter this year, and finished with 80 tackles and an interception.

RB Phillip Lindsay: Posted 1,579 yards of total offense this season (1,189 rushing, 390 receiving) and scored 17 touchdowns. He added 166 more yards in the Alamo Bowl.

OLB Derek McCartney: Missed the final 11 games with a torn ACL, but should be one of the Buffs' top defenders and pass rushers next year.

S Ryan Moeller: Usually a safety, he filled in for McCartney and proved his versatility. A leader on defense, he had 44 tackles and two forced fumbles. He has 17 career starts.


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WR Devin Ross: Had a breakout season, with 66 catches for 765 yards and five touchdowns. Enters his senior year with 97 career catches for 1,113 yards.

One of the keys to Mike MacIntyre keeping his sanity in the crazy world of coaching is to go running.

It's as much for his mental health as for his physical well being.

"I think everybody in life needs to have a little bit of alone time a day to get their mind and their spirit and their heart and everything ready," he said.

When Colorado's head football coach laces up the sneakers and hits the trails this month, he will undoubtedly reflect upon a sensational season turned in by the Buffaloes this past fall.

The Buffs went 10-4 to snap a string of 10 consecutive losing seasons, reached a bowl game for the first time in nine years and won the Pac-12 South for the first time since joining the conference in 2011.

MacIntyre is more likely to be consumed, however, with thoughts about what the Buffs have to do to keep it going.

After waiting a decade to finally win again, CU needs the 2016 season to be the start of something great, and not an aberration.

"We know where we can be, we know we can play with anyone," sophomore linebacker Rick Gamboa said after the Buffs' 38-8 loss to Oklahoma State in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Thursday. "I think now that we saw what we're capable of doing, there's a lot of positive moving forward from that. I'm very excited about it."

The task will be tough, as the Buffs lose 27 seniors; of those, 12 were regular starters (eight on defense) and six others were major contributors either this year or at some point in their careers.

The departing seniors were not only exceptional players, but great leaders, and their impact on the program was monumental. CU's hope is that the group paved the way for returning players to keep the train rolling.

"The seniors left a great legacy for us and we're going to definitely continue it for them," said redshirt freshman guard Tim Lynott Jr. "We're never going to forget those guys because they're the ones that showed us how to do all this stuff and to lead us to where we are now."

While the 2016 season has given the program a jolt of confidence, MacIntyre said it's important to make this next season unique in its own right.

"You don't leave off where you started," MacIntyre said. "You have to restart every year. When we come back in January, we'll restart and we'll start attacking again."

One aspect of 2016 that needs to carry over is that the Buffs went into the offseason a year ago determined to make 2016 a great year and worked hard to get it done.

"Those leaders have to keep implementing the same type of work ethic, and honestly you have to kind of crank it up another notch," MacIntyre said. "You're either getting better or you're getting worse; nothing stays the same.

"You start back on Square 1; you don't skip any segments of it and you keep pushing."

Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, a good friend of MacIntyre's, knows all about building a program and keeping it going.

Cutcliffe took over a struggling Duke program in 2008. It took five years to get Duke to a bowl and six to get a winning season, but the Blue Devils went to four consecutive bowls before slipping to 4-8 this year.

Cutcliffe believes MacIntyre has laid the foundation for sustained success at CU.

"(MacIntyre) wasn't just trying to have a good football team," Cutcliffe said. "He runs a program the way a big time football coach should run a program.

"This isn't about a team that got hot. This is about a program that's run properly by their head football coach."

Cutcliffe believes CU will continue winning because of MacIntyre's "great habits" and competitiveness.

"Mike's going to always be highly motivated and competitive," Cutcliffe said. "It's what he was as a player, so there's no question they're there to stay."

MacIntyre has helped CU balance its classes and fill the roster with better talent in recent years.

While 27 seniors from this year's squad will depart, there are currently 28 players ready to become seniors this next season. Of those, 21 are on scholarship and 20 have been either starters or significant contributors. Three of this past season's five captains (George Frazier, Jeromy Irwin, Phillip Lindsay) were juniors.

In addition, there are 26 players set to be juniors next year, 11 of which have had a great deal of playing time.

"We have a lot of returning guys," said junior safety Ryan Moeller. "We're losing some guys, too, but throughout this season many different guys at different spots have been able to play, so they have the experience of the game. They know what it's going to be like.

"Coming back, we'll be ready to go and aspirations will be high, and they should be."

Brian Howell: howellb@dailycamera.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.