While "The Rise" of the Colorado football program was certainly real in 2016, it wasn't enough to convince the nation that the Buffaloes are here to stay.

It'll be a few weeks before the Associated Press unveils its preseason Top 25 for college football, but if preseason publications are an indication, the Buffs likely won't be ranked.

After going 10-4, winning the Pac-12 South division and finishing at No. 17 in the final AP poll, the Buffaloes aren't projected to be among the Top 25 going into this year.

National publications Athlon and Lindy's both rank all 130 teams, with CU sitting at No. 34 (Athlon) and No. 41 (Lindy's). Street & Smith's only ranks the top 25, with CU not included.

Phil Steele has a Preseason Top 40 (in which he ranks 56 teams, for some reason) and a Power Poll of all 130 teams. CU isn't among Steele's Top 40 (or 56), but sits at No. 40 in the Power Poll.

Of the 25 teams that landed in the final AP poll from last year, only three have received zero Top 25 recognition from the publications listed above: Colorado, Western Michigan and San Diego State. The other 22 are on multiple Top 25 lists, with 18 of them on all four lists.

Preseason rankings often lean toward traditional powers with recent runs of success, and the lower expectations for CU aren't surprising.

The Buffs lost eight starters on defense, three defensive coaches (including coordinator Jim Leavitt) and their four-year starter at quarterback in Sefo Liufau. They rank 88th nationally on Steele's experience chart.


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CU also had a decade of losing seasons before last year, and not even a Pac-12 South title was enough to completely erase the reputation had during that misery. It's clear that the nation wants to see the Buffs prove that last season — CU's first 10-win campaign in 15 years — wasn't a fluke before declaring they're back.

A few programs with similar profiles — but sustained success — are more highly regarded coming into the season.

CU’s Derek McCartney is back for a Buffs defense that only returns three starters.
CU's Derek McCartney is back for a Buffs defense that only returns three starters. (Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer)

Virginia Tech (10-4 last year), for example, finished just ahead the Buffs in the final AP poll at No. 16, and they are among the Top 25 in three of the publications listed above, and at No. 29 in the other. The Hokies rank 103rd in experience, return 12 starters (same as CU) and have no returning experience at quarterback. They do, however, have a string of 24 consecutive bowl appearances.

West Virginia (10-3) finished just behind the Buffs, at No. 18, in the final AP poll and come in at No. 22 in two preseason magazines and at No. 26 in another. That's despite the Mountaineers returning just eight starters overall (only three on defense), ranking 125th in experience and breaking in a new quarterback (Florida transfer Will Grier) and a new offensive coordinator.

Utah (9-4) sits at No. 25 in two publications despite ranking last in the Pac-12 in experience (122nd overall) and returning just nine starters. The Utes do have their quarterback — senior Troy Williams — returning, however, as well as a history of success (seven nine-win seasons and three consecutive Top 25 finishes) under head coach Kyle Whittingham.

Notre Dame (4-8), by virtue of being Notre Dame, sits in the top 20 in two publications and at No. 28 in another. The Irish have won just four of their last 14 games, rank 84th nationally in experience, have a new quarterback and hired six new assistants in the offseason, including both coordinators. Head coach Brian Kelly is sitting on one of the hottest seats in the country.

What those teams have that CU doesn't right now is a recent history of consistent success and the widespread belief that those programs will win again. CU needs to do more to gain national respect, but there are plenty of reasons to think it can:

• Nine starters are back from an offense that scored 31.1 points per game - CU's best average in 15 years.

• While Liufau is gone, redshirt sophomore Steven Montez went 2-1 as a starter last year and appears to have the tools to be even better than his predecessor.

• The Buffs also return standout running back Phillip Lindsay and a receiving corps that is viewed by some as one of the top two or three in the country.

• Defensively, CU may only return three starters from last year, but that doesn't include lineman Leo Jackson III and outside linebacker Derek McCartney, who have been starters in the past.

• Cornerback Isaiah Oliver isn't a returning starter, but he was CU's No. 3 corner last year (behind two NFL draft picks) and could be one of the best in the Pac-12 this year.

• There could be at least 15 juniors and seniors who see regular playing time on CU's defense, and just as many on offense.

A year ago, CU fought through low expectations to surprise just about everybody. The Buffs won't sneak up on anybody this year, but they will have to fight through low expectations and prove themselves on the field once again.

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