HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Last year, the Colorado football team was able to come up with the right formula to snap a 10-year run of losing seasons and win the Pac-12 South division.
The formula for this year won't be the same, but the Buffaloes hope it's just as effective.
"Our team will win differently this year than we did last year," head coach Mike MacIntyre said Wednesday at Pac-12 media day at the Hollywood & Highland Center. "You don't just do the same cookie-cutter thing."
After losing eight starters on defense, a four-year starter at quarterback, a three-year starter at center and the coordinator that guided one of the top defenses in the country, there is skepticism about whether the Buffs (10-4, 8-1 Pac-12 last year) can actually duplicate last season's success.
The preseason media poll was released Wednesday morning, with the Buffs projected to finish fourth in the South. It's the first time since joining the conference in 2011 that CU wasn't picked to finish last, but very few expect the Buffs to win the South again.
USC and Washington are the overwhelming favorites to play for the conference title, with USC projected as the champion. Defending North champion Washington received 49 of 52 first-place votes to win the North again. USC received 49 of 52 first-place votes to win the South.
USC received 28 votes to win the title game, with Washington receiving 22. The North champion has won all six of the previous title games.
MacIntyre, running back Phillip Lindsay and linebacker Derek McCartney, who all represented the Buffs at media day, took the poll in stride.
"It's why it's called preseason polls, because you have to play the football games to find out what it's about," Lindsay said. "We were picked last last year. Does it matter? No, we were in the Pac-12 championship, and that's where we want to go again."
UCLA represented the South at the title game in 2011 and 2012, but no South team has made consecutive title game appearances since. In fact, the South has had five different teams play in the championship game the last five years.
MacIntyre doesn't want his team getting too caught up in preseason predictions, but believes the media poll could be motivation.
"Hopefully our guys do use it as a motivational factor," he said. "Hopefully it motivates them to work hard in camp, not take play off, not miss a workout, push yourself that extra effort during camp. If it motivates us that way to stay more focused during camp then it's going to help you.
"Everybody thinks we're a one-hit wonder, and we hope we're not. I don't believe we are, so we just need to prove it by putting some back-to-back good seasons together."
With preseason camp set to begin on Saturday, the Buffs' summer is over. It was a summer that, while different than last year, has set this team up for another successful season.
"There's probably some momentum that you can jump on from last season, but overall, it's going to be more of a new feeling," McCartney said. "It's a new team. There's going to be a lot of things that are going to be different. You just have to play together."
What's not different, according to Lindsay and McCartney, is how hard the Buffs worked in the offseason. Both players raved about the progress made over the past few months.
"It was more intense in the weight room," Lindsay said. "Conditioning was off the charts. I feel like you're going got see a well-tuned and conditioned football team come the first game of the year. This was the hardest summer we've had with coach Drew (Wilson)."
Last year's team featured exceptional leadership from seniors such as quarterback Sefo Liufau, cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, safety Tedric Thompson and center Alex Kelley.
While some of the top leaders from the South title run are gone, there's been no drop off in that area.
"We all know what to expect, we all know what we need to do," Lindsay said. "Last year we were prepared and I know how to prepare us for this year."
McCartney believes the attitude and leadership are similar to what the Buffs had a year ago, even if some of the players providing that leadership have changed.
"Losing vocal leaders is never easily because then you have to have somebody that fills their shoes," he said. "It's been good because we've had guys step up and be more vocal."
While coaches are limited in the amount of time they can spend with the players in the summer, MacIntyre has been around enough to believe the Buffs haven't taken their foot of the gas since last season.
"They've set a lot of high standards during the summer that shows me they understand what we have to do to be successful again, which to me really gives me a lot of confidence," he said.