Before this season began, the Colorado football team made it clear that this was a new season, a new team.
Midway through the campaign, there's no doubt that last year is in the past.
The defending Pac-12 South champion Buffaloes (3-3, 0-3 Pac-12) find themselves at the bottom of the division and struggling to discover the formula that led them to a 10-win season a year ago.
A season that began with hope of winning the conference has turned into the reality that squeaking into a lower-tier bowl game is no guarantee for head coach Mike MacIntyre's squad. With six games down and six to go, it's time to hand out some grades and present some mid-season awards.
This was supposed to be one of the most explosive offenses in the country. That was the narrative coming out of The Champions Center, anyway. The receiving corps was regarded as one of the best in the country. The offensive line was supposed to be the best CU's had in years. Throw in star running back Phillip Lindsay and talented sophomore quarterback Steven Montez, and it's no wonder the Buffs talked about being unstoppable. Six games in, the Buffs are 10th in the conference in scoring (28.3 points per game) and seventh in yards (440.0 per game). Not exactly what the Buffs had in mind. The line has struggled and the receivers haven't been elite. Lindsay has been exceptional, but has had almost no help from his backups.
While the offense was supposed to be elite, the defense was expected to be a weakness. The Buffs lost eight starters and 10 major contributors from last year's top-20 defense, in addition to coordinator Jim Leavitt and two other assistants. Led by new coordinator D.J. Eliot, the personnel is drastically different this year. Despite that, the Buffs rank fourth in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (allowing 22.7 points per game) and sixth in total defense (400.2). Junior corner Isaiah Oliver has been exceptional, and linebacker Drew Lewis and safety Evan Worthington, both first-year starters, have been two of the top players on the team. The defense was arguably the better side of the ball the first five weeks, but the meltdown against Arizona last week cost CU a crucial win.
There hasn't been much good to say about the special teams in recent years, but this has been the Buffs' best unit thus far. CU has finally found a reliable kicker in freshman James Stefanou (10-for-12 on field goals). Punter Alex Kinney is having his best season. Davis Price has been exceptional on kickoffs. The coverage units have been solid. This group hasn't done anything dynamic, but it hasn't really cost them a game. The only real blemish on the special teams was a blocked punt against Washington. Grade: B-plus
Given the losses to graduation and on the defensive staff, this figured to be a season in which the Buffs took a step back from last year's 10-win campaign. Yet, nobody was more outspoken about the Buffs winning the Pac-12 this year than MacIntyre. He led the hype about the offense and raised the bar for this program. At this point, he and the Buffs have failed to reach their expectations. Last year was an exceptional year that ended with MacIntyre being named the national coach of the year. Since the Associated Press began naming a national coach of the year in 1998, every honoree has come back the next year to win at least eight games and go to another bowl game. MacIntyre's got an uphill battle to continue that streak.
Team MVP: RB Phillip Lindsay, Sr.
Nobody has played harder and nobody has played better than Lindsay. He's been exceptional and given everything he's had to this team. He currently ranks fifth nationally with 810 rushing yards and he's scored at least once in every game. Honorable mention: CB Isaiah Oliver, Jr.; LB Drew Lewis, Jr.
Top newcomer: PK James Stefanou, Fr.
Kicking was a frustrating adventure the previous two seasons, but Stefanou has turned that around. Prior to missing a 50-yard attempt (his longest) last week, he had made nine field goals in a row, tied for the second-longest streak in team history. Honorable mention: CB Trey Udoffia, Fr.; DT Javier Edwards, Jr.; OLB Jacob Callier, Fr.
Projecting the second half
Four of the last six games are on the road, including a trip to No. 8 Washington State, one to Arizona State (where the Buffs are 0-4 in their history) and one to Utah, which currently sits No. 23 in the Amway Coaches poll. Of the two home games, one is against No. 13 USC. Bottom line, if the Buffs keep playing like they have been, the season will end in November. CU has to raise its level of play just to get to 6-6 and earn a spot in the postseason. There's enough talent on this team to get it done. Are the Buffs mentally capable of regrouping and finishing strong?
Prediction: The Buffs but find a way to get three more wins and finish 6-6.