During the past four years, Colorado quarterbacks have always known that if they threw the ball to Nelson Spruce, something good would usually happen.
The Buffaloes don’t have that luxury anymore, though.
Spruce, who set 42 school records during his stellar career, will graduate this year, leaving a big hole in the offense.
“I was kind of joking around with (the other receivers) last week,” Spruce said. “I was telling them, ‘All right, whoever has the best game this week (against Utah) gets the torch.'”
Spruce was joking, of course, but it does speak to the fact that there isn’t a clear-cut favorite to emerge as the leading receiver for 2016.
Shay Fields is probably the top candidate. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound sophomore has 92 receptions for 1,084 yards through his first two seasons.
Fields, who is arguably CU’s best deep threat, was well on his way to a great season before an ankle injury slowed him down. Through seven games, he had 32 catches for 504 yards and four touchdowns. He injured his ankle scoring a touchdown late against Arizona on Oct. 17.
During the last six games, Fields played in only five and caught a total of 10 passes for 94 yards and no touchdowns. A healthy Fields could put up Spruce-like numbers.
Sophomores Bryce Bobo and Devin Ross have great potential, too.
Ross caught 25 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns and was a solid deep threat most of the year. He was inconsistent with catching the ball, though, and needs to become more reliable.
“Devin is a guy who has made some big plays and just has to keep focusing on his catching skills,” head coach Mike MacIntyre said.
Bobo caught 24 passes for 207 yards, as he was utilized mostly on short routes this season. At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, though, he’s got great size and is arguably CU’s best receiver at picking up yards after the catch.
“Shay’s been the No. 2, but I think it’s kind of close in terms of who can step up and be that No. 1 guy,” Spruce said. “Bryce is my roommate and I told him, ‘There’s no reason you can’t be; this offseason is going to be huge for you, just like it’s going to be huge for Shay and it’s going to be huge for Devin.'”
Freshmen Lee Walker, Jay MacIntyre and Justin Jan could be a valuable in the passing game next year, too. So could Donovan Lee, if the Buffs move him back to receiver after shifting him to tailback this season.
“Once (Paul Richardson) left, for me, I was like all right, it’s my time,” Spruce said. “I think it’s going to be a case of whoever wants it most and whoever puts in the most work can be that guy. They’re all talented. It’s just going to be a matter of who wants it.”
Defensive back Chidobe Awuzie said he liked CU’s use of a 12-player leadership council this season, but added: “There’s a lot leaders outside of that, too. I think you don’t need that label as a captain or the leadership council to be a leader — to lead yourself and lead others.” … From 2011-12, 28 of CU’s 46 true freshmen (60.9 percent) played. In the three seasons since, all under MacIntyre, just 20 of 55 (36.4 percent) have played. This season, six of CU’s 17 true freshmen saw the field. … CU’s 13 opponents went 82-74 (.526) during the regular season, and nine became bowl eligible.
Brian Howell: email@example.com, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.