Howell: Even without Davis Webb, CU Buffs in good shape

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
CU quarterback Sefo Liufau still has to prove to the coaching staff he has recovered from his foot injury.

After 10 consecutive seasons of losing football, Colorado fans are conditioned for disappointment.

This one hurt, though.

CU had a West Texas gunslinger on the way. Some fans viewed the Texas Tech transfer as a quarterback that could rescue the program and take the Buffaloes to a bowl game this fall.

Davis Webb’s decision on Wednesday to spurn the Buffs and transfer instead to California was a punch to the gut of Buff Nation.

Yet, while Webb’s choice stings, it would be a mistake to write off the Buffs. This could still be a good team overall, with a senior quarterback that has yet to play his best football.

Yes, Webb was the MVP of the Holiday Bowl in 2013. And, yes, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. just ranked him as the best senior quarterback in the country.

Webb is also 3-8 in his last 11 regular season starts, with wins against Central Arkansas, UTEP and Big 12 doormat Kansas. And, he hasn’t started a game in 19 months because he spent last season as a backup to Patrick Mahomes (rated as Kiper’s fifth-best underclassman quarterback).

To reach his potential, Webb still has a lot to prove. Of course, so does Sefo Liufau, CU’s senior, three-year starter.

First off, Liufau has to prove he’s healthy. That’s still a big question mark as Liufau recovers from a foot injury, but reports out of CU have been positive. Given those reports and knowing Liufau’s competitive fire, expect the senior to be ready to go for the fall.

Even if he’s healthy, Liufau has to prove he’s better than his 8-21 record shows. He has to come through in the clutch, rather than tossing the untimely interception in a late game situation.

Like it or not — and some fans don’t — CU’s season could depend on Liufau being at his best. Don’t discount his ability to do that.

Liufau set 51 school records in 2014, but threw too many interceptions. Last season, he cut down on the turnovers and showed dramatic improvement as a runner, but lacked the explosive plays and accuracy he had a year earlier.

If he can figure out a way to combine the good from both of those seasons, Liufau could be fun to watch.

Sitting out for several months may benefit him, too, and he said as much at the end of spring football. Liufau will need to show he can run the Buffs’ new offense on the field, but he’s a full offseason to get the playbook burned into his mind. Knowing the plays and the terminology shouldn’t be issues.

Liufau’s going to have a chip on his shoulder, too. He knows Webb was slated to come here to take his job. He knows some fans don’t believe in him. He also knows he needs to prove himself.

Perhaps the best reason for optimism, though, doesn’t have to do with the quarterbacks at all.

Regardless of whether it was going to be Webb, Liufau, Jordan Gehrke or Steven Montez taking snaps, the Buffs will be more talented and experienced around the quarterback than they’ve been in several years.

Coordinator Jim Leavitt’s defense is ready to take the next step after improving dramatically last season. If CU improves again on that side of the ball, the defense will tough.

Offensively, there are more weapons at receiver and running back than the Buffs have had in a while.

The offensive line is a mystery after a tough season in 2015, but the return of senior left tackle Jeromy Irwin, who missed most of last year with a knee injury, will help. Overall, it’s a more experienced group up front that, if it can find cohesion, can make life easier on the quarterback.

Colorado would have been a better team with Webb in uniform this year, but it’s not a lost cause without him.

Brian Howell:, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.