On Friday morning, as Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell was preparing for that day’s events at Pac-12 media day in Los Angeles, he felt the need to address the preseason predictions with the two players with him.
The day before, the conference released the preseason media poll and it had the Buffaloes projected for last place. Wanting to guard his players from negative thoughts, Dorrell brought it up with guard Casey Roddick and Robert Barnes.
“They said, ‘Coach, we understand that we’re good,’” Dorrell said. “They said about a year ago that might have been different. But I think our team right now, they’re really pretty strong and they’re pretty committed to each other and they know that we have a chance to be really good.”
The road to proving the pundits wrong begins Tuesday when the Buffs open preseason camp — exactly one month before the Sept. 2 opener against TCU.
This time of year, every team has a measure of optimism and CU players are generally fairly confident at the start of camp every year. Much of this year’s team, however, has seen the difference between the highs and lows.
The Buffs were 4-2 and played in a bowl game during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Then, they followed that with a dismal 4-8 season in 2021, when the offense was dreadful.
“Last year was the worst year and I never want to be a part of another year like that,” Roddick said. “That’s definitely driven us in this offseason and helped motivate us.”
Barnes said that after last year, the Buffs had to “reset” the program, realizing it’s a different team.
“I think the work that we put in this offseason speaks for itself,” Barnes said. “I know every team will say that, but I think our focal point is focus on the next game. I think we have a lot of leaders and veteran guys.”
CU has an interesting roster in that it’s a mix between veterans and youth. The Buffs lost several key players to graduation and they were hit hard by the transfer portal. Six starters — including 75% of the starting secondary — transferred to other schools.
There is a firm belief, however, from Dorrell, Barnes and Roddick that the Buffs are better now than they were a year ago.
“We wanted a committed team and we know that the stronger we are as a whole is going to allow for us to be as good as we need to be on the field,” Dorrell said.
Barnes and Roddick both cited the significance of the Buffs bringing in transfers from winning programs. Offensive lineman Tommy Brown transferred from Alabama. Receiver RJ Sneed came from Baylor. Linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo came from West Virginia. All have been leaders in their short time in Boulder.
“They brought that talent, experience and what they’ve seen from (their previous programs),” Roddick said. “That’s definitely helped us.
“Whenever somebody wants to join the family, they’re an essential part of what we need. So having those guys be a part of us, most importantly, and their buy-in and how they buy into us.”
While the Buffs have a strong group of veterans, the bulk of the roster is young. Of the 118 players on the roster, 62 are freshmen and 30 are sophomores.
“We know that we’re going to be youthful, and there’s some inexperience in some areas,” Dorrell said. “But we are very confident that that inexperience is going to be a very good advantage for us over time as they gain experience, like what (cornerback) Nikko Reed and some of those guys have done in the past.
“We just think that we have more talent than we’ve had. It’s just no one knows what that talent is (because they haven’t played much). So in a lot of ways, it’s a really good thing to kind of come from, but people are going to eventually see the quality of our team in a short period of time.”
While the Buffs like the quality of their youth, they also like the way the young players are being led.
“I think that we’ve implemented a new standard, and that standard has definitely been received by this younger class and everybody under that senior class,” Barnes said. “I think guys are starting to feel a little uncomfortable, in terms of we’ve gotten to the point where we can now wean out anybody that’s not committed to that standard. I think that’s the first part of changing a culture is creating a standard and you live by that standard.”
Living that standard this offseason has the Buffs not too worried about how the pundits feel about them.
“It’s motivational,” Roddick said of being projected last. “Obviously, when you’re picked last for anything in life, you should be thinking about what you’re doing wrong. But I think that it adds a level of maturity to our team.
“I think there is a new identity bringing about to Colorado, a new culture. … We’re really excited. We’re very happy to show you guys what’s gonna go on this season. Definitely going to be different team from last season, so we’re really excited.”