Head coach Gary Barnett had his job reinstated in May after a recruiting sex scandal rocked the Colorado program in the offseason, but three key starters transferred away from the team. Running back Brian Calhoun, the team's leading rusher in 2003, is gone, along with cornerback Sammy Joseph and defensive end Marques Harris; reserve linemen Del Scales and Frederick Staugh have also departed. The remaining Buffaloes are left to pick up the pieces from the scandal -- not to mention the disappointing season that preceeded it.
The mere mention of 2003 makes Colorado defensive lineman Matt McChesney's face contort a bit. "Last season was not acceptable," he said.
And thus the Buffs, all of whom share McChesney's sentiments, set out to bounce back from a 5-7 season in 2003, when it seemed as if anything that could go wrong did go wrong. Injuries and breakdowns on both sides of the ball plagued a CU team that expected to contend for a third straight Big 12 North Division title.
The Buffs were forced to train without Barnett in the spring, and face the difficult task of rebuilding the football program's tarnished image both on campus and around the nation.
OffenseDuring its most successful Big 12 seasons, Colorado won games with a power running attack. But after a 2003 campaign in which the running game was more punchless than punishing, the Buffs' main point of emphasis will be to get its running groove back. The CU running game ranked 113th in the nation in 2003.
In Calhoun's absence, senior tailback Bobby Purify is expected to step in. He took a medical redshirt after sitting out the bulk of last season with an ankle injury that required surgery. Quarterback Joel Klatt is back after taking the reins last season as a sophomore.
Yet, the reliability of Klatt's receiving targets remains a mystery. Colorado graduated one of its most productive duos of all time in wide receivers Derek McCoy and D.J. Hackett, who combined for 141 receptions, 1,896 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2003. The door opens for a sophomore class headed by Blake Mackey. Senior Ron Monteilh is the best of the returning wideouts and will take on an expanded role.
At tight end, junior Joe Klopfenstein could be ready for a breakthrough season. He is firmly entrenched as the starter and will be spelled by senior Quinn Sypniewski, who is back after missing most of last season with a toe injury.
DefenseExpect the Buffs to attack more under the guidance of new defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, known for directing the famed Wrecking Crew at Texas A&M.
The task that lies ahead of Hankwitz at CU, however, is a difficult one. The Buffs had one of the nation's worst defensive units in 2003, ranking 97th in the nation after allowing 432.1 yards per game. Hankwitz understands the numbers and has a plan to improve them. His first edict is to switch CU from last year's 4-2-5 base to a 4-3. A new position, "Buff linebacker," was created, and will be filled by Brian Iwuh, who has moved around a good amount during his tenure at CU.
"We've got to cut down on the big plays," Hankwitz said. "That's probably the number one thing that hurt."
The defensive line took a hit when Harris, who had been suspended during spring practice, decided to leave the program for good in June.
Colorado's linebacking corps is talented but thin. Its secondary, however, boasts a fair amount of young talent.
SpecialistsKicking-wise, the Buffs are as solid as they have been in years on special teams. Sophomores Mason Crosby and Kevin Eberhart are entrenched as the placekickers, while John Torp totes his 42.5-yard average from last season into 2004.
If return specialist Jeremy Bloom is not allowed to play college football by the NCAA in his fight over amateurism rules, then expect Stephone Robinson, J.J. Billingsley, Dusty Sprague and Terrence Wheatley to split punt and kick return duties.
Final AnalysisBarnett and the Buffs are going to be under a microscope this season. Colorado president Betsy Hoffman took plenty of criticism for allowing the 6th-year coach to return, and as as result, the team's actions on and off the field will be heavily scrutinized.
Cleaning up the program is job one for Barnett. His second order of business is to improve its team defense. Next, the Buffs must bolster a running game that didn't even average 100 yards in '03. Klatt is a year wiser, which helps, but his receivers are decidedly younger and largely inexperienced.
CU's schedule, particularly its non-conference slate, is easier than last season's opening gauntlet of Colorado State, UCLA, Washington State and Florida State.