Coach: Gary Barnett (7th season, 42-33) 2004 record: 8-5 (Beat UTEP in Houston Bowl) Big 12 finish: 4-4 (t-1st North) 2004 I-A offensive rankings:Rushing: 89th (124.7 ypg) Passing: 56th (215 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 69th (161.4 ypg) Passing: 105th (260.2 ypg)
New Mexico State
at Oklahoma State
at Kansas State
at Iowa State
Depth Chart: Offense
7 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
10 returning starters in red
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Skin doesn't come thicker than that belonging to the players and coaches in the Colorado Buffaloes program.
Last season, as scandalous headlines draped across newspapers and questions about the football program came from every angle, the Buffs simply put their heads down and pressed forward. The result was an unexpected, but welcome, trip to the Big 12 Championship Game.
Now, the focus is back on football.
The headlines have mostly disappeared and the questions are few and far between. Life is a tad bit easier for those associated with the football program in Boulder, Colo., and there is some excitement peeking through as well.
Winning the Big 12 North has rarely seemed so attainable. Colorado returns 17 starters -- an eye-opening 10 on defense -- from a team that finished 2004 with an 8-5 record and a win in the Houston Bowl.
Expectations are higher, but coach Gary Barnett is keeping coy.
"I don't think we'll even touch on that," Barnett said. "I think that's getting too far ahead of ourselves."
Offensively, Colorado is in decent shape but has holes to fill. The passing game got extra attention during the spring because it wasn't productive last fall. The running game is in a state of uncertainty. There is talent, but it is unproven.
The defense, however, has a chance to be the best it has ever been in Barnett's tenure.
Colorado returns seven offensive starters from a year ago, including quarterback Joel Klatt, but that doesn't mean there aren't holes to fill.
The passing game wasn't as productive as it needed to be in '04 for the Buffs to be successful. Klatt tossed just 11 touchdown passes against 15 interceptions. That has to change if CU wants to make another run to the Big 12 title game.
The running game is in a state of uncertainty. There is talent, but it is unproven. Sophomores Hugh Charles and Byron Ellis are the front-runners to get the majority of the carries, but senior fullback Lawrence Vickers has been a solid runner when given the ball in the past.
The offensive line lost one of its best in senior Sam Wilder but returns a good one in Brian Daniels. The unit's goal is to get more physical in its pass blocking the way it did with its run blocking last season. Tight end Joe Klopfenstein is CU's best receiver, but some young wideouts are poised to make a positive impact.
The defense is searching for overall improvement under second-year coordinator Mike Hankwitz, but it has a chance to be the best it has ever been in Barnett's tenure. Last season, Colorado was the Big 12's best at stopping offenses inside the red zone.
Senior defensive tackle James Garee anchors a line that will be as physical as they come. Senior Vaka Manupuna is set to take over a leadership role. Juniors Alex Ligon and Abraham Wright give the Buffs two speedy options at defensive end.
Sophomore Jordon Dizon and junior Thaddaeus Washington anchor a linebacking crew that has depth and talent all around. Outside linebacker Brian Iwuh led the team in tackles last season.
The secondary is led by free safety J.J. Billingsley, who missed the spring due to an academic suspension. Gerett Burl and Lorenzo Sims started the majority of games at cornerback in 2004, so they know the ropes. Junior Terrence Wheatley, who had four INTs in '04, would have figured into the CB equation but will miss the '05 season with a wrist injury. At safety, three players started at least five games last season -- juniors Tyrone Henderson and Dominique Brooks and fifth-year senior Tom Hubbard.
The kicking game is in good hands. Junior placekicker Mason Crosby will not only be one of the Big 12's best, but one of the best in the nation as well. Senior punter John Torp was among the candidates for the Ray Guy Award last season.
The return game is solid. Stephone Robinson will reprise his role there. He averaged a respectable 7.7 yards per return in '04 and took one back for a touchdown. Kickoff returns are likely to be handled by Robinson and Wheatley, who averaged 22.3 yards last season.
Last season's run to the Big 12 Championship Game was a pleasant surprise to the Buffs, more than anything else. Now, it is expected.
Colorado has one of the most veteran teams returning in a wide-open Big 12 North. The passing game must improve. The running game has to find a way to be as effective as it has been nearly every season during Barnett's tenure. Defensively, CU has to become stingier in the yards-allowed department and must continue to reduce the opposition's big plays.