Know Your Foe: Colorado

Saturday marks the Pac-12 opener for both Arizona State and Colorado. As the Sun Devils embark on their second consecutive road trip what can they expect from the host Buffaloes? Buffscoop.com publisher Andrew Friedman offers his insight on ASU’s next opponent.

With a 1-1 mark how would you gage the current mindset of this Colorado squad? Did the close win over UMass breed much needed confidence after the loss to Colorado State?

Friedman: Any time you get a win it will give you confidence but I don't think anyone is too "high" after beating a terrible team on the road in front of only 10 thousand people. Unfortunately, Colorado has historically done very poorly in seasons where they lose to the Rams to get things started.

What in your opinion are the glaring deficiencies these first two contests have revealed on both sides of the ball?

Friedman: CU has deficiencies all over the field so it's hard to say some are worse than others. On offense, there are no real playmakers that scare you. Nelson Spruce is a good, productive receiver but he doesn't have the blazing speed that will frighten Pac-12 defenders. On defense, CU is very week at defensive end, outside linebacker and the safety positions.

As the talent level for the Buffs has dipped, the special teams have been exposed time-and-time again. I would expect ASU to get some big plays in that department because CU simply doesn't have the athletes, especially on the kickoff and kick return units. I would also expect the run defense to be a major problem as it was against Colorado State.

In 2013, quarterback Sefo Liufau was thrust into action mid-season as a true freshman, and in fact it was against ASU. How has he progressed since then, and what are some his strengths and weaknesses?

Friedman: Liufau is a tough kid that can take a beating and keep coming back. He is a competitor and a leader that his teammates have no problem following. As for his progress, he still lacks arm strength and accuracy. He also doesn't have a great group of talent around him that make him a better player. Even if he does everything right on a play, the play may still end-up a negative because of another player's miscue. I think through the first two games he has shown a better ability to throw on the run than he had in the past.

Wide receiver Nelson Spruce is off a strong start. How would you compare him to Paul Richardson the star receiver from last year?

Friedman: Spruce is one of those guys that has great technique and will find open spots in a defense. He is one of those wideouts than can annoy a defense to no end. The kid knows how to get open. As for how he compares to Richardson, there is no comparison. P-Rich was a special player that has world-class speed and incredible hands. Spruce is a decent Pac-12 player, but Richardson was a superstar. If you have a capable defender than you will have a fair chance of guarding Spruce. He does not require the doubles that P-Rich demanded.

How would you assess the passing game overall, and who are the receivers that can help take the pressure off of Spruce?

Friedman: The pass game is a work in progress. Bryce Bobo is a name to remember for the future. He doesn't have blazing speed but he has incredible hops and fairly good hands. Down the line I'd expect him to be a solid red-zone asset for the Buffs, but he's not there yet. D.D. Goodson can make you pay in the slot at times and true freshman Shay Fields is going to be a very good player for the Buffs for years to come. Really, besides Spruce, Fields is the only viable 'X-factor' type. But he is a frosh going into his third game and while he's done well the first couple of weeks, we will see how he plays against Pac-12 competition. Fields was originally set to go to USC, but that didn't work out, and he was a big 11th hour recruiting coup for the Buffs last cycle. His talent is very evident.

Do you feel that Colorado’s rushing game is providing good balance to the offense, and who are the players standing out in that department?

Friedman: Colorado's run game is not going to scare anyone. Christian Powell is a good power-back that will get you some tough yards and Michael Adkins has speed, but not a whole lot of shiftiness. Tony Jones is a steady back and Phillip Lindsay might make some noise down the line. As a group, though, there are no real superstars that defenses have to be aware of on every play.

At times this season a young ASU defense has shown its inexperience. How do you feel Colorado can exploit that group?

Friedman: I am not sure Colorado has the talent to exploit ASU in any area. While I think the Devils have some issues up front on defense, Colorado's interior offensive line is very weak so running the ball up the middle becomes a problem and the Buffs don't have the speed to match ASU on the outside. At wideout, only Shay Fields has the speed to really stretch the field. I think CU will be able to move the ball at times, but not consistently.

The defense has surrendered over 30 points in each contest. Do you feel that this group has regressed or progressed from 2013?

Friedman: Colorado's defense has been bad for so long it's hard to believe they can possibly get any worse but then they find a way to lower the bar even further. It's been about 20 years since CU has had a truly great 'D'. While this year's defense did very well against UMASS in the second half last week - it's UMASS! Therefore, it's tough to tell if there was any tangible improvement from week one to week two. Thus far, they look just as matador-like as they did last fall, and have for what seems like an eternity.

The Sun Devil offense has been very potent thus far scoring over 50 points in each of its games. What do you see as the Buffaloes’ plan of attack to slow them down?

Friedman: I don't think CU will be able to slow them down. ASU has been a very good team regarding penalties under Coach Graham so unless that changes, or the Devils commit a plethora of turnovers, I expect little-to-no resistance from the Buffs. CU has had a quicker practice-tempo this week to attempt to prepare for ASU but when they actually go against ASU's athletes, and not their own, things could get very ugly once again.

The Buffaloes are on their third head coach in four years. Do you feel that Dan Hawkins and Jon Embree have really set the program back quite a bit and how do you view the job second-year coach Mike MacIntyre has done so far?

Friedman: Dan Hawkins was one of the worst hires in the modern BCS-era. That is not debatable. The guy was given two years longer than he should have been. Coach Embree and his staff were not given nearly enough time to turn around the mess they inherited from Hawkins. Embree and his staff were doing things behind-the-scenes to help CU get in better athletes but then the rug was unceremoniously pulled out from under them. There were a lot of politics that went into the decision to fire the last regime that were truly unprofessional. Coach Embree and his assistants should have absolutely received more time to turn things around.

Mike MacIntyre has really benefitted from new CU Athletic Director, Rick George. George came to CU from the Texas Rangers and the PGA. He is a very well-respected figure in the professional sports' world. He has already gotten a stagnant CU administration to break ground on a 150-million dollar-plus facilities expansion that will put CU on par with Pac-12 foes.

Coach MacIntyre is receiving help that none of the coaches before him came close to receiving. However, for Mac to truly be successful at Colorado he has got to do a better job recruiting and in order to do that he will likely need to make some assistant coaching staff changes because his current assistants are not getting it done. There are no real dynamic personalities on his staff, including him, so that needs to be addressed because if they can't recruit he will not be successful in Boulder. Their current recruiting class is ranked the lowest amongst any of the Power-5 conference schools and last year's group finished 12th in the conference.

2014 marks the fourth year Colorado has been part of the Pac-12. Despite the team’s struggles during that period, do you get a sense that administration and fans truly feel this was the right conference move or is there a sizable faction that still wishes the Buffaloes remained in the Big 12?

Friedman: I feel that most people affiliated with Colorado still believe changing conferences was the right move, especially from an academics standpoint. CU can relate a lot more with schools like Cal, Stanford, USC and UCLA, academics-wise, than say Iowa State, Kansas State or Nebraska. Athletically, it may be setting CU back, though. The Big 12 North was generally a much weaker conference than the Pac-12 South. So in a sense, joining the Pac-12, while in theory was an ideal move for the University, it probably regressed CU athletically. Football is obviously the most glaring area CU cannot currently compete in.

The Buffs will do well in the Olympic sports and Basketball in the Pac-12, but Colorado has got to change their infrastructure in-regards to the types of football athletes they will admit if they want to compete in the Pac-12. CU needs immediate help on the gridiron and yet the policies they have in place make it very hard to recruit many high school athletes and it's nearly impossible for them to admit junior college players.

Fortunately, it seems the amount of embarrassments on the field have taken their toll on the attitude from the hierarchy in Boulder. The new AD is starting to get things changed for a better future at CU, but they are still a few academic policy shifts and many talented athletes away from truly competing in football.

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