Big 12 Preview: Colorado Buffaloes

In conjunction with the Big 12 Football Media Days being held this week in Houston, Go Pokes will be publishing previews on each of the conference's schools.

Colorado Buffaloes
vs. OSU, Oct. 1, at Boone Pickens Stadium
Head coach: Gary Barnett (7th year)
2004 record: 8-5, 4-4 in Big 12

The Buffaloes dedicated their spring practices to getting better in the passing game — on both sides of the ball. It remains to be seen if that will pay off. However, one thing that's clear is that even though senior Joel Klatt will start again at quarterback, the Buffs need to make playing time for dual-threat sophomore Bernard Jackson in certain situations this fall. A pair of sophomores, Hugh Charles and Byron Ellis, will also share time at tailback, with Charles — a stocky back and the fastest player on the CU offense — the frontrunner heading into August.

The Buffs are still young and untested at wide receiver, and the most experienced wide out, Evan Judge, missed spring practices with an injury. Sophomore Dusty Sprague should emerge as a go-to guy, and juco transfer Alvin Barnett has the ability to make people miss after the catch. If Blake Mackey — perhaps the team's biggest talent at wide receiver — can gain some confidence, he could have a good year.

The one area the Buffs offense will hold an advantage in most games this fall is tight end, where seniors Joe Klopfenstein and Quinn Sypniewski (back for a sixth year) are good enough to be spectacular. A question mark remains the offensive line, especially depth on the edges, where the Buffs return starter Clint O'Neal on one side, and will go with third-year player Tyler Polumbus on the other.

If the line stays healthy and provides Klatt good protection in the passing game, CU's passing game could emerge in the fall. That could open up the running game, as well.

The defense will be in its second year of coordinator Mike Hankwitz's scheme, and should be a more productive outfit all around. Senior James Garee's move inside from the defensive end position went well, and fellow tackle Vaka Manupuna is primed for a solid senior year. The team's best sack threat, Alonzo Barrett, will push for a starting position under new line coach William Inge.

The Buffs were hurt by injuries and an academic suspension in the secondary in the spring, as starters Terrence Wheatley (wrist), Tom Hubbard (knee) and J.J. Billingsley (academics) were out. Hubbard is expected back, but it's unclear whether Wheatley or Billingsley will play in the fall. Junior Lorenzo Sims is solid at corner, and juco transfer Terry Washington will upgrade the unit's overall speed.

The strength of the Colorado defense will be its linebackers, where junior inside linebacker Thaddaeus Washington and senior outside linebacker Brian Iwuh have emerged as big-hitting playmakers. The Buffs are deep here, with as many as six players who will see significant time at the three linebacker positions.

Colorado will boast one of the best kicking tandems in the country in 2005. Both junior placekicker Mason Crosby and senior punter John Torp will contend for postseason honors.

As is recent tradition, the Buffs will begin with a key game, at home versus in-state rival Colorado State (Sept. 3). The past two games between the two teams have been decided late in the fourth quarter. Dates at Miami (Sept. 24) and Texas (Oct. 15) loom large. But the right to play for the Big 12 title should come down to tough division tilts in what looks to be a Big 12 North loaded with evenly matched teams.

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