THE EARLY LOOK: Week 5 and Colorado

NO DOUBT ABOUT it, Colorado is bigger and stronger this year -- they’ll more look the part of a Pac-12 team. But are they ready to pull off an upset against a team like the Beavers?

On paper, no. But don’t sleep on Colorado (4-8, 1-8 in 2013).

Colorado fans are hoping for an undefeated non-conference schedule against CSU, UMass and Hawaii, and then trying to find three more wins to become bowl eligible. They think they can find them against Cal, Utah and you guessed it, Oregon State.

They return the vast majority of their starters, though that’s relative. Colorado was last in the Pac-12 in total offense (369.9 ypg), run defense (208.5), kickoff coverage, sacks (17) and first downs. That said, they improved in the vast majority of statistical categories from the year before.

So how to quantify Colorado in 2014? They’re getting better and have made some small strides, but they have a ways to go towards a bowl berth since they started at just about rock bottom.

On paper, Colorado takes a hit with the graduation of their best wideout, Paul Richardson. But Colorado is deep here, with Devin Ross and Elijah Dunston on the rise and Nelson Spruce and D.D. Goodson, Bryce Bobo and others all in the fold. Spruce might be the best of the bunch, coming off a 55 reception, 650 yards season.

At running back, there's more depth than Colorado has had in years with 230-pound Christian Powell, plus Tony Jones, Michael Adkins and Phillip Lindsay. It means Colorado can go either deep or quick, and try to keep opponents on their heels.

At quarterback, Colorado is very high on Sefo Liufau. He’ll be a sophomore this season after passing for 1,779 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman.

Liufau needs to go through his reads more quickly and limit the mistakes. But he showed more than enough flashes his first season to satisfy even the cynics that he has lots of potential. How quickly he can get there is the question. Will it be this season or next? If it is this season, will it be before the Oregon State game or after?

There’s no experienced depth behind Liufau so it’s imperative he stays healthy this season.

The o-line has some questions, with new starters needed at center and left tackle. And this is probably the key to the offense, how fast they can coalesce into a solid unit. It would be asking a lot of them to make enough strides to gain those six wins.

On defense, LB Addison Gillam was the leading tackler for Colorado last season. As a true freshman, Gillam recorded 71 solo tackles, 107 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks and an interception. He’s what Colorado will build around.

But Colorado allowed nearly 100 total fewer points in 2013 than in 2012 – and they still allowed 38.3 points per game, including 43.4 points per game against FBS competition.

Up front, junior d-tackle Josh Tupou (38 tackles) will command the most attention and is the most likely candidate to see double-teams. If d-tackles Juda Parker and Justin Solis and d-ends Samson Kafovalu, Derek McCartney and Tyler Hennington can’t take advantage, it’s going to be a long year up front for Colorado.

Corner Greg Henderson recorded 58 tackles (46 solo) with 10 pass deflections and 4 interceptions last year. There’s also some depth behind him, though the safety position isn’t as flush.

It’s looking like a similar year to last year with 3-5 wins for Colorado, but the margin of victory for teams is expected to shrink a little. That said, Colorado is capable of upsetting a team or two. And Oregon State certainly doesn’t want to be one of them.

Colorado coach Mark McIntyre rebuilt San Jose State swiftly, going from the outhouse to the top 25 between 2010 and 2012. But he’ll face a tougher task trying to rebuild in the Pac-12. This season, his second in Boulder, will say a lot about where the Buffs are at and where they’re going.

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