Opposing Views: Colorado

With the ongoing goal of sparking a renaissance of Colorado football, the Buffaloes hired an assistant coach displaced by the Jim Harbaugh diaspora.

New defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt spent each of the last four seasons tutoring linebackers for the San Francisco 49ers. Now he’s defensive coordinator in Boulder, where the Buffs’ opponents are scoring nearly 13 fewer points per game (from 39 to 26.8) than a year ago. The former South Florida head coach, who guided the Bulls from Div. I newcomer in 1997 to a No. 2 national ranking ten years later, was among the names Opposing Views dropped with Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera reporter Brian Howell.

The Bootleg: Since the conference expanded, Arizona and Utah have established themselves with a division title and top-5 ranking, respectively. Cal earned a Top 25 ranking, while even Washington State has emerged this year. When is it Colorado's turn? What's keeping us from talking about this program's resurgence?

BH: First off, it’s important to realize how far Colorado had dropped. None of those other problems ever came close to sinking as low as Colorado got just a few years ago. So, it’s a long, long climb up for the Buffs. What’s keeping people from talking about CU’s resurgence is that the Buffs are trying to make the climb in a conference loaded with really good teams. There is, without question, a climb being made. But, it’s a long process. CU is getting there, and I don’t think the Buffs are too far away from making a little noise.

TB: For a program that achieved so much under Bill McCartney and Rick Neuheisel, what kind of external and internal factors caused such a steep decline? Of all the things on Mike MacIntyre's "to-do list" when he became head coach, what’s his biggest accomplishment thus far?

BH: It would take a while to fully answer this one. But, it all started with the scandal that got Gary Barnett fired after the 2005 season. There wound up being a lot more smoke than fire to that, but Barnett was a fall guy. That was followed by consecutive hires that didn’t work at all, with Dan Hawkins and Jon Embree. So, by the time MacIntyre was hired, before 2013, the talent and depth had been depleted, and the morale was at an all-time low. To me, his biggest accomplishment to this point is that he’s completely changed the attitude of the players. This is an extremely resilient group that goes into every week believing it’s got a chance to win.

TB: Talk about the defense's improvement under coordinator Jim Leavitt. What is his philosophy? Who are the players who have thrived under it and contributed to the unit's improvement?

BH: Leavitt has brought tremendous energy and a much more aggressive style to CU’s defense, and his system allows the players to have some freedom. They can go out and play and not think as much as they had to do in years past. Nickelback Chidobe Awuzie and strong safety Tedric Thompson are exceptional players who have had great seasons to this point. Up front, the Buffs have had nice seasons from JUCO transfer Jordan Carrell and Leo Jackson III, and linebacker Kenneth Olugbode has done a great job for them. Awuzie is their best player on defense. He blitzes (team-high four sacks), stops the run and is their best man in coverage.

TB: Fill in the blanks: Colorado succeeds by ____ and using its strengths like ____. When it fails, opponents exploit weaknesses like ____ and _____.

BH: Colorado succeeds by avoiding self-inflicted mistakes (turnovers and penalties) and using its strengths like running the football. When it fails, opponents exploit weaknesses like their knack for untimely mistakes and some inexperience at key positions, such as on the offensive line.

TB: How do you like Sefo Liufau’s chances against a defense lacking depth on the defensive line and experience in the secondary?

BH: Liufau is a solid quarterback, and like many quarterbacks, he is better when he’s not getting hit 20 times a game. Stanford doesn’t generate a lot of sacks, and it’s important for CU to keep the Cardinal away from him. If they can do that, Liufau could have a good game and give the Buffs a chance to win.

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