Nov. 3, Folsom Field
2015 Record: 4-9 (1-8)
2015 Recap: Despite it being a distinct step up from a 2014 season that saw the Buffaloes lose every conference game, 2015 was a bit of a disappointment for Colorado. With 13 games on the schedule, there were some who thought this team might have an outside chance at a six wins and bowl eligibility in 2015, but instead, Colorado was once again well below average. The Buffs lost to a bad Hawaii team in the opener, and only won one conference game, against an absolutely moribund Oregon State. Aside from that, Colorado was about as competitive in conference games as it was in 2014, which is to say not very. Quarterback Sefo Liufau really regressed in his junior season before breaking his foot, and the Buffs are going to have to hope he bounces back if they're going to finally break through into respectability in 2016.
Returning Starters: 17 (8 on offense, 9 on defense)
2016 Projection: When we talked about Arizona having the most returning starters in the conference a couple of stories ago, we failed to remember that Colorado was actually a member of the Pac-12, which should speak to their level of relevance in the conference at this point. Where Utah has turned into a legitimate power in the Pac-12 South, Colorado has proven to be mostly a patsy in its five years in the Pac-12.
2016 is big for the Buffaloes in turning that tide. Colorado returns an experienced team, with 17 returning starters including six players who started games on the offensive line last year. The defense should be improved after making some strides last year under defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. There's reason enough to think that Colorado could be good enough to go bowling in 2016.
But there are some concerns. Liufau sat out spring, and there's no guarantee he'll be fully healthy come fall camp. Transfer Davis Webb, who was expected to come in to compete for the starting job, will instead transfer to Cal, which means the quarterback job will come down to a hopefully healthy Liufau, or some combination of Cade Apsay, Jordan Gehrke, and Steven Montez. That's not good.
What's also not good is that the Buffs most also replace the ageless Nelson Spruce, who retired after 25 years of service to the Buffaloes at receiver, and their best offensive lineman, Stephane Nembot. Shay Fields will likely become Colorado's new featured receiver, but the Buffs aren't so overloaded with talent that they can just replace good players easily.
The schedule isn't as bad as it could be, but it isn't great. The Buffs have four sure losses on the schedule -- at Michigan, at Oregon, at USC, and at Stanford -- and, assuming Colorado beats Colorado State and Idaho State in the non-conference, they'll need to find a way to four more wins in conference to get to a bowl. You can probably say Oregon State is a relatively sure win, but scraping together three more from home games against Arizona State, UCLA, Arizona, Washington State, and Utah won't be easy. Each team has more talent than the Buffs.
But this is probably the best opportunity for Colorado in a long while. The Buffs have an experienced team, with an improving defense and some continuity on offense. If not this year, it could be another long while before Colorado has a team this experienced.
Outlook for UCLA: UCLA will be coming off a semi-bye week and should be relatively fresh for this game at Colorado, so you'd think the talented Bruins should have their way with the hapless Buffaloes. That said, the Bruins have struggled each of the past two years with Colorado teams that were probably worse than the incarnation this year. Heck, two years ago it took double-overtime to beat the Buffs on this same field.
We think the Bruins should be pretty good by this point in the year, though. The offense, whatever growing pains it might have at the beginning of the year, should be gelling at this point, because we refuse to believe there's an offense that Josh Rosen can't master if given a couple of months on the job. The defense, again, should be a more capable unit than a year ago -- certainly capable of avoiding the death by 1000 cuts that happened against Colorado last year, since the run defense will almost certainly be better.
UCLA generally performs well on the road, so even though this is an underwhelming opponent, we don't think there's as much chance for a letdown as there would be if this game were at home. The Bruins should win, setting up what could be an interesting final three games of the regular season if UCLA is still in Pac-12 South contention.
Next up: Oregon State...