When were you able to tell the program had turned a corner under Mike MacIntyre? Was it earlier this year, or even before that? In other words, did anyone outside the program see a worst-to-first turnaround coming?
You could see signs of improvement in the team from a competitive standpoint in MacIntyre's second and third seasons at the helm, in 2014 and 2015, because Colorado lost eight conference games by a touchdown or less. But because the wins did not come until this fall, MacIntyre was actually feeling some heat. It is crazy how quickly things can change in three months. Now, MacIntyre might be the front-runner for National Coach of the Year honors and he is in line for a contract extension and a healthy raise.
The 412 combined starts on Colorado's roster entering the 2016 season were the most in school history so there were plenty of people that predicted the Buffs would be a bowl team this fall. But, outside the program, no one saw a worst-to-first turnaround coming. MacIntyre did, as he stated from Day One their goal was to win a Pac-12 title, and he said that with a straight face. Despite the pressure on him to win this season, MacIntyre was looser during camp than he was the previous three preseasons, so he knew this was a special group before anyone else did.
Chris Petersen said he felt Colorado’s mentality is a lot like Stanford’s in terms of toughness. Is that the common perception around the program? Is that what MacIntyre has instilled at CU?
Colorado is definitely a tough team, both from a physical and mental standpoint. And it starts with their senior leader behind center. Sefo Liufau is not only the toughest quarterback I've covered the last 13-plus years in Boulder, he is the toughest overall player I've seen come through the Buffs' program. Liufau has carried the ball an average of 19.2 times per game the last six weeks since returning from a high ankle sprain. And these are mostly between-the-tackles runs, as Colorado likes to utilize his power running ability in short yardage situations. Liufau, like that Timex watch commercial used to say, “takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”
The toughness MacIntyre has instilled at CU had to be developed slowly over time, though. He first fixed the attrition issue, and now fields a veteran team. Naturally 21-22 year old college players are going to be tougher and more physical than true freshmen and sophomores.
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Sefo Liufau will be playing against his home (area) team. Do you get a sense he’s motivated by that fact? And ultimately what makes him one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in college football?
Liufau is a huge soccer fan that doesn't watch much other college football, so I don't think it is a huge source of motivation for him this week. The possibility to lock up a Rose Bowl berth (or even a shot at the College Football Playoff) is what is motivating him, and this team, this week.
I touched on Liufau's toughness and power running ability, and he is also a great leader. He is the first three-year captain in the program in over 100 years. With his experience, Liufau can diagnose things at the line of scrimmage that most college quarterbacks can't, and it seems to give the entire offense a sense of calm when he is out there.
As a passer, Liufau is fairly inconsistent. He has stretches were he looks like an All-American throwing the ball, and other stretches were he struggles to the point where uneducated fans are calling for the back-up.
Utah stacked the box and dared Liufau to beat them with his arm last Saturday. And Liufau largely struggled with his arm. It was Colorado's defense that really lifted the team to the Pac-12 South clinching victory. MacIntyre has said he believes Washington will likely use a similar strategy defensively this Friday.
How would you describe Colorado’s base offensive and defensive schemes? Are they similar to anyone else in the Pac-12?
Colorado runs an up-tempo, balanced offense. The Buffs will split out four receivers at times or line up in 12 personnel other times. They kind of meshed playbooks with Brian Lindgren being retained as the playcaller and Darrin Chiaverini being brought in as co-offensive coordinator from Texas Tech this past off-season. Colorado always wants to establish a strong ground game with Liufau and Phillip Lindsay, the program's first 1,000 yard back since 2010. But as I mentioned earlier, Utah stacked the box against the Buffs last week and made Colorado play more through the air than they would ideally like to.
Defensively, Colorado runs a 3-4 base under second-year coordinator Jim Leavitt, who is one of five finalists for the Broyles Award. Senior Josh Tupou, who returned after serving a one-year suspension, is the unsung hero of the Buffs' defense. Tupou is a space-eating 325-pound nose tackle that takes on multiple blockers. He has helped make inside linebacker Kenneth Olugbode look like an All-American at times this season.
Colorado’s pass defense is getting rave reviews similar to Washington’s ‘Death Row’. What makes them so effective?
Colorado's secondary has experience, talent, versatility, length and confidence. Chidobe Awuzie will likely be a second day NFL draft pick, Ahkello Witherspoon leads the conference in pass break ups, and in the back-end, safety Tedric Thompson has tied the school's single-season record with seven interceptions. The other safety spot, often manned by Afolabi Laguda, has given up some big plays through the air, though. Michigan and USC, the two teams the Buffs lost to in the regular season, did a good job of getting their tight end involved in the passing game.
What are the keys to the game Friday for Colorado and what is your score prediction?
The Buffaloes need Sefo Liufau to be consistent passing the ball on Friday night in order for Colorado to have a chance. Washington is just too talented and balanced for Colorado to win without its senior quarterback playing his best football. If Liufau plays like he did against UCLA, Stanford or Utah in recent weeks, the Huskies win going away. As good as Colorado's defense has been this season, Washington just strikes me as the more consistent team. So I'll say the Huskies win a competitive game, 27-21.