Colorado season preview: Game-by-game predictions, program trajectory, coach and quarterback assessment and more – The Denver Post

*** The Hotline’s rollout of season preview content begins with Colorado and will continue into the week of the season openers. We’ll have game-by-game predictions for each team, projections for the divisions, an analysis of quarterback depth, bowl picks, our all-conference selections and more.

A team wins three conference games and loses its starting quarterback, top playmaker and best offensive lineman.

It has just one all-conference performer returning.

It has gone bowling once in the past 13 seasons.

Recruiting has been mediocre, at best, compared to peers within the division.

Our outlook for that team would be bleak even under normal circumstances.

Now add an unexpected coaching change late in the winter and greatly disrupted offseason that prevented the new head coach from conducting a single spring practice.

Our outlook for that team would shift to dark, stormy and unforgiving.

That’s Colorado.

That is why we expect so little from the Buffaloes this season.

No team has faced more challenges in 2020.

2019 record: 5-7/3-6

Head coach: Karl Dorrell, first year (record: 0-0 at CU/35-27 overall)

Dorrell’s seat temperature: Ice cold

Dorrell is a former CU assistant coach whose honeymoon period will last well into the 2022 season. After coaching changes in consecutive years — Mike MacIntyre was dismissed, and Mel Tucker made a cash grab — the Buffaloes are craving stability like few programs anywhere, ever.

Contract status: Dorrell is signed through 2024 season at an average of $3.6 million per year.

QB clarity level: Poor

The Buffaloes attempted 410 passes last season. Steven Montez threw 405 of them. The search to replace the three-year starter is focused on Sam Noyer, who played safety last season, and Tyler Lytle, who has five career attempts. With the quarterback position, as with everything about CU football over the shortened season, uncertainty is high and reasons for optimism are few.

Roster grade: D

Look closely, and you can see the outline of an effective running game if the offensive line coalesces. But combine the unproven quarterbacks with a mediocre cast of receivers, and the Buffs will have trouble stretching the defense and scoring touchdowns. They need to win games 20-17, but the defense doesn’t look capable of containment on a weekly basis. It has two high-level players in end Mustafa Johnson and linebacker Nate Landman, but there are holes on every level, especially the secondary. Expect Colorado to play from behind more often than not, elevating the pressure on the quarterbacks.

Program trajectory: Falling

Four years ago today, Colorado clawed its way to a 10-5 victory at Stanford that helped power the improbable run to the South title. In the three seasons since coming out of nowhere, the Buffs have receded to the background with back-to-back-to-back 5-7 seasons and two coaching changes. CU is a difficult place to win consistently, largely because of the lack of in-state talent compared to the likes of Arizona, Utah and, obviously, California. (The in-state class of 2021, for example, has no five-star prospects and only two four-stars, according to 247sports.) Until there’s proof that Dorrell can consistently recruit playmakers and fortify the lines of scrimmage, we’re skeptical of CU breaking free of its second-tier status.

Schedule rundown

Nov. 7: vs. UCLA
Result: Loss
Record: 0-1
Comment: Dorrell’s tenure in Boulder begins against his alma mater and former employer, all of which matters far less than UCLA’s advantages in continuity, experience and quarterback play. Given the lack of spring practice, we expect an array of penalties, turnovers and blown assignments from the Buffs.

Nov. 14: at Stanford
Result: Loss
Record: 0-2
Comment: Close game last year in Boulder with Laviska Shenault producing a key fourth-down conversion that fueled Colorado’s victory. This time, there’s no Shenault, and no Colorado victory.

Nov. 21: vs Arizona State
Result: Loss
Record: 0-3
Comment: ASU won’t bring full urgency to the affair after opening its season with two marquee games, but the Buffaloes don’t have the playmakers to keep pace with Jayden Daniels and Co.

Nov. 28: at USC
Result: Loss
Record: 0-4
Comment: The best we can say about CU’s prospects when it takes the Coliseum field is that USC will be coming off a high-stakes, physically demanding game at Utah. That’s not nearly enough reason to expect a close game.

Dec. 5: at Arizona
Result: Win
Record: 1-4
Comment: CU steals a victory precisely because nobody — including Arizona — expects success. (The Wildcats undoubtedly ID’d this as a win the minute the schedule was released.) Our guess: The Buffs score more points off turnovers than not off turnovers.

Dec. 11 (Friday): vs Utah
Result: Loss
Record: 1-5
Comment: Utah and Colorado follow the same path through the short season, improving as the weeks unfolds. But the Utes are two touchdowns better in early November and three (or more) better by the middle of December.

Dec. 19: vs TBA
Result: N/A
Record: N/A
Comment: Combine Dorrell’s late arrival with the pandemic and the flawed roster, and two victories would provide reason for optimism. If he gets to 3-4, it’s Coach of the Year time.

*** Next up: Utah.

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