Who are we talking about?
KD Nixon transferred to USC, a rare intra-conference transfer with no eligibility penalty. Nixon contributed a lot to CU over the years, but never quite lived up to his sizable potential. He was short, around 5’8, but he was shifty and had some speed.
Will Sherman was drafted in the 6th round by the New England Patriots. The LT was the Buffs’ best offensive lineman over the last three years, and his versatility will be missed. However, he is the only departure on the offensive line.
Mustafa Johnson entered the NFL Draft and will find his way onto a training camp/practice squad somewhere. He was short for a DE but he was so disruptive and constantly in the backfield. He will be much harder to replace from a team standpoint, and Johnson always has my respect for sacking Adrian Martinez three times in one game.
Nate Landman is really the only player who was supposed to leave in 2020 and remained. Because of an unfortunate late season Achilles injury, Landman didn’t take his expected jump to the NFL and is coming back for one last ride. He is a classic MLB who vacuums up tackles and blows up running plays. He will be huge for this team in 2021.
Newcomers who may have an impact?
Max Wray is a HUGE get for this coaching staff. After his younger brother, Jake Wray, medically retired from CU, Max Wray put his name in the transfer portal from Ohio State. The Buffs picked him up and immediately slotted him into starting LT, where he will remain. His frame is massive and he performed well in injury relief for the Buckeyes last year. Wray will be huge for stability on the offensive line
Robert Barnes, also from a marquee program (Oklahoma), will be a fun piece to move around on defense. He has played both safety and linebacker for the Sooners, and he actually started for them at both positions. For the Buffs, he will be able to play right in the middle, at the “STAR” position. His speed is great for covering RBs out of the backfield, and his size fits tight ends well. He can play run support and nickel back in a pinch. The staff has big plans for this guy.
What’s your team’s biggest strength?
The team’s strength lies in its linebacking corps. The Buffs, if everything holds and breaks right, might have one of the best group of ‘backers in the country. Nate Landman has led CU’s defense for two straight seasons, and after an unfortunate torn Achilles tendon to end 2020, he will be back in 2021 for one last ride. At MLB, he is a complete player. His partner-in-crime and roommate is OLB Carson Wells, who led the country in tackles for loss (per game, thanks COVID). Wells is a complete disrupter and pass rush nightmare who will cause problems in his 5th year. Adding to that group is Robert Barnes, a transfer from Oklahoma who slots in as a hybrid between SS and OLB. Jack Lamb, a transfer from Notre Dame, is another throwback linebacker. Add in intriguing pieces like Guy Thomas and Marvin Ham and there’s a lot to like here.
What’s your team’s biggest weakness?
This is a tough one. I think the easiest thing to point to is the quarterback position. There are almost no live snaps in this QB room, and while promising, handing the job to Brendon Lewis or J.T. Shrout is entrusting a lot to a newcomer in college football.
Brief overview of 2021 expectations:
The Buffs somehow made it to the Alamo Bowl last year, surpassing everyone’s expectation. It took a lot of luck to get there, but in 2020, you take the victories where you can. In 2021, that road is a lot harder. I would say that most fans would be happy with a 6-6 season and getting to another bowl game. Two consecutive bowl seasons is a low bar that this program has not cleared in 20 years.
Who is your team’s MVP this season and why?
There’s two obvious options: Nate Landman and Jarek Broussard. One is the leader of the defense and one of the best linebackers in college football when he’s healthy. The other won Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and added even more speed to his game. I think MVP has to be Landman because of his value above replacement. Broussard is surrounded by a talented stable of backs and a great offensive set up. Landman is head and shoulders above the rest of the MLBs. He is truly the key to success for the Buffaloes.
Predict your team’s record and how you think they will fare against Minnesota.
I think, despite 3 coaching changes over this timeframe, the Buffs will finish 5-7 for the 3rd time in 4 years. The Buffs will escape a brutal non-conference schedule with one victory at least, and I think they can 3 or 4 conference wins along the way. The talent base is there for a few easy wins, and the play style is there to punch up a few times this season. In the week 3 matchup against Minnesota, I think it will be a close game. From what I can tell, the play style of each team is pretty similar.
If a Buffalo and a Gopher meet on the prairie, who survives?
It’s hard to figure this one out. I appreciate the Minnesota, like Colorado, has an herbivore mascot. Why do all of these schools feel the need to put predators on their helmets? Let’s celebrate all of the American prairie. The easy answer would be a Buffalo, but if we’re talking about survival, the gopher wins out. Buffaloes (or American Bison, for the pedants) can’t dig, and if a gopher digs enough holes in this deathmatch, they can give America’s national mammal a flat tire or a bum leg. Gopher takes the survival contest.