We continue our team-by-team review of the Pac-12 with Colorado.
Offense: The Colorado offense, obviously, didn't rate highly in the Pac-12, but its improvement in year one under Mike MacIntyre was dramatic, particularly with true freshman Sefo Liufau taking over as the starting QB at midseason. Essentially, all the numbers improved compared to 2012. The Buffaloes scored more than a touchdown more per game compared to last year (25.4 ppg vs. 17.8) and gained 67 more yards per game (369.9 ypg vs. 302.8). The passing efficiency was much better as were the rushing numbers. Most notable, however, were sacks and turnovers. The Buffs yielded 50 sacks and gave away 34 turnovers in 2012. In 2013, those numbers were 20, which ranked fourth in the conference, and 24. The Colorado offense wasn't good by any stretch in 2013. It certainly wasn't close to Pac-12-ready. But it was much better, a trend Buffs fans should expect to continue in 2014. Grade: C.
Defense: The Buffs defense was much like its offense: Much better but not yet close to good. It yielded nearly eight fewer points (38.2 ppg vs. 46.0 in 2012) and a yard less per play (6.1 ypg vs. 7.1 in 2012) compared to last year. The run defense was better, though it still ranked last in the conference, and the pass efficiency defense went up 37 points while the Buffs forced six more turnovers than the previous season. The only negative development was sack numbers decreasing from 19 in 2012 to 17 in 2013. Colorado allowed 44.2 points against Pac-12 foes, which was only better than woeful California and was a touchdown worse than Washington State, which ranked 10th in the conference. So there's still a long way to go. Grade: C-.
Special teams: Colorado was slightly worse on special teams in 2013 compared the previous season. It ranked eighth in the conference in both net punting and field goal kicking. They were 11th in punt returns and fourth in kick returns. They ranked last in kick coverage. One way an outmanned team can get an advantage against superior foes is good special teams. Expect that to be an area of emphasis for MacIntyre this spring. Grade: C.
Overall: Colorado feels like a bad student who had been cutting classes and not trying for a number of years suddenly deciding to put in the necessary work in order to make a run at matriculating. That sort of student doesn't go straight from Fs to As. Improvement is a process. Last year, the Buffs lost Pac-12 games by an average of 30.7 points. This year, that number was down to 23.9. Probably not much comfort for long-suffering fans, but decidedly better. In 2012, the Buffs lost to little brother state rival Colorado State. This year, they beat the Rams. Last year, the Buffs lost to an FCS team. This year, they didn't. And there was no game as humiliating as the 69-14 whipping they suffered at Fresno State in 2012. Sure, the conference record was again 1-8. But the Pac-12 was as deep as it's ever been, and 1-8 is about what the preseason expectations was. What happened this year, however, suggests a long-struggling program on an uptick. In other words, there are grounds to believe next year at this time this grade will be on a tougher scale because the Buffaloes will begin to doff the title of conference patsy. Grade: C.