Pac-12: Josh Hartigan

Season recap: Colorado

December, 7, 2011

Record: 3-10, 2-7 Pac-12

The first year of Pac-12 play for Colorado under new coach Jon Embree was, well, bad. The Buffaloes didn't have the speed on either side of the ball to keep up, and that is going to be an absolute must-get in recruiting if things are going to change quickly. A season-ending upset win at Utah, however, provided a nice boost heading into the offseason.

Things got off to a bad start at Hawaii. After Embree made a big deal of a road losing streak that stretched back to 2007, the Buffs looked terrible in the first half and ended up losing 34-17. They looked much better in an overtime loss to California -- a conference game that counted as a nonconference game -- and they beat Colorado State the next weekend. There were hints of progress. But then they lost at Ohio State and blew a fourth-quarter lead against Washington State. That led to five blowout defeats in a row.

Things, however, didn't completely fall apart. The Buffs rallied to win two of their final three games, beating Arizona at home and then ending that 24-game losing streak outside their home state with a 17-14 upset of the Utes.

Offensive MVP: Running back Rodney Stewart rushed for 854 yards, caught 45 passes for 571 yards and piled up 1,686 all-purpose yards. He was one of only four players in the nation to have 500 rush/500 receiving yards this season.

Defensive MVP: Senior outside linebacker Josh Hartigan led the Buffaloes in sacks for the second straight year with eight. He also had 31 tackles, 24 solo and 10 for losses, with seven quarterback hurries, three third-down stops, and a pass broken up.

Turning point: After a 1-3 start that already included a heart-breaking overtime loss to Cal, the Buffs blew a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead to Washington State and lost 31-27. The dagger was a 63-yard touchdown pass to Marquess Wilson with 1:10 left. Colorado went on to drop five straight -- all by 25 points or more -- before rebounding to win two of last three.

What's next: Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. It's hard to believe Colorado will be much improved next year, seeing that it loses many of its best players from 2011, including Stewart, Hartigan, QB Tyler Hansen, WR Toney Clemons and OG Ryan Miller. The Buffs need more speed and they need players who can help immediately. There is good news: The Buffs won't be playing a 13-game, no bye week schedule in 2012.

Returning sackmen in the Pac-12

May, 5, 2011
The Pac-12 will be loaded with outstanding passers in 2011, but those guys are less effective when they don't have any time to throw.

After previously looking at top returning passers, rushers, tacklers, receivers and ball hawks -- interceptions -- we move on to the returning players with the most sacks.

Four of the top-five sackmen are returning in 2011, and three of them were sophomores or younger last fall. So there should be some pretty good pressure this fall.

Here's the list:

1. Mychal Kendricks, Sr., LB, California (8.5 sacks): Kendricks ranked second in the conference in sacks last fall, but he may get fewer in 2011 because he's moving from outside to inside linebacker in the Bears' 3-4 scheme.

2. Shayne Skov, Jr., LB, Stanford (7.5): Of course, maybe playing inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme doesn't kill sack numbers -- see Skov, who piled up this total in just 11 games. Skov and Kendricks are in the mix for first-team All-Pac-12 as well as All-American honors.

3. Chase Thomas, Jr., OLB, Stanford (7.5): Thomas is an underrated player who figures to get more attention this year. He and Skov are big reasons the Cardinal led the conference with 36 sacks in 2010.

4. Josh Hartigan, Sr., DE, Colorado (7.0): As a former inside linebacker, he's undersized -- 6-foot-1, 215 pounds -- but he's an agile pass-rush specialist. Of his 24 tackles in 2010, seven were sacks. Note: Colorado would have had a second player on this list -- junior Forrest West, who had 5.5 sacks last year -- but he left the team.

5. Junior Onyeali, So, DE, Arizona State (6.5): At 5-11, 233, he's not the most intimidating presence on the edge, but if the QB ends up on his rear end, it doesn't matter how tall you are. The conference's defensive freshman of the year looks to build on a huge debut season.

6. Justin Washington, So., DT, Arizona (6.0): Likely the player who finished second to Onyeali in the defensive freshman of the year voting. Washington started fast and then got banged-up. When healthy, he looked like a budding star inside.

7. Travis Long, Jr., DE, Washington State (5.0): The Cougars finished tied for last in the conference in sacks with just 23 (tied with, surprisingly, Arizona State). Long's numbers will go up if the other members of the Cougs' front four garner more respect in 2011.

Onyeali, Washington and Long each sat out spring with injuries but are expected to be good-to-go this fall.

Whom to watch for in 2011: Arizona DE C.J. Parish, ASU DE James Brooks, Cal DE Trevor Guyton, Oregon DE Dion Jordan, Oregon State DE Taylor Henry, UCLA DE Datone Jones, USC DE Nick Perry, Utah DE Joe Kruger, Washington DE/OLB Josh Shirley and Washington State DE Ian Knight.