In a regular year, Colorado would seem to have a lot going for it. Maybe it still does.
But this year is expected to be one in which the Pac-12 should be one of the country's deepest and most talented leagues, with six teams in the AP's top 25. The Buffs get the extreme fortune of missing Stanford and Oregon this year, but things start out hot with rival Colorado State and offensive juggernaut Arizona State within the first three weeks of the season.
But there are uncommon elements: Sefo Liufau, the team's quarterback, returns from a solid freshman season. The Buffs believe he's the quarterback of the future, and are trying to build the offense around him. Ground game will be important, with depth that includes two 500-yard rushers last year. Liufau has gained weight and some power to his arm, but he'll have a new stable of receivers to throw to.
Then there's the defense that allowed at least 40 points in six straight Pac-12 losses last year, while limping to the finish. While the team relied heavily on freshmen last year to try to bolster that flailing unit, MacIntyre said he hopes this season, with more sophomores, will bring stability in stopping opposing attacks.
Colorado as an athletic department is in the midst of some financial struggles and a loss of faith following two disastrous coaching eras, so the Buffs are under pressure to make something go well. MacIntyre knows a tough season will continue the dark ages, but even some progress this year will be well-received by fans.
"I see a lot of pride in the program," he said. "I guess you see some of the frustration because they want to be good again, and we will. And I think they see it going in that direction with everything not just the facilities, but the team focus, the atmosphere, all of the things that are going on. I think they feel like it is building back towards the right way."
2013 IN REVIEW • 4-8, 1-7 in Pac-12
RETURNING STARTERS • 19 total (9 offense, 8 defense, 2 specialist)
TOP RETURNING PLAYER • While quarterback Sefo Liufau will carry a lot of responsibility, Colorado's defense struggled so mightily last year, it's worth giving a nod to sophomore linebacker Addison Gilliam. The Buffaloes need to figure out how to stop opponents. With Gilliam (a team captain, by the way) in the middle, Colorado has a good start to cleaning that up.
BIGGEST QUESTION MARK • Who is around Liufau? Colorado brings back their top two running backs, but the loss of receiver Paul Richardson hurts. Young guys in the receiving game will have to step up, and Colorado's retooled line will have to protect its most valuable piece of its offense.
SCHEDULE OUTLOOK • In all, it could have been worse for Colorado. They duck the Ducks, and stay away from Stanford. ASU is not an easy Pac-12 opener, but Cal and Oregon State are winnable games leading into the tougher portion of the schedule. They should beat UMass and Hawaii in non-conference play, and while their final four is very tough, they at least get UCLA and Washington at home. This team is on track for four to five wins as the rebuild continues, but a reasonable goal is to get more than one Pac-12 win this season.
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon