BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — The Colorado Buffaloes are well aware of all the preseason chatter. It might be hard to hear, but it’s giving them extra incentive.
The media has picked the Buffs to finish last in the Pac-12. No player is on first or second teams for preseason all-conference selections. Their predicted win total for the season hovers at 3 1/2, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Less-than-lofty expectations are out there because the Buffaloes remain unsettled at quarterback and saw their leading rusher and two top receivers transfer. Colorado is also trying to replace the heartbeat of their defense.
“We understand the critics. We understand what’s out there. But we don’t pay attention to it,” Buffaloes offensive lineman Casey Roddick said. “This team is a sleeping giant because we are laser-focused on what needs to happen.”
At the top of the priority list: Picking a quarterback.
Brendon Lewis started all 12 games in an up-and-down 2021 season that led to offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini being relieved of his duties. Lewis finds himself in a QB competition this summer with J.T. Shrout, the Tennessee transfer who didn’t play last year after suffering a knee injury in training camp.
Both are vying to run an offense that averaged a league-low 257.4 yards.
“Because of the competitive nature of the position, it’s going to make them better,” said coach Karl Dorrell, whose team went 4-8 last season after going to a bowl game in his first year. “They’re talented players and they’re ready to take that next step.”
Among those to leave Boulder was tailback Jarek Broussard, who had been the team’s leading rusher the past two seasons. He went to Michigan State to play for former Colorado coach Mel Tucker. Alex Fontenot, the Buffaloes’ leading ground gainer in 2019, figures to split tailback duties with Deion Smith.
Another spot with plenty of turnover was receiver. Brenden Rice — son of NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice — transferred to Southern California. Dimitri Stanley went to Iowa State and La’Vontae Shenault wound up at Alabama State.
To make up for the holes, the Buffaloes brought in graduate transfer R.J. Sneed from Baylor. They also have back senior wideout Daniel Arias.
On defense, they’re looking to replace inside linebacker Nate Landman, who finished tied for the fifth-most tackles all-time at Colorado and is currently with the Atlanta Falcons. Josh Chandler-Semedo, a transfer from West Virginia, could step in.
And the Buffaloes realize there are no shortcuts to turning around the preseason perception — just old-fashioned work.
“You’ve got to earn respect. You’ve got to earn wins,” Dorrell said. “You’ve got to prove that each and every week.”
Offensive lineman Tommy Brown won a national title with the Crimson Tide in 2020. Then he left Alabama and the SEC for Colorado and the Pac-12.
“I knew this place has potential and that it would just take a few more pieces,” Brown said.
Colorado has 11 starters back, including offensive tackle Frank Fillip, defensive end Terrance Lang, defensive tackle Jalen Sami and safety Isaiah Lewis. They were all honorable-mention selections on the preseason All-Pac-12 team.
Dorrell added six new full-time assistant coaches. Mike Sanford takes over at offensive coordinator for Chiaverini as the Buffs try to ignite the offense. Sanford was brought in from Minnesota, where he was the Gophers’ offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. The Buffaloes play at Minnesota on Sept. 17.
A fan vote and fundraiser led to Ralphie VI, Colorado’s live buffalo mascot, getting the nickname “Ember.” It beat out the runner-up, “Blitz.”
Ralphie leading the team onto the field before the game and at halftime is a longstanding tradition.
The Buffaloes start the season by hosting TCU on Sept. 2. They play at Air Force the following week, marking their first visit to the Colorado Springs-based school for a football game since 1974. Pac-12 play begins Sept. 24 when Colorado hosts UCLA.
AP freelance writer Michael Kelly contributed to this report.
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