Football Fast Forward: Colorado

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By Jon Woods, Ralphie Report

It's a scene that is all too familiar to Colorado Buffaloes fans. Book a FCS squad early in the non-conference schedule so the team can build momentum and the fans can mark down a win on the schedule. Unfortunately for CU, it doesn't always work out as planned. The last two games the Buffs entered against FCS teams, both under the Dan Hawkins regime, ended in a 19-10 loss to Montana State and a narrow 31-24 win over Eastern Washington (decided by an interception with less than two minutes remaining). As Jon Embree enters his second season as head coach of the Buffaloes, he hopes for a much more desirable outcome against the Sacramento State Hornets.

Embree's first season was a roller coaster ride without enough highs. The Buffaloes took on one of the hardest schedules in the nation and struggled through a multitude of injuries to finish the year at 3-10. While the Buffs suffered through a five-game stretch that saw them be outscored 235-62, they did manage to win two of their last three games, including playing spoiler in a 17-14 win in Salt Lake City that denied the Utes from an appearance in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game.

Year two of the Embree era will see an even less-experienced team on the gridiron. The Buffaloes will take the field as one of the youngest teams in FBS college football, with only four seniors currently listed as starters on the most recent depth chart (one of those, tight end Nick Kasa, has moved to a new position). On offense, quarterback, wide receiver and tight end are complete question marks. On defense, Colorado tries to rebuild an underperforming secondary with at least one and possibly more true freshmen expected to see significant minutes when the Buffs take the field.

The Sacramento State Hornets are no strangers to a Pac-12 road game. In fact, they knocked off Oregon State in the opener last season, 29-28. Their success in the opener did not carry over to the rest of the season however, as they finished the year at 4-7 in the Big Sky Conference.

On offense, the Hornets lose leading rusher Bryan Hilliard, leading receiver Morris Norrise and former starting quarterback Jeff Fleming, who finished the 2011 season with 1,138 yards with seven touchdowns to five interceptions. In the win over the Beavers, Fleming threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns.

Defensively, the Hornets return leading tackler Todd Davis, a junior linebacker who finished the year with 95 tackles and an interception. Sac State opens the year with New Mexico State in Las Cruces before heading to Boulder to face the Buffs.

For Colorado a strong start in a manageable (but not easy) non-conference schedule is a must if the team holds out any hope for their first bowl berth since 2007 (can you believe they played Alabama in a bowl game?). The opening game against Colorado State in Denver is never easy and a road match-up against Fresno State will be tough for a team that has won only one road game since 2008. Even with a very young roster, this Buffaloes team has a lot more talent than the Hornets, but it will remain to be seen whether or not that will matter come September 8th. 

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