Why CU Buffs will be a Pac-12 pest again in 2021

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we get it: The CU Buffs won’t sneak up on anybody this fall. So what? if the right pieces are in place (knocks on wood once) and healthy (knocks on wood twice) by August, they won’t have to.

Nate Landman’s return at linebacker is coach Karl Dorrell’s first big win of 2021, assuming they can get their defensive linchpin running at a decent clip by late summer. Keep Mustafa Johnson and Derrion Rakestraw in the fold, and you’ve got potential All-Pac-12 candidates at every level of the defense.

The Buffs know what they’ve got in bell cow tailback Jarek Broussard, with quality depth behind him. Although left tackle William Sherman will be missed, and the Alamo Bowl raised some uncomfortable questions about strength/power on both sides of the line.

The wideouts, K.D. Nixon notwithstanding, are young with upside. The biggest question going into the spring: Who gets them the ball? Will quarterback Sam Noyer play a sixth         year at CU after producing a fifth season — and a second-team All-Pac-12 selection — that nobody saw coming last winter? Were Noyer’s struggles in December a case of his 2020 pixie dust wearing off, or a shoulder injury that was worse than folks let on?

Dorrell has options, assuming those options stick around. Freshman Brendon Lewis looked electric in San Antonio. Sophomore transfer J.T. Shrout brings Power 5 experience from Tennessee, and Oregon high school standout Drew Carter, who’s enrolling early, could be a sleeper down the road. If not sooner.

The schedule’s not a killer, either. Of course, we’ve learned that the coronavirus can flip the college football slate from etched in granite to scribbled in pencil. With or without crowds at Folsom Field (Buffs brass want the former, and so do we), the 2021 fight card is manageable, on paper, with eight home contests, five of those coming in league play. A September with Ed McCaffrey (UNC) and P.J. Fleck (Minnesota) coming to Boulder will be interesting enough, but there’s a doozy in the middle: Texas A&M at Folsom on Sept. 11. Better believe the Front Range will be watching that one. The nation will be, too.

As we close the books on 2020, the Buffs (4-2, 3-1 Pac-12) wound up ranked No. 6 in the final Denver Post Best of the West Top 25 in Dorrell’s debut campaign, the highest finish of any Front Range squad and the best of any in-state FBS program.

The Best of the West poll ranks the top 25 FBS programs from the Front Range to the Pacific Ocean, as culled from the Pac-12, the Mountain West and BYU. The Buffs ranked No. 15 in the final poll a year ago after a 5-7 season under you-know-who.

CU was the only Front Range program to play in a bowl game or to post a winning record. CSU (2-3) finished at No. 22 in a campaign that featured a rivalry win and a spate of cancellations. Air Force (3-3) ranked 16th; Wyoming (2-4) wound up at No. 21.

BYU (11-1) finished the season where it started — at the top of the poll.

Post columnist Sean Keeler (@SeanKeeler), Post deputy sports editor Matt Schubert (@MattDSchubert) and Post reporter Kyle Fredrickson (@KyleFredrickson) voted on the top 25 during the 2020-21 season.

The final rankings follow, with in-state squads listed in bold:


1. BYU (11-1) (3 first-place votes) — Previous: 1 // Postseason: W, BOCA RATON BOWL

2. Oregon (4-3) — Previous: 2 // Postseason: L, FIESTA BOWL

3. USC (5-1) — Previous: 4 // Postseason: NONE

4. Washington (3-1) — Previous: 6 // Postseason: NONE

5. Utah (3-2) — Previous: 7 // Postseason: NONE

6. CU (4-2) — Previous: 5 // Postseason: L, ALAMO BOWL

7. Stanford (4-2) — Previous: 8 // Postseason: NONE

▼8. San Jose State (7-1) — Previous: 3 // Postseason: L, ARIZONA BOWL

9. Arizona State (2-2) — Previous: 10 // Postseason: NONE

10. Boise State (5-2) — Previous: 9 // Postseason: NONE

11. UCLA (3-4) — Previous: 11 // Postseason: NONE

12. Nevada (7-2) — Previous: 12 // Postseason: W, IDAHO POTATO BOWL

▲13. California (1-3) — Previous: 16 // Postseason: NONE

14. Hawaii (5-4) — Previous: 14 // Postseason: W, NEW MEXICO BOWL

15. San Diego State (4-4) — Previous: 13 // Postseason: NONE

16. Air Force (3-3) — Previous: 15 // Postseason: NONE

17. Washington State (1-3) — Previous: 18 // Postseason: NONE

18. Oregon State (2-5) — Previous: 19 // Postseason: NONE

19. Fresno State (3-3) — Previous: 17 // Postseason: NONE

20. New Mexico (2-5) — Previous: 22 // Postseason: NONE

21. Wyoming (2-4) — Previous: 21 // Postseason: NONE

22. CSU (2-3) — Previous: 20 // Postseason: NONE

23. Arizona (0-5) — Previous: 23 // Postseason: NONE

24. Utah State (1-6) — Previous: 24 // Postseason: NONE

25. UNLV (0-6) — Previous: 25 // Postseason: NONE

▲= Biggest climb of the week
▼= Biggest drop of the week