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2015 MAC football non-conference previews: Colorado Buffaloes

UMass looks to avenge its 2014 loss to Colorado in Week 2.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

In a curious bit of scheduling, UMass has a Week 1 bye in 2015 before heading to Boulder for the season opener against Colorado. The Buffaloes, who finished last in the Pac-12 in 2014 but picked up one of their two wins in a 31-28 thriller over the Minutemen, start their season at Hawaii prior to the contest.

Returning into the fold as the passer for the Buffs is Sefo Liufau, who had a solid sophomore campaign in 2014 as he threw for 3,200 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. A man who has either set or tied 57 school records already, Liufau threw for 318 yards, 3 touchdowns and a pick in the 2014 match-up against UMass, with two of those touchdowns coming in the second half to complete the 11-point comeback.

Despite having the fifth-best passing attack in the conference, Colorado has a star at receiver in Nelson Spruce. An unanimous selection as a Preseason Pac-12 First Teamer as well as a candidate for the Biletnikoff and Maxwell Awards, Spruce is Liufau's go-to receiver with 106 catches for 1,198 yards and 13 touchdowns, and had a monster game at Cal last season with 19 receptions for 179 yards and three scores. He had similar success against UMass with 10 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns. The rest of the receiving corps leaves a lot to be desired as the second-leading receiver in 2014 had 50 catches for 486 yards and three touchdowns.

The running attack for the Buffaloes isn't spectacular as it finished ninth in the Pac-12 in yardage and 11th in rushing touchdowns. The team returns three of the four running backs that had 79 carries or more a season ago as Christian Powell leading the way with 85 carries for 448 yards and four scores, with 19 rushes for 80 yards and a touchdown coming against the Minutemen.

The offense boasts an experienced offensive line in 2015 with four of the five projected starters being upperclassmen, led by junior center Alex Kelley who is on the Rimington Award Watch List and was named a Preseason All-Pac 12 Fourth Teamer by Phil Steele. The line also has tremendous size with four starters at 300+ pounds and three that are 6'5" or taller.

Defensively, the Buffs have some work to do as they were second-to-last in the Pac-12 in scoring defense as well as yards per game allowed. The secondary is the unit's strength with Tedrick Thompson having all three of the team's picks while Ken Crawley, a Preseason All-League Second Teamer, was second on the team with 13 passes broken up and brings a plethora of experience at corner with 31 starts under his belt. Addison Gillam made plays against UMass from his middle linebacker spot as the Preseason Fourth Teamer had eight solo tackles, two tackles for loss, and two passes broken up. The defense came on late against the Minutemen as it held them to two punts, an interception and a turnover on downs in the second half.

Special team is hit-and-miss with Colorado as it loses a placekicker that was 16-for-21 with a long of 49 and it has to replace a punter that averaged 44.1 yards per punt. However, the return men have big play ability with Spruce returning punts and Phillip Lindsay, a Preseason Second Team selection, averages 23.6 yards on kickoff with a long of 51 yards.

For UMass to come out of Boulder with a win, it needs be able to run the ball effectively against a weak run defense and control the pace of the game; Colorado held the ball for over 35 minutes in 2014 and throwing the ball a lot on this secondary seems like a bad idea. More importantly, the Minutemen have do better on their third down conversions as they were 5-for-15 while the Buffs were 10-for-18 a season ago. The Buffaloes are going to get theirs offensively, so if the team from Amherst wants to pull off the upset, they're going to have to maximize their offensive efficiency.