Editor's note: Seventh in a series previewing the Pac-12 football season.
UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — Jon Embree's homecoming didn't go all that well. His initial campaign as head coach of his alma mater proved to be a challenge as Colorado posted a 3-10 record.
"When you go somewhere and you're trying to create a certain environment and culture that takes time," Embree said. "We went through a lot of things and were asking them to do different things that maybe they weren't asked to do from practice, accountability, being on time, so it was a lot different than maybe they were used to."
The changes resulted in five suspensions before Buffaloes played Pac-12 powers like Stanford, Oregon and USC. That, Embree noted, put them behind the eight ball.
A seven-game skid in the middle of the season was as ugly as it sounds. Colorado was outscored 303-108 in those setbacks.
"When you're trying to create a new environment, a new culture, you've got to look at it from a long-term (perspective) and stick to your vision," Embree said. "That was difficult and I didn't get to do as much football as I thought I would have been able to. Having said that, this year we have been able to do more football from a coaching standpoint and it's been good."
The Buffaloes did pick up some momentum last season with a 48-29 victory over Arizona in their home finale and a 17-14 upset victory at Utah in the final game of the season. The latter snapped a 24-game losing streak on the road that dated back to 2007.
Embree, who played for Colorado from 1983-86, enters his second season at the helm of the program eager to take another step forward.
"We finished with good momentum last year," Embree said. "Our goal this year is to find a way to get to a bowl game."
It's been a while since Colorado did so. The last time was in 2007 when the Buffaloes dropped a 30-24 decision to Alabama in the Independence Bowl.
OFFENSE: Only three starters return and all of them are linemen. Senior right tackle Ryan Dannewitz, junior left tackle David Bakhtiari and junior center Gus Handler, thus, will be surrounded by a lot of new faces. Sophomore tailback Tony Jones is the top returning rusher (297 yards) and receiver (27 catches) from a year ago.
DEFENSE: Although only one starter is back on the defensive line, the Buffaloes do have returning talent at linebacker (senior Jon Major and junior Derrick Webb) and in the secondary (senior safety Ray Polk). The Buffs, no doubt, hope it's enough to improve on the 36.5 points per game they allowed last season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A pair of sophomores — kicker Will Oliver and punter Darragh O'Neill — have a valuable year of college football experience behind them. Oliver made 11 field goals (including a 52-yarder) as a freshman and O'Neill averaged 42.6 yards per punt.
PLAYMAKERS: Jones showed versatility in the backfield last season and is coming off a good spring. Another player to watch is former Kansas quarterback Jordan Webb, who has two years of starting experience. He joined the Buffaloes as a graduate student this summer and has two seasons of eligibility.
TOUGH STRETCH: It couldn't get much more brutal than this. In late October, the Buffs face back-to-back road games at USC and Oregon. Then comes a home date with Stanford.
EXTRA POINTS: A three-way quarterback battle is expected in fall camp. Webb and sophomores Connor Wood (a Texas transfer) and Nick Hirschman will compete for the starting job ... Junior receiver Paul Richardson (14.2 yards per catch) tore his ACL in spring ball and is likely out for the season, although he is reportedly trying to get back earlier. ... A school record 25 freshmen saw action for Colorado in 2011.
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2012 media poll: 6th, South
2011 record: 3-10, 2-7
Head coach: Jon Embree (2nd season, 3-10 overall)
Sept. 2 — vs. Colo. St. (Denver)
Sept. 8 — SACRAMENTO ST.
Sept. 15 — at Fresno State
Sept. 22 — at Washington St.
Sept. 29 — UCLA
Oct. 11 — ARIZONA STATE
Oct. 20 — at USC
Oct. 27 — at Oregon
Nov. 3 — STANFORD
Nov. 10 — at Arizona
Nov. 17 — WASHINGTON
Nov. 23 — UTAH