Paul Sakuma/Associated Press file photo
Paul Sakuma/Associated Press file photo
BOULDER – Jon Embree enters his second season at the University of Colorado with just eight seniors and countless questions.
Chief among them is who will line up under center when the Buffaloes open against archrival Colorado State on Sept. 1.
The three-man race to replace graduated senior quarterback Tyler Hansen and lead a very young offense was winding down Wednesday, and Embree could announce a starter within 24 hours.
The candidates are strong-armed sophomores Connor Wood and Nick Hirschman and junior transfer Jordan Webb, whose 19 games at Kansas give him a leg up in the experience department while he learns the Buffaloes’ offense and their personnel.
Hirschman broke a foot for the second time earlier this year, so Wood, a transfer from Texas, got all the snaps in the spring before Webb transferred to Boulder and made it a three-way race.
“They’ve all had their moments,” said Embree, who noted while all three have the “it” factor, he wants to see “who has ‘it’ all the time.”
Wood and Hirschman have more powerful arms, but Webb has the deeper résumé.
“His biggest attribute is that he’s played in 19 games,” Embree said. “None of these other guys have played in a game. Nick played a little bit against Arizona State. None of these guys have played meaningful minutes. You can see that he’s played in some games. He does a good job of working the pocket. He reminds me of Koy Detmer a little bit in that he has unique ways of getting the ball to the right guy. He doesn’t have the biggest arm. But he generally gets it there on time, and it’s a fairly catchable ball.”
The Buffaloes had a rough initiation into the expanded Pac-12, going 3-10 last season, and they could be in for some more difficult times this season with one of the youngest teams in the nation after losing 28 seniors.
Other questions being answered during fall camp include who will back up starting running back Tony Jones, a 5-7 sophomore sparkplug who’ll take over primary ball-handling duties from Rodney Stewart.
Embree proudly is declaring a bowl berth as the Buffaloes’ goal for 2012 regardless of who’s directing an offense that will be without star receiver Paul Richardson, who underwent knee surgery in April.
“You know me, I’m not afraid” to say it. “I think it is important that we put it out there, what it is we are trying to accomplish,” Embree said. “It’s like last year when I challenged our players to end that road streak.”
It took until their season finale last year, but the Buffaloes finally snapped their school record 23-game road losing streak with a 17-14 win at Utah, their fellow Pac-12 newcomer.
After losing their annual Nebraska showdown when both schools left the Big 12 last year, some wonder if the Utes will become Colorado’s new “Big Red” rivalry.
“They’re a great team and will always be a great opponent,” senior safety Ray Polk said. But, he wants to shoot higher.
Why not USC or Oregon, two schools they’ll visit in October?
“You look to the best team, and you want to play that team; you want to make that team your rival,” Polk said.
“Like Ray said, we’re shooting for the top,” junior tackle David Bakhtiari said. “Everyone wants to aim for the top dog, and that’s who we want to pinpoint as being our rival. Utah, it is a media-forced thing, but it’s not 100 percent. They’re a great team. We love playing them, but at the end of the day, I see every team as a rival, and we want to be the best. You’ve got to beat the best if you want to be the best. We’re going to try to beat all of them.”
After facing Colorado State in the annual Rocky Mountain Showdown at Sports Authority Field, the Buffaloes will host Sacramento State and then visit Fresno State before beginning league play at Washington State on Sept. 22.
The Buffaloes return just nine starters, six on defense, led by Polk in a revamped secondary.
The Buffs’ strength is their linebacking corps with senior stalwarts Doug Rippy and Jon Major along with junior Derrick Webb and sophomore Brady Daigh. They’ll team with defensive tackles Will Pericak, a senior, and Nate Bonsu, a junior, to try to curtail the Pac-12’s speedy offenses.
Colorado’s offense will be almost entirely new, and it will be without its star receiver, at least for a while. Richardson tore an ACL in the spring, but Embree is hoping his junior star receiver will return at some point this season.
“Paul Richardson is running in the side and doing some stuff. He’s trying to help the younger receivers. I don’t know what the next phase, the next step is for him, whether it’s routes or cutting. He is still progressing,” Embree said.
Richardson said he thinks he still can play this season, and Embree is “a lot more optimistic about it” than he was in the spring.
“He’s already ahead of probably what he should be doing. I know those injuries typically are nine months. Whether he’s a six-month guy or seven-month guy, I don’t know what the timetable will be,” Embree said.
Jim Urquhart/Associated Press file photo