The University of Colorado has never exactly been known as Quarterback U. However, in the last ten years, few major college programs have had a bigger revolving cast of quarterbacks than the Buffaloes. The hopes and promise of the 2014 season’s start with sophomore Sefu Liufau, who returns after starting seven games in 2013, but Colorado still has a mountain to climb to gain respectability in the Pac-12 after ending a long string of seasons under .500.
One of the most remarkable things about Sefu Liufau is the fact he has returned to lead the team at all; few other quarterbacks in recent memory have stepped onto Folsom Field two seasons in a row. The 6′ 4″, 215 pound sophomore is getting stiff competition from Jordan Gerhke, a junior college transfer who was redshirted last season, but after spring practice and into the summer, the starting position looks to be all Liufau’s.
Third, and last, on Colorado’s quarterback depth chart is Trent Sessions. Sessions is an inspiring story, a high school quarterback and member of CU’s equipment staff who walked-on this year and now finds himself the Buffs’ number three option. Sessions’ team status is also an indicator of how inexplicably hard it has been keeping anybody around in Boulder to play quarterback.
Since 2006, nine different quarterbacks have started for the Buffaloes, a revolving cast of characters known to few outside of Colorado, including James Cox, Tyler Hansen, Cody Hawkins and Connor Wood. Hawkins is likely the most well known, the son of then-first-year head coach Dan Hawkins who decided to play him over other, arguably better, talent and who likely scared away other potential quarterbacks who did not feel like competing against the coach’s son. After Hawkins’ firing, the team’s string of mostly anonymous quarterbacks continued, yet as practice for the 2013 season began, the Buffs looked like might have a solution to their problem: hope in numbers.
Last season Colorado has six quarterbacks competing in the spring for the starting job. Then, one by one, they all disappeared. Nick Herschman transferred to the University of Akron, Shane Dillon transferred to play college basketball, and Stevie Joe Dorman left to play quarterback at a small school near his home. John Schrock decided just to be a student, Jordan Webb ran out his eligibility and was later arrested for assault, and Connor Wood, once a top recruit for the Texas Longhorns, decided to give up football and focus on a summer graduation.
When 2013 began, Sefu Liufau was sitting on the bench as a redshirt freshman and did not count towards the six-man depth chart. When Connor Wood was pulled from the fifth game of the season against Arizona State, Liufau suddenly found himself with the starting duties. The redshirt was burned and the burden of leading the team was suddenly his.
So far he seems up to the task. After Arizona State, he started every other game, finishing the season with an almost 60 percent completion percentage and twelve touchdowns to eight interceptions. In this year’s spring practice, he has also impressed head coach Mark MacIntyre who said the quarterback improved his motion in the off-season and was progressing into a better football player and team leader.
An upgrade in quarterback cannot come soon enough for the Pac-12 bottom-dweller Buffs. The conference is loaded with as much talent as any other in the nation not named the SEC, and the Buffs will have to fight their way through Arizona State, Washington, UCLA and Oregon to find a way to become bowl eligible.
Reaching that goal will likely take at least another year as CU has lost top receiver Paul Richardson to the NFL, the offensive line is young and untested, and getting the offense on the field will be a challenge as the Buff’s defense was one of the worst in the nation last year. Still, with stability at quarterback, improvement from last year’s edition of the Buffs is not hard to imagine.
Ending Colorado’s revolving carousel of quarterbacks has to be coach MacIntyre’s first priority. Any chance of bringing respectability back to Boulder depends on bringing in the best and keeping them on the field. Hopefully the loss of the six players in 2013 is an aberration, because it puts the team in a tight spot this year. The spot is so tight that two places behind Sefu Liufau sits a guy who last year was on the university’s equipment staff. A great story, but no one wants to imagine what would happen to the Buffs if they somehow find themselves playing the Pac-12 with only him behind center.
Commentary by Andrew Elfenbein