In the more than five months since the Colorado football team played in the Valero Alamo Bowl, the roster has gone through many changes.
The Buffaloes have had 19 scholarship players leave the team for various reasons (graduation, the NFL draft or transfers) while adding 25 new scholarship players.
As the Buffs begin summer workouts, the roster appears to have settled. CU is at the NCAA maximum of 89 scholarship players for next season. Typically, 85 are allowed, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic and players receiving an extra year of eligibility, teams can have additional spots to account for 2020 seniors who are returning, and CU has four players in that boat.
With high school recruits and transfers, the Buffs have a roster they believe is better now than in December.
“We feel like we’re in a really good place,” said Bob Lopez, CU’s director of player personnel.
Head coach Karl Dorrell was hired about 15 months ago, and the process to build the roster has been ongoing. Every head coach and staff have different ideas on how to build the roster and the types of players they want or need to fit their program and schemes.
“When you come in as a staff, there are philosophical differences in scheme and in the way (to shape a roster),” Lopez said. “Some teams don’t have a lot of tight ends, some have tight ends; some don’t have a fullback. In our case, as much as we want to run the ball, having someone that can block out of the backfield and catch the ball is really important. Those kinds of little nuances have been there when you try to get the roster balanced.”
In addition to trying to hit the scholarship and total roster size numbers (CU likes to be at 120 players, including walk-ons), the staff tries to balance the roster positionally.
“That’s been a fun challenge to make all that work,” Lopez said. “While you’re doing it you’re trying to get the best players you can. … Every year we want to upgrade because if we’re upgrading, we’re winning more.”
Upgrading can be done a bit quicker now than in the past because of the NCAA transfer portal.
In the past, CU and other teams mainly added players from the high school or junior college ranks. Every now and then, a four-year transfer would come in, but in a lot of cases, those players would have to sit out a year before being eligible to play.
Now, more players than ever are transferring from four-year schools. And, this year the NCAA passed a new rule that allows all players to be immediately eligible after their first transfer.
“It’s a huge game-changer,” CU offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini said. “It’s almost like college free agency. You look at your own needs, your own weaknesses, and how can we address that through the portal? It used to be you went to the junior college route. … I think the portal has changed the game in that sense, to where you can get a veteran guy that’s played Division I college football that can come in right away and compete for a starting job and upgrade your roster right away. It’s a total game-changer in college football.”
From 2014-20, former CU head coaches Mike MacIntyre and Mel Tucker combined to sign 33 JUCO transfers. This year, Dorrell’s staff signed just one, safety Trustin Oliver, who signed with CU out of high school in 2020 and still has full eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead of JUCO transfers, CU has added seven four-year transfers. All of them came from Power 5 programs and many of them have game – or even starting – experience.
Getting players from Power 5 schools helps to project what type of player they can be at CU.
“You have a real sense of how good that guy is going to be,” he said.
Going forward, Lopez said CU will “definitely” utilize the transfer portal more than finding JUCO players.
“We’ll plug in a JC kid where we need to, but we would be more apt to jump into the portal,” he said, while adding that the goal is to not depend on the portal too much.
“The design is it’s a program based on high school recruits. We feel like that’s going to be a real forte for us is developing guys, so we want to be able to bring in a really good freshman, put our hands on him and really shape that guy into a great player, and then supplement with the portal.”
CU has done that this year and it’s led to Chiaverini and Lopez both believing the Buffs have a stronger roster now than they did in 2020.
“You just want to have a chance (every game),” Chiaverini said. “You want to be as closely matched as you can and then let the coaching take over and scheme people up and let your players play.
“When you’re outmatched, that’s when you really have to be smoke and mirrors and I think we’re getting past that point. I think we’re more on a level playing field with people in our conference. There’s still gonna be some matchup issues in certain games, but I believe we’ve closed the gap in total talent in the conference.”
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