CU coach Mike MacIntyre returns 57 players from last season’s 4-8 team.

Ross D. Franklin / AP

Editor’s note: This is the latest in a six-week series where we will take an early look at each of Arizona’s 12 opponents this season. Today, we look at Colorado. Up next: Washington on Friday.

Before the 2013 season, Rich Rodriguez was asked about his defense, which gave up 499 yards per game and more than 35 points a contest in 2012. His answer was witty and accurate.

“The good news is we return a lot of guys,” Rodriguez said. “And the bad news is we return a lot of guys.”

Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre, in his second year with the Buffaloes, might want to steal that quote. Colorado went 4-8 last season and 1-8 in the Pac-12. Seven of its eight losses were by double-digits and the Buffs gave up more than 40 points in seven of their nine conference games.

But MacIntyre returns 57 players and 16 starters from that team, which — as Rodriguez said a year ago — can be both good and bad.

The Buffaloes have two winnable games to open the season and then host Arizona State in a critical early-season contest. Will all the returning players help or hurt the Buffs?

We’ll know soon enough. Before we do, here’s a closer look at the Buffaloes:

Game vs. UA: Saturday, Nov. 8.

Where: Arizona Stadium

Last year’s record: 4-8

Projections: Most national analysts are in agreement about the Buffs: They should be more competitive and a tad more talented this season, but are still a year or two away from being able to get to a bowl game. Phil Steele, the Sporting News and Lindy’s all project the Buffaloes to finish last in the Pac-12 South. But all had positive things to say about the Buffaloes, who had a three-win improvement last season. Lindy’s wrote about the Buffs: “Colorado lost six games by 20 points or more during the 2013 campaign, but it should be more competitive in MacIntyre’s second season. It’s tough to see this team winning more than four or five games unless a lot goes its way.” The Sporting News was a bit more succinct on Colorado’s bottom line: “The Buffs still need big help to get multiple wins in the Pac-12.”

Three names to know

Linebacker Addison Gillam: As a true freshman last season, Gillam may have been Colorado’s best defensive player. The 6-foot-3-inch, 225-pound linebacker led the team with 107 tackles, including 6½ for a loss. He also added three sacks and an interception. The middle linebacker will serve as the leader of Colorado’s defense this year, and should be even better than last season.

Quarterback Sefo Liufau: Liufau was forced into action as a true freshman last season and managed to hold his own. He threw for 1,779 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He set true freshman school records for attempts, completions and touchdown passes.

Wide receiver Nelson Spruce: The junior served as a solid complementary piece to star Paul Richardson last season, but will now move into the No. 1 role with Richardson in the NFL. Spruce had 55 catches for 650 yards and four TDs last season.

Three numbers to know

45.9: There were a lot of dismal stats last year for the Buffaloes, but perhaps none were worse than the 45.9 points per game Colorado’s defense gave up. The Buffs ranked 122nd in the country in scoring defense.

1,346: The Buffaloes return all three of their leading rushers from a year ago — Christian Powell, Michael Adkins and Tony Jones — who combined for 1,346 yards and 10 touchdowns.

7: Colorado has been favored to win just seven of its last 37 games the past three seasons.

Different than last time

They’re more experienced.

Colorado lost just 18 players from last year’s roster, which is tied for fewest in the Pac-12. As we’ve mentioned, 57 players are back, including eight starters on offense and eight more on defense.

Moreover, Colorado returns its six leading rushers, its leading passer, four of its five leading receivers and four of its six leading tacklers from a year ago.

The experience is a good thing, no doubt, but they’ve all suffered a lot of losses in their career. They will try to start changing that this season.

Contact reporter Daniel Berk at or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk