BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4)- Following a 5-0 start to last season, the Buffaloes faltered down the stretch, losing their final seven games by an average of 14 points. That lead to head coach Mike MacIntyre being let go.

But, even in the midst of a lost season, Buffs fans did have something to puff out their chest and brag about. Sophomore wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. broke out in a big way, posting 86 catches for 1,011 yards and six touchdowns, despite missing three games due to injury.

Wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. #2 of the Colorado Buffaloes against the Colorado State Rams at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on August 31, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Joe Mahoney/Getty Images)

He showed himself to be a particularly explosive threat down the field with a combination of size and speed that makes him stand out heading into the coming college football season.

“For my money, he is one of the best in the country. I was a little bit surprised last year that he didn’t get a little bit more hype. I think that, unfortunately, goes back to the perception that the Pac-12 faces, and I think that affected him individually as well,” said CBS Sports college football host Brent Stover. “But, his ability to stretch the field, combined with being a physical guy as well for his size… He is 6’2″ 225, making him something to try and handle out there, and I do think he can be considered in the Biletnikoff Award race and at the very least, a second or third-team All-American.”

Shenault, now a junior, returns to the field this year with a new head coach overseeing things. The administration brought in former University of Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. With a new coach, there are always conversations about instilling culture and bringing more toughness, but Stover says the biggest thing he has heard out of the Buffs program is raves about the new strength and conditioning program.

“They did so much strength training there, unlike anything they had to do before back in the spring, and they were really excited about that in the spring game,” said Stover. “Now, every time there is a new coaching change, they talk about how, ‘oh he does things differently, and there is a new attitude and a new approach.’ That is always an easy thing that buries the previous coach. But, I do think that has been the biggest buzz with CU this year, the strength training and how that is going to affect these guys, to be tougher and stronger and help them on the mental side as well.”

How that training will translate to the field remains to be seen. In addition to Shenault Jr., the Buffs return senior quarterback Steven Montez. As a junior, Montez completed 64.7 percent of his passes for a shade over 2,800 yards and 19 touchdowns. While his completion percentage has continued to improve, the yardage production dipped last season. He also threw just one more touchdown than in his sophomore season. New offensive coordinator, Jay Johnson, will look to get more out of Montez, particularly without an overly experienced running back group. Sophomore back Alex Fontenot is the most “experienced” of that group, and he had just 11 carries last season.

On defense, the unit will likely be young outside of senior corner Delrick Abrams, junior inside linebacker Nate Landman, and junior defensive end Mustafa Johnson. Tucker will look to mold the Buffs in his image, and for a new coach, that can take time. However, Stover believes there might just be enough pieces here to make a quick turnaround.

“The beauty of it is, and I think you can see this across college football, you can reverse this thing in one year,” said Stover. “I don’t think this is as much of a rebuild as it appears, even though they were 5-7 last year and lost seven straight down the stretch. I think they can immediately turn this thing around.”

The Buffs open up with rival Colorado State on Friday, August 30th. Here’s their complete schedule:

8/30 (Friday) vs. Colorado State, 8:00 p.m. MT

9/7 vs. Nebraska, 1:30 p.m. MT

9/14 vs. Air Force, 11:00 a.m. MT

9/21 @ Arizona State, TBD

10/5 vs. Arizona, TBD

10/11 (Friday) @ Oregon, 8:00 p.m. MT

10/19 @ Washington State, TBD

10/25 (Friday) vs. USC, TBD

11/2 @ UCLA, TBD

11/9 vs. Stanford, TBD

11/23 vs. Washington, TBD

11.30 @ Utah, TBD

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