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Back in the Big 12, Colorado must replace a pair of outstanding performers on the offensive line (OG Andre Gurode, OT Victor Rogers) and make up for the graduation loss of super blue-chip TE Daniel Graham. Fortunately for the Buffaloes, veteran standout Wayne Lucier returns to anchor the move-'em-out gang, while fellow senior Justin Bates was one of the most underrated OTs in the nation last season. Junior OG Marwan Hage also possesses plenty of experience; he earned a starting job as a freshman in 2000.

Lucier, Bates and Hage will be clearing the way for what shapes up as the top stable of running backs in the country. The Buffs return three top backs. Chris Brown and Bobby Purify combined for just under 2,000 yards rushing last season and scored 21 TDs. Talented sophomore Marcus Houston (6-2, 205) carried the ball just 39 times due to a groin injury that severely cut into his playing time.

In the spring, Houston was reportedly back at 100 percent and appears ready to put on a show -- that is provided coach Gary Barnett and his offensive staff can find a way to keep everyone in the crowded backfield happy. When heralded RB recruit Brian Calhoun (5-11, 190) reports to practice in August, Colorado will have four backs. At the prep level in Wisconsin, Calhoun showcased his sub-4.3 speed by rushing for nearly 5,000 yards and scoring 82 TDs. Calhoun also excelled as an electrifying punt/kickoff returner. And don't forget, senior FB Brandon Drumm, is one of the best lead blockers in the nation.

On defense, the spring buzz centered on the potential displayed by DE Gabe Nyenhuis (6-4, 260), who came to the Buffs from Garden City Community College. Nyenhuis showed good initial quickness and natural instincts as a pass-rusher. Because of his quick development, senior Tyler Brayton (6-6, 265) was shifted inside to DT to make up for the graduation loss of Justin Bannan. Brayton has the explosiveness and wing span to cause a disturbance in the middle. Meanwhile, junior Sean Tufts is emerging as one of the elite linebackers in college football, while steady senior Drew Wahlroos was the team's third-leading tackler (72) in 2001.

The primary concern on defense is how well the secondary will hold up, given the loss of SS Michael Lewis to the NFL. His replacement has yet to be determined, although senior Rod Sneed has the inside track. Of the deep-patrol returnees, senior CB Donald Strickland has the most experience and figures to be the key performer. He was very limited in the spring (no contact) after recovering from shoulder surgery. Five true freshmen are being counted on to provide a major upgrade in the secondary, led by Brian Iwoh (6-1, 205) and Sammy Joseph (6-1 -181).

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I am so glad that Marcus Houston is back!!
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