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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 81: Colorado

Ralphie storms the field. Maybe Colorado should let the mascot call the plays on offense?

The last four years under Dan Hawkins, or, as the Colorado athletic department terms it, “Hawk’s Handiwork.” A 16-33 record, which includes a 2-19 mark on the road. Only three wins in 16 tries against ranked opponents; only 13 wins in 33 tries against unranked opposition. A 10-22 mark in Big 12 play. He must have left his tool belt at home. Somehow, Hawkins remains the head coach at the University of Colorado. The recent past — try the last four years, for instance — has been nothing short of a constant source of embarrassment. You’re Colorado, for God’s sake: you’re the program of Bill McCarney, Darian Hagan, the Miracle at Michigan, conference and national championships. Act like it. Oh, and enjoy the West Coast.

Conference
Big 12

Location
Boulder, Colo.

Nickname
Buffaloes

Returning starters
16 (9 offense, 7 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 43

2009 record
(3-9, 2-6)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 93

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 4
    Colorado St. (in Denver)
  • Sept. 11
    at California
  • Sept. 18
    Hawaii
  • Oct. 2
    Georgia
  • Oct. 9
    at Missouri
  • Oct. 16
    Baylor
  • Oct. 23
    Texas Tech
  • Oct. 30
    at Oklahoma
  • Nov. 6
    at Kansas
  • Nov. 13
    Iowa St.
  • Nov. 20
    Kansas St.
  • Nov. 26
    at Nebraska

Last year’s prediction

Will Colorado win 10 games, as Hawkins so brazenly predicted at the tail end of last fall’s five-win finish? First things first: Colorado is not winning 10 games, not in the Big 12 and not with this schedule. The big question revolving around the C.U. offense is what type of play the Buffaloes will get from the quarterback position: if the team gets good – not spectacular, just good – play and consistency, the offense will be much, much better. My prediction is a little more guarded: I believe Colorado will finish 7-5, 4-4 in the Big 12, third in the North.

2009 recap

In a nutshell Humbling. Is that not strong enough a word? How about embarrassing? No, I’ve used that one already. Alright, how about challenging? No, not representative of last year’s struggles. I’m going to go with excruciating, trying, disconcerting and distressing. Changes needed to have been made, yet weren’t. Poor Colorado fans — if they are any left.

High point The whole season begs to be forgotten, but the Buffaloes did beat Wyoming and Texas A&M, each seven-win teams.

Low point Colorado did have its competitive moments, losing to Oklahoma State by three, Nebraska by eight and Iowa State by one. The low point, therefore, must be the Friday night debacle at Toledo. It was 13-0 after one, 23-3 at the half, 37-24 after three, 54-38 at the final whistle. Nothing against Toledo, a fine program, but the Rockets put up 624 yards of offense.

Tidbit As I’m sure you are now aware, Colorado will move to the the Pac-10 in either 2011 or 2012. This will mark the sixth conference Colorado has been part of since the program was founded in 1890, not counting the three years it spent as an Independent from 1890-92. The Pac-10 will join the Big 12 (1996-2010), the Big 8 (1948-95), the Mountain States Athletic Conference (1938-47), the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (1909-37) and the Colorado Football Association (1893-1908).

Tidbit (nine-loss edition) Dan Hawkins is not the first Colorado coach to lose 10 games in a season. Heck, even the great Bill McCartney did it once (1984). However, Hawkins is the only coach in Colorado’s long history to lose at least nine games twice. His career winning percentage now stands at .327, the second-worst by a non-interim coach in school history. Speaking of McCartney, perhaps the athletic department thinks that with time, Hawkins could duplicate his success: McCartney went 7-25 over his first three seasons but won at least eight games from 1988-1994. I don’t think that’s going to happen with Hawkins.

Tidbit (Pac-10 edition) Another Pac-10 tidbit. Colorado holds a 38-34-1 career mark against the current makeup of the Pac-10, but only a 3-7 record against the conference since 2000. Over the last decade, the Buffaloes are 0-2 against Arizona State, 0-1 against Oregon, 0-2 against U.S.C., 2-0 against U.C.L.A., 0-1 against Washington and 1-1 against Washington State.

Former players in the N.F.L.

21 DT Jusin Bannan (Denver), DE Tyler Brayton (Carolina), CB Benjamin Burney (Cleveland). K Mason Crosby (Green Bay), LB Jordon Dizon (Detroit), LS Justin Drescher (Atlanta), TE Riar Geer (Denver), TE Daniel Graham (Denver), C Andre Gurode (Dallas), LB Brian Iwuh (Chicago), LB Brad Jones (Green Bay), TE Joe Klopfenstein (Buffalo), S Michael Lewis (San Francisco), DE Maurice Lucas (Atlanta), OT Tyler Polumbus (Denver), OG Daniel Sanders (Baltimore), CB Donald Strickland (San Diego), TE Quinn Sypniewski (Baltimore), FB Lawrence Vickers (Cleveland), CB Terrence Wheatley (New England), WR Patrick Williams (Green Bay).

Arbitrary top five list

Best players in Colorado Rockies history
1. 1B Todd Helton.
2. OF Larry Walker.
3. 3B Vinny Castilla.
4. OF Dante Bichette.
5. OF Matt Holliday.

Coaching

Dan Hawkins (U.C.-Davis ’83), 16-33 after four years in Boulder. Hawkins has come full circle: 2-10 in 2006, his debut season, Hawkins brought the Buffaloes back to 3-9 last fall after two years of relative competitiveness. Despite his tenure with the Buffaloes representing nothing short of a disgrace, Hawkins’s overall record on the F.B.S. level remains a sterling 69-44, thanks to a 53-11 record over a five-year stint as the head coach at Boise State. After taking over for former Arizona State head coach Dirk Koetter in 2001, Hawkins won at least eight games every season with the Broncos, including 36 over a three-year span from 2002-4. Those teams won or shared four Western Athletic Conference titles and had matching 31-game winning streaks both in WAC play and on the blue turf in Boise. Through five years, Hawkins’s 53 victories matched the former Miami coach Larry Coker for the fourth-best start in modern F.B.S. history, trailing only Marshall’s Bob Pruett (58-9), Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops (55-11) and Southern California’s Pete Carroll (54-10). Including a five-year stint at N.A.I.A. Willamette University (in Salem, Ore.), Hawkins takes into the 2008 season a career record of 108-56-1, which makes him the 13th-winningest active coach in college football; his 65.6 percent winning percentage ranks him ninth among active coaches. A consistent winner at Boise, Hawkins has been awful at Colorado. He should not have returned in 2010; barring a miracle, he won’t be back in 2011. Colorado deserves far better.

Players to watch

It’s time for this offensive line to play up to its sizable talents. Lacking talent in the backfield, the offense needs a big season from this line, which returns not only all five primary starters but the wide majority of its two-deep. Begin with left tackle Nate Solder: the offense has been abysmal, but the senior has been terrific. Solder, a former tight end, has excelled on the blind side, where his long arms and reach allow him to hold speedy rush ends at bay. He very firmly ranks among the top left tackles in the country. Not so with sophomore right tackle Bryce Givens, who does not lack for physical ability but continues to struggle adding weight to his slight frame. If Givens were 30 pounds heavier — give or take — he would be a force. Manning the interior will be juniors Ethan Adkins (left guard) and Ryan Miller (right guard) and senior Keenan Stevens (center). Miller has found a home at guard after starting his career at tackle. This group has all the talent in the world.

Depth is not a concern up front, obviously. It is an issue at running back, where the Buffaloes will be without Demetrius Sumler and Darrell Scott, the latter opting to transfer than continue to struggle earning carries. Colorado does return leading rusher Rodney Stewart, who accounted for 804 of the team’s 1,055 yards rushing on the year. He’ll again be called on to do all of the heavy lifting; just cross your fingers he stays healthy.

I like Colorado’s receiver corps, even if, like in the backfield, the group lacks depth. Colorado can march out a capable top pair in Scott McKnight (76 receptions for 893 yards) and Markques Simas (43 for 585, a team-best 13.6 yards per catch). McKnight, despite lacking what seem like prototypical tools, continues to be productive. The position will also receive a boost from the eligibility of former Michigan transfer Toney Clemons, who was a revelation during the spring. A good top trio with which to build a passing game. Adding depth are junior Jason Espinoza, sophomore Will Jefferson and, if available, senior Andre Simmons. The former highly-touted JUCO recruit did little in his debut season.

Nothing new to report at quarterback. Colorado will have the same cast of characters battling for snaps under center: junior Tyler Hansen and senior Cody Hawkins, most notably. It appears — though I’m sure it won’t be the case — that the Cody Hawkins era is over in Boulder; Hansen, who has seen his redshirt burned in each of the last two years due to poor play from Hawkins, will open the season as the starter. Neither has been very good, though Hansen has outplayed Hawkins. The junior threw for 1,440 yards and 8 touchdowns last fall, completing 55.8 percent of his attempts. Hawkins was slightly worse. You can have a good offense line and able receivers: it all comes down to quarterback play, obviously. It doesn’t help matter that Colorado’s running game has struggled.

I like the Colorado defensive line. Like its offensive counterpart, the defensive front returns most of last season’s contributors. Leading the way is senior end Marquez Herrod, who paced the team with six and half sacks last fall. Sophomore Will Pericek (36 tackles, 3 sacks) and junior Curtis Cunningham (41 tackles, 2 sacks) will again man the interior of the line, with juniors Eugene Goree and Conrad Obi holding down reserve roles. If healthy, sophomore Nate Bonsu will be in line for meaningful snaps. One end spot remains open to competition: Nick Kasa, a massively talented sophomore, is one option. As is another second-year player, Forrest West. If Kasa plays up to his ability, the defensive line should be pretty good.

Make no mistake: while the secondary returns three players with starting experience, this group needs to take a major step forward in 2010. Perhaps it will. The Buffaloes have two fifth-year seniors starting at cornerback in Jalil Brown (66 tackles, 2 interceptions) and Jimmy Smith (70 stops, 2 picks). In order to improve depth — and to replace multiple-year contributor Cha’pelle Brown — Colorado will need some of its young, unproven cornerbacks to step up. This list includes Deji Olatoye, Josh Moten and Paul Vigo, among others. Regardless of whether Colorado receives a boost from a young contributor, Brown will be sorely missed. Anthony Perkins, the team’s leading returning tackler (78, 2 interceptions), returns at strong safety. The fight to replace Benjamin Burney at free safety will include Ray Polk, a former running back making the transition to the secondary.

Position battles to watch

Linebacker Three of last season’s top tacklers were linebackers; all are gone. The biggest loss is weak side linebacker Jeff Smart, who notched at least 80 tackles in each of his final three seasons, including a career-high 118 as a junior. Linebacker coach Brian Cabral, one of the finest defensive position coaches in the country, may have his hands full in 2010. It will help to have some young talent to work with. The first is sophomore Jon Major, a former top in-state recruit, who will attempt to fill Smart’s shoes on the weak side. Major has battled injuries thus far in his career, limiting his snaps, but he is the most physically gifted returning linebacker on the roster. Senior Michael Sipili is a logical replacement for Marcus Burton at middle linebacker. He’s started in the past — when not starting serving as a leading reserve — and is more accustomed to the middle than either sophomore Doug Rippy or redshirt freshman Derrick Webb. Likewise on the strong side, where senior B.J. Beatty brings far more experience to the table than does his competition: juniors Tyler Ahles and David Goldberg and redshirt freshman Liloa Nobriga. To be honest, I’m surprised that Rippy isn’t getting a long look on the strong side.

Game(s) to watch

As will be the case with Nebraska, Colorado will be due for an unkind reception in each of its four Big 12 road games. Keep an eye on those, as well as the season opener against in-state rival Colorado State; a marquee — in terms of program prestige — date with Georgia; and, very sadly, the final conference game against those hated Cornhuskers.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell The overwhelming negativity needs to end. In this preview, I mean. I like Colorado’s offensive line to round into form; to be fair, I thought this line was ready to take the next step in 2009. The Buffaloes have a talented receiver pair in McKnight and Simas. The defensive line is in relatively good shape, touting perhaps the most depth up front of the Hawkins era. That’s some good news, at least. So is the 16 returning starters, leading me to believe we’ll see at least a one-win, perhaps a two-win improvement over last year’s dreadful 3-9 record. Now, let’s be honest: Colorado is not good — by Big 12 standards. It helps to play in the North, of course, where Kansas and Iowa State are pegged to take a step back this fall and Kansas State not projected to do more than battle for bowl eligibility. Colorado could — could — land six wins thanks to its Big 12 schedule, which lands it home games against Baylor, Kansas State and Iowa State. In Colorado’s way? Poor quarterback play, a lack of big-play ability on offense, changes at linebacker and a dearth of proven commodities in the secondary. And, lest I forget, a coach ill-suited for college football on the big stage.

Dream season Colorado is the surprise team of the Big 12, if not the country: 9-3, 6-2 in the Big 12. The Buffaloes leave for the Pac-10 with a North championship.

Nightmare season More of the same for Colorado, which loses 10 games for the second time under Hawkins.

In case you were wondering

Where do Colorado fans congregate? Colorado has a number of football-oriented independent sites, which is always good to see. If you’re interested, take a look at Net BuffsBuff Backers and All Buffs. For recruiting coverage, check out Buff Stampede and Buffalo Sports News. And do yourself a favor and visit Ralphie Report, the best Colorado blog on the Web.

Tidbit (fan feedback edition) Let’s go, Colorado fans. Who do you think will be your team’s fiercest rival — your Nebraska, for instance — when the Buffaloes make the move to the Pac-10? Let’s say Colorado is joined by Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Texas and Utah, giving the Pac-10 16 teams. Would it be Utah? Perhaps Texas?

Up Next

Who is No. 80? Our next university is the alma mater of the college sports editor of The New York Times. You get plenty of bonus points — my respect, in fact — if you can name the gentleman in question.

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Comments

  1. Dr. Klahn says:

    Is it Syracuse? And is the gentleman Connor Ennis?

  2. [...] #81 Colorado preview: I like Colorado's offensive line to round into form; to be fair, I thought this line was ready to take the next step in 2009. The Buffaloes have a talented receiver pair in McKnight and Simas. The defensive line is in relatively good shape, touting perhaps the most depth up front of the Hawkins era. That's some good news, at least. So is the 16 returning starters, leading me to believe we'll see at least a one-win, perhaps a two-win improvement over last year's dreadful 3-9 record. Now, let's be honest: Colorado is not good — by Big 12 standards. It helps to play in the North, of course, where Kansas and Iowa State are pegged to take a step back this fall and Kansas State not projected to do more than battle for bowl eligibility. Colorado could — could — land six wins thanks to its Big 12 schedule, which lands it home games against Baylor, Kansas State and Iowa State. In Colorado's way? Poor quarterback play, a lack of big-play ability on offense, changes at linebacker and a dearth of proven commodities in the secondary. And, lest I forget, a coach ill-suited for college football on the big stage. [...]

  3. ed says:

    Tom Jolly,
    Toledo

  4. SanDiegoBuff says:

    Wow, you must’ve really done your research. You do know that Simas was effectively kicked off the team last month. Kinda makes it hard to take the rest of this seriously when you miss a point that big.

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