By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: The fourth year of the Dan Hawkins era was met with a sense of optimism, as the University of Colorado football team appeared ready to turn the corner and start the climb back toward Big 12 respectability.
Unfortunately, consecutive losses to rival Colorado State and Toledo dropped
the Buffaloes to 0-2 before anyone knew what had happened. A week-three
shutout of Wyoming got the Buffaloes into the win column, but back-to-back
setbacks at West Virginia and Texas had CU staring down the barrel of a
daunting Big 12 schedule with very little confidence. A narrow win over Kansas
was a positive step, but the good feelings didn't last long as losses in two
straight and five of the final six games saddled the Buffs with a 3-9 ledger,
of which only two wins came against conference foes.
With another losing season in the books, CU fans were clamoring for a coaching
change, but the school's administration decided against making a move, thus
giving Hawkins and his staff at least one more year to try and right the ship.
Hawkins spoke of the challenges involved in rallying back from the recent
string of disappointment.
"That's been the whole concept. Let's look at this thing from an objective
standpoint of what's really affected the wins and losses. Can we clean this
up? Can we be responsible for this? So for our team, that's been the whole
focus. So it hasn't always been so much a rallying as it has been pointing
things out and learning and getting better."
OFFENSE: The return of eight starters on offense should be a blessing for the
Buffs, despite their ineptitude on that side of the ball last season. The
quarterback tandem of junior Tyler Hansen and senior Cody Hawkins gives the
Colorado offense some experience, although both were rather ineffective as
they were forced to make quick decisions or scramble for their lives behind an
offensive line that simply did not get the job done either in pass protection
of opening holes in the run game.
Coach Hawkins has not made his mind up about who his starter will be at QB,
but he has confidence in both, as does the rest of the team.
"It's like the rest of life. The goods and bads. The good is you've got guys.
You've got guys you can believe in. You've got guys who can play. The bad
thing is you'd rather have one guy be clear front and center, but it's not
that way. So I think as long as those guys handle it, which they have -- and
our team really doesn't care either. Like I said, you could split them with a
hair. I don't think our team really goes one way or another with one guy or
Regardless of which signal caller gets the nod to start the season, both are
likely to see playing time and they will look to receivers Scotty McKnight and
Markques Simas to make plays down the field. McKnight hauled in a team-high 76
balls for 893 yards and six TDs in 2009. Another guy to keep an eye is former
Michigan Wolverine Toney Clemons.
Despite the fact that the Buffs were among the worst rushing teams in the
nation last season, the running back situation seems to be in decent shape
with junior Rodney Stewart back to [hopefully] elevate his game beyond the 804
yards and nine TDs he amassed as a sophomore. There isn't mush depth in the
backfield, so the offensive line is going to have to perform much better than
it did in '09 when it gave up a Big 12-worst 44 sacks and afforded CU rushers
just 2.8 ypc. With all five starters back, it could be either a blessing in
terms of developing continuity and cohesiveness, or a disaster if they fail
to get out of each other's way long enough for the skill position guys to make
DEFENSE: Defensively, the Buffaloes weren't quite as bad as they were on
offense last season, but there is definitely room for improvement. Stopping
the run was clearly the unit's biggest issue as foes averaged 161.2 ypg,
ranking CU ninth in the Big 12 and 80th nationally.
The return of three starters along the defensive line should help, as this
unit, along with the secondary, could be the strength of the Colorado defense.
Linebacker is the one area of concern heading into the 2010 campaign, as only
senior B.J. Beatty has much in the way of starting experience.
Senior CBs Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown are back for their final seasons after
earning All-Big honors in '09, and both should help solidify a secondary that
finished fourth in the conference and 34th in the country against the pass
last year with 201.8 ypg allowed.
SPECIAL TEAMS: There were plenty of areas that the Buffs performed poorly in
last season, and punting was certainly among them. Freshman Zach Grossnickle
needs to prove he can handle the job, while the team's punt return unit also
needs to pick it up after struggling to set the offense up with favorable
field position. Senior Aric Goodman is back as the team's placekicker,
although he will need to perform much better than the 10-of-18 effort he put
forth last year.
OUTLOOK: The 2010 season doesn't offer much in the way of easy targets for the
Buffaloes, as they open things up in Denver against Colorado State, then
travel to Berkeley to take on the California Golden Bears. The game against
Cal is interesting in that the two teams will be sharing conference ties
starting next season as CU begins play in the Pac-10, which will be changing
its name to the Pac-12 with Utah also signing on.
Bouts with Hawaii and Georgia round out Colorado's non-league slate, as an
October 9th trip to Missouri begins the Buffs' final Big 12 campaign. The game
against the Tigers, followed by visits from both Baylor and Texas Tech
represent opportunities to really get off to a fast start in conference, and
tilts against Kansas, Iowa State, Kansas State and Nebraska could
[potentially] all wind up in the win column.
Any success the Buffaloes achieve this season will hinge on consistent QB play
coupled with an improving defensive effort. If both things happen, a winning
season and some much-needed momentum could be in the offering as Colorado
turns its attention to a new conference beginning in 2011.