Last year, Colorado fans took offense at my characterization of Colorado's new offensive philosophy as a "square peg meet round hole" and a potential "train wreck." They brought up a good point that the Colorado offense wasn't very good in 2008, so a change was in order. Very true, but while it was clear from this side of the Flatirons that the change to a "pro-style" attack was going to make things even worse, Buffalo fans were sure that Colorado's new offensive coordinator meant to merely implement a "pro-style rushing attack." Bob Bell of the Ralphie Report made it quite clear:
By no means would our coaches be ignorant enough to think Cody Hawkins will beat anyone throwing 30 times a game…
Well, guess what. Colorado's quarterbacks didn't just throw thirty passes a game...they averaged nearly 40 passes a game in 2009. And it only took about a game and a half for the sad awful truth to set in when Toledo pasted the Buffs on a Friday night.
If there is one thing that's a bigger mess than Colorado's football team on the field, it is the financial situation of the athletic department. You see, Colorado still hasn't paid off the loans they used to buy out Gary Barnett. To lessen the buyout fees, Colorado now wants to hang around the Big XII another year rather than join the Pac-10 in 2011. So Colorado really had no choice but to keep Dan Hawkins around for the 2010 season.That doesn't necessarily mean that Dan's son Cody will be the starting quarterback. The last two years, Colorado has attempted to redshirt Tyler Hansen, only to throw him into the lineup midseason. Hansen's a more mobile quarterback, but only netted 61 yards last season on 84 carries. As the season progressed, he became a little better passer, completing nearly 56% of his passes with eight touchdowns but seven interceptions. Hansen was named the starter last week, but don't be surprised if the Buffs turn to Cody Hawkins if the offense continues to struggle.
At running back, it's going to be junior Rodney Stewart carrying most of the load. Much ballyhooed recruit Darrell Scott bailed on the Buffs early last season, and transferred to South Florida. Stewart is a nice back, rushing for 804 yards and nine touchdowns last season, earning honorable mention all-Big XII mention. After that, the cupboard is rather bare. Brian Lockridge is the only other back with experience, rushing for 53 yards last season. Perhaps freshmen Quentin Hildreth or Justin Torres will step up and provide some depth here.
If the Buffs are going to insist on throwing the ball most of the time, they'll need some receivers produce, and Scott McKnight is Mr. Dependable for the Buffs. McKnight led the Buffs with 76 catches for 893 yards and six touchdowns last season. But after Markques Simas was dismissed from the squad this spring, the Buffs don't have a lot of experience returning at receiver. Junior Jason Espinoza is next on the list of returning receivers with 13 last season. Buff fans are looking for senior Travon Patterson, freshman Paul Richardson, junior Toney Clemons, or sophomore Will Jefferson to step up.
Colorado's offensive line has plenty of experience on the offensive line, but the results to date have been spotty to say the least. The Buffs ranked 113th in rushing last season and 117th in sacks allowed. Despite those totals, left tackle Nate Solder is a preseason all-American and right guard Ryan Miller was honorable mention all-Big XII last season. The Buffs think they finally have the depth to put together a decent offensive line.
Like the offensive line, the results on the defensive line don't match up with the experience level on the field. The Buffs were 80th in rush defense. Senior defensive end Marquez Herrod was the leader of the bunch with 38 tackles and a team leading six sacks last season. The Buffs frequently go with a 3 man line, bringing in an additional defensive back to go with a 3-3-5 nickel formation.
Only one starter returns at linebacker, senior B.J. Beatty who had only 30 tackles last season. Once again, the Buffs are hoping that young players like sophomore Jon Major, a former high school player of the year in Colorado, are going to step up and make an immediate impact.
At cornerback, the Buffs defense truly has a solid foundation. Seniors Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown are the leaders of a secondary that ended up fourth in the Big XII in pass defense. Senior Anthony Perkins slides over to start at strong safety this season after starting much of last season at free safety, accounting for 78 tackles. Sophomore Ray Polk moves into the lineup at free safety; he added 40 tackles last season in a backup role. After that, the Buffs will be breaking in freshman in reserve roles, so again, inexperience raises it's head in Boulder.
Buff fans are optimistic going into this season. If the offensive line can reach it's potential and young talent at receiver and linebacker develops as they hope, this team should be better than last year. With home games against Hawai'i, Baylor, and Iowa State, Buff fans should be hoping to get wins against Colorado State, Kansas, and then pulling off one upset at some point to get to bowl eligibility.
And if that happens, don't be surprised if Colorado doesn't grant Dan Hawkins the contract extension he desires. Colorado still can't afford to buy out Hawkins, and letting Hawkins' run out his contract will absolutely destroy recruiting. Plus, let's be brutally honest. Hawkins is the second lowest paid coach in the Big XII; chances are that Colorado would need to pay a new coach more than Hawkins makes. If Colorado doesn't regress further this year, Colorado could negotiate a deal with Hawkins similar to the one Pat Hill and Fresno State agreed to. More years at a lower salary gives Colorado more time and budget flexibility to dig themselves out of their financial hole, and Hawkins gets a second chance to jumpstart his program with the assurance that, barring a complete collapse of the program, he's not leaving Boulder anytime soon.
That's likely not going to sit well with Buffalo fans who wrote off Hawkins last season, but some coaches need a little more time to get their program started. Dan McCarney didn't get Iowa State to a bowl game until his sixth season, so just because Hawkins has failed thus far doesn't make it an assurance he never will succeed.