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Preseason, 1999 – Buffs looking for “A Season of Paybacks”

// Aug 1 - 1999

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Preseason – 1999

For Colorado to be successful in 1999, a number of players would have to rise above their 1998 performances.

Mike Moschetti would return at quarterback, and was primed to have a banner year. Including the Aloha Bowl, Moschetti had 2,334 yards passing in 1998, with 19 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. The incumbent starter also impressed the new coaching staff with his intangibles – “The kinda guy you want next to you in a foxhole”, said new head coach Gary Barnett.

Much of Moschetti’s success, though, would hinge upon the health of the offensive line. Five starters returned, and senior guard Ryan Johanningmeier was tabbed as a Playboy preseason All-American. The unit would need to avoid the injuries which plagued them in 1998, however (Johanningmeier, as an example, started at three positions during the 1998 season). Seniors Shane Cook (strong tackle) and Brad Bedell (strong guard) returned along with Johanningmeier, joined by sophomores Victor Rogers (weak tackle) and Andre Gurode (center) to give CU a good blend of youth and experience.

Head coach Gary Barnett wanted the Buffs to return to a run-oriented offense in 1999. “Philosophically, we want to be a balanced offense,” said Barnett. “In looking at last year’s statistics, it’s obvious we need to improve the running game.” Barnett had hoped a single back would rise to the occasion during spring drills or fall camp, but none did. None of the three candidates – senior Dwayne Cherrington, junior Damion Barton, sophomore Cortlen Johnson – separated themselves. If the Buffs were to improve on the 1998 average of 123.2 rushing yards/game, it appeared it would have to be done by committee.

The wide receivers, as had become the CU calling card during the decade of the 1990’s, was well-stocked. Marcus Stiggers (20 catches for 343 yards and three touchdowns in 1998) would be flanked by sophomore Javon Green (41 for 543, five touchdowns)and senior Robert Toler. The tight end position, not fully employed under Rick Neuheisel’s offense, would return, with sophomore Daniel Graham tabbed as the opening game starter.

Questions concerning the defense would also have to be addressed by the new coaching staff.

Under Gary Barnett, the Buffs would return to a 3-4 defensive alignment, causing a great deal of upheaval amongst the front seven. IN the middle of the defensive line, sophomore Justin Bannan and senior Jesse Warren returned as starters, with junior Brady McDonnell starting as the lone defensive end in the lineup. At linebacker, there was talent in the starting positions, but little experienced depth behind them. Junior Ty Gregorak and sophomore Jashon Sykes would take care of the interior, while red-shirt freshman Drew Wahlroos and senior Fred Jones were tabbed to start on the outside.

The secondary, though, led by All-American candidate Ben Kelly and fellow star cornerback Damen Wheeler, was the best unit of the defense. Senior Rashidi Barnes was back to man the free safety position, while sophomore Michael Lewis was already entrenched at the strong safety position.

Special teams units were largely set for the 1999 campaign. Kicker Jeremy Aldrich (16-of-22 field goals in 1998) returned for his senior season, while senior punter Nick Pietsch was coming off of a season with an average punt of over 41.5 yards. Ben Kelly was also back, with the junior largely responsible for CU ranking third in the nation in punt returns (16.0) and fourth in kickoff returns (25.) in the nation in 1998.

The 1999 schedule

The schedule, if not necessarily the personnel, was set up to assist the new head coach.

The Buffs would open in Mile High Stadium against Colorado State, which had also finished 1998 with an 8-4 record. The Rams, though, also lost a number of stars to graduation, and were not seen as a serious contender for the championship of the newly formed Mountain West Conference. The Buffs would then return to Boulder to face San Jose State and Kansas. The Kansas game could be seen as the first “payback” game of 1999, as the Jayhawks had sent the Buffs reeling with a 33-17 upset in 1998. Kansas finished 4-7 in 1998, with its only conference win coming at the expense of the Buffs.

The final non-conference game would come at the end of September, in Seattle against Washington. If there was ever to be a “payback” game, it would be against former coach Rick Neuheisel and his new team. Then, after a week layoff, the Buffs would play “payback” game No. 3, this time against Missouri. The Tigers had routed the Buffs, 38-14, in Columbia in 1998, and if Colorado was to compete for the Northern Division title of the Big 12, this game was a must.

The remainder of the schedule included only two tough road games, at Texas Tech and Kansas State, before finishing the season with a Thanksgiving weekend matchup at home against Nebraska. Texas A&M and Texas, seen as the cream of the Southern Division of the Big 12, were not on the schedule for Colorado in 1999.

The pollsters agreed that the table had been set for Colorado to do well in 1999.

Preseason polls had the Buffs anywhere from 10th (Sports Illustrated), to 22nd. When the AP preseason poll came out, the Buffs were picked 15th, the highest preseason ranking for any team which had finished outside the polls at the end of the 1998 season.

At the top of the poll sat Florida State, tabbed as the No. 1 team in the nation for the fifth time in ten years. Right behind the Seminoles was Tennessee, the 1998 champ which had the previous January beaten the Seminoles for the title in the Fiesta Bowl.

The new target for the top teams was now the Sugar Bowl, to be played in New Orleans January 4, 2000. Other teams receiving first place votes included No. 3 Penn State, No. 4 Arizona, No. 5 Florida, and No. 13 Virginia Tech (the latter three receiving one first place vote each).

The Big 12 Conference was well represented in the first poll of the season, with five teams making the top 25. Nebraska was tabbed as the 6th best team in the nation, following closely by No. 7 Texas A & M. Following the No. 15 Buffs were Texas, which was 17th, and Kansas State, tied with Alabama for 20th position.

Only two of Colorado’s opponents for 1999, Nebraska and Kansas State, made the preseason list.

On paper, with the Buffs not scheduled to play a ranked opponent until November, so the chances were good that Gary Barnett’s first team would be successful.

Too bad for the Buffs that the Rams from Colorado State neglected to read that particular “paper”.

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