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Preseason, 2000 – A Schedule from Hell: Five top 15 teams

// Aug 1 - 2000

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Preseason – 2000

Looking forward to the 2000 Colorado football season, the proverbial glass could be seen as either being half empty or half full.

On the positive side, the Buffs had played inspired football the second half of the 1999 season, a 7-5 campaign.

Colorado endured close losses to two top ten teams, Kansas State and Nebraska, before mauling Boston College in the Insight.com Bowl. Head coach Gary Barnett spoke of how the players had “bought into” the system the second half of his first season, and about how excited he was to face the 2000 campaign. “I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun coaching than the last six weeks of the (1999) season, and I think the kids did too once they realized what they’re expectations were,” said Barnett. “I felt we were as good as anybody in the country by the end of the year.”

On the negative side, the 2000 schedule simply could not be ignored.

For the third straight season, the opener would be played against Colorado State in Denver at Mile High Stadium. The Rams went 8-4 in 1999, including a 41-14 rout of the Buffs. Colorado State was not going away, and the Rams were a preseason favorite to repeat as champions of the Mountain West Conference.

After the emotional opener, the Buffs would face the co-favorites for the Pac-10 title, traveling to play USC in Los Angeles before returning home to play Washington.

If the non-conference slate was not daunting enough, Colorado next had to open the conference campaign with Kansas State, Texas, and Texas A&M. All three had been bowl teams in 1999, and the Wildcats and Longhorns both were mentioned as contenders for the national title.

Overall, the Buffs’ schedule had the dubious honor of being named the nation’s toughest by Sports Illustrated. “We will undoubtedly have the most difficult schedule in Division I football,” conceded Barnett. “I think at the end of those first six games, we will know a heckuva lot about our football team.”

The issue of who would lead the Buffs into battle as CU’s starting quarterback remained unresolved heading into fall camp.

Gone was Mike Moschetti, who had started 11 of CU’s 12 games during the 1999 campaign. Sophomore Zac Colvin, who had started against Iowa State in Moschetti’s absence, vied for starting honors at quarterback against junior college transfer Bobby Pesavento. True freshman Craig Ochs made his Colorado debut in August drills, but was not expected to be a factor in the quarterback competition.

The offensive line was an area of major concern, as the Buffs had lost three starters, with guards Brad Bedell and Ryan Johanningmeier and tackle Shane Cook having accounted for 84 career starts. CU did return guard Andre Gurode at center and Victor Rogers at tackle, but there was certainly a drop off in experience, if not talent, along the line as the 2000 season opened.

The running game featured incumbent junior tailback Cortlen Johnson, who had a 1,000-yard season in 1999 if you counted his 201 yard effort against Boston College in the Insight.com bowl (CU doesn’t count bowl stats as part of the season statistics, so officially Johnson had 835 yards in 1999). Johnson would be fending off freshman phenom Marcus Houston for the starting job, with another true freshman, Bobby Purify, also in the mix.

The CU wide receiver corps was deep in numbers, if not in All-Big 12 talent. Senior Javon Green, who had three 100-yard games in 1999, returned, as did a trio of juniors, Roman Hollowell, Cedric Cormier, and John Minardi. At tight end, the Buffs had junior tight end Daniel Graham, who had 19 catches for 264 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore, ranking him in the top 20 nationally amongst tight ends in 1999.

The Buffs’ defense appeared to be well stocked, especially in the front seven.

Three starters returned along the defensive line, with Justin Bannan, Sean Jarne and Brady McDonnell returning for duty.

The linebackers were led by junior Jashon Sykes, who received numerous preseason All-American honors, including a nomination for the Butkus Award, after receiving second-team All-American honors as a sophomore.

The question mark for the Buffs’ defense was the secondary, where three starters – Ben Kelly, Damen Wheeler, and Rashidi Barnes – had been drafted by NFL. Junior safety Michael Lewis returned as the only starter, leading a group heavy on speed and talent but light on experience.

The kicking game faced a complete makeover.

Gone were long time starters in kicker Jeremy Aldrich and punter Nick Pietsch. Junior college transfer Jeremy Flores was penciled in to take both positions, challenged by sophomore Mark Mariscal. Kick returning duties, ably handled by the record-setting Ben Kelly for the previous three seasons, fell to juniors Roman Hollowell and Cedric Cormier.

Preseason rankings

The preseason magazines recognized Colorado’s talent, while at the same time acknowledging the difficulty the Buffs would have in making improvement on their 7-5 record from 1999.

Few prognosticators had the Buffs in their preseason Top 25, and almost all had Colorado pegged for a third place finish in the Big 12 North behind Nebraska and Kansas State.

In the Associated Press preseason poll, Colorado came in at No. 24, representing the 11th time in 12 seasons the Buffs had received recognition in the preseason poll. At No. 1 was Nebraska, receiving 36 first place votes. Defending national champion Florida State was pegged as the nation’s No. 2 team, receiving 29 first place votes. In at No. 3 was Alabama, which received three votes for No. 1, with No. 4 Wisconsin receiving one vote and No. 7 Texas receiving two votes.

The good news was that the Buffs were ranked.

The bad news was the acclaim afforded the Buffs’ opponents.

In addition to playing No. 1 Nebraska and No. 7 Texas, the Buffs had to play No. 8 Kansas State; No. 13 Washington and No.15 USC. Colorado’s schedule included five teams in the top 15 of the nation, and the Buffs would play four of them in the first six games.

The two remaining opponents in the Buffs’ opening stretch were lurking just outside the polls. Texas A&M received enough votes to be considered as the No. 26 team in the nation, with Colorado State coming in at No. 31.

So, to recap, in the first half of the 2000 season, CU would play six teams, all ranked in the top 31 in the nation.

A schedule from Hell, indeed.

The talent for Colorado to be successful in 2000 was largely in place. The question now became one of which of the teams from 1999 would show up for the 2000 opener against Colorado State. Would it be the team which had routed No. 25 Boston College in the Insight.com Bowl and which had taken No. 3 Nebraska into overtime?

Or would it be the team which had been mauled by CSU and embarrassed by Texas Tech?

 

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