EZ Mortgages

Preseason – 2008 – Fall Practice coverage; Roster battles; predictions

// Jun 14 - 2008

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Preseason picks – a summary of eight publications

On June 1st,I took a stab predicting what the preseason magazines would say about the Buffs and their 2008 opponents. Below is a compilation of eight different magazines and websites. Take a look at where the Buffs fell in the eyes of experts, as well as how good a job I did at predicting what they would say. Without giving too much away, I guess my reputation as seeing the glass as half empty is secure ….
Read Predicting the Predictions…

Preseason 2008 – a look at the depth chart

There will be points put up by the Buffs’ offense. The difference between a break out season and a season ending with Buff fans hoping for a bid to the Texas Bowl will be the play of the defense. Which defensive players hold the keys to a successful 2008? See if you agree with my assessments ….

Read Preseason 2008 – CU depth chart…

Preseason 2008 – a look at the schedule – reasons for optimism (and fear)

What will be the Buffs’ record be as they walk off the field at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln November 28th? After a schedule which includes the potential of playing three top ten teams in one four game stretch? Below are reasons why – for each game – there are reasons for Buff fans to be optimistic, as well as why – for each game – there are reasons to lose sleep the night before the game ….

Read Preseason 2008 – Schedule and the Big 12…

Archive Game of the Week


Practice Notes and Quotes

Fall Camp Update – less than two weeks to game time!

There was some bad news early in the second week of fall camp as freshman linebacker Jon Major was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Major, one of the prize recruits of the 2008 class, and considered, along with CU offensive lineman Bryce Givens, one of the top two players coming out of the state of Colorado this year, was injured during a non-contact drill during practice on August 12th. Major joins red-shirt freshman guard Mike Iltis and senior defensive lineman Drew Hudgins on the Buff sidelines, as Iltis and Hudgins have also suffered season-ending ACL injuries during fall camp (Hudgins will be applying for a medical redshirt and a sixth year of eligibility).”It’s always frustrating, but I’m trying to be optimistic,” said Major of his injury. “I think it’s probably the best (timing) for this. It gives you a free year to develop on and off the field.” While Major was trying to make the best of his bad luck, questions arose as to whether off-season conditioning or the condition of the practice facilities had anything to do with the Buffs’ rash of ACL injuries. CU head coach Dan Hawkins said he didn’t know how that would be possible. “We’d have to stop running, because that’s basically when they’ve happened.” Hawkins later noted that in his first season at Colorado, shoulder injuries seemed to be happening all too often. As Major put it, “That’s the nature of the beast”. (It is also worth noting that Florida this summer has lost five players to ACL injuries).

First scrimmage – Monday, August 11th

While Major, Iltis, and Hudgins prepare for surgery and rehabilitation, fall camp moved on. On Monday, August 11th, the Buffs ran through a scrimmage of just over 100 plays. More than just a walk through, the scrimmage was a full on audition for playing time. “We’re trying to push the depth chart issue right now,” said Dan Hawkins before the scrimmage. “We’re trying to shove these guys into game mode … Sometimes you scrimmage and just learn to run plays; we get enough of that in practice. We’re looking for playmakers.”

Well, did the Buffs find any?

The answer would have to be a qualified “yes”. As with any scrimmage, any good play by the offense can also be construed as a bad play by the defense. That being said, there were some big plays made on both sides of the ball. Overall? “We’re in better shape and the guys are bigger, faster, and stronger,” Hawkins said. “We’ve also got more guys.” Senior safety Ryan Walters, likely to be named a CU captain this fall, agreed. “It was a pretty intense scrimmage for this early,” said Walters. “There’s more depth, more good players, and more competition.”

Quarterback Cody Hawkins posted some impressive statistics, completing 17-26 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns. Darrell Scott, making his much anticipated debut as a Buff, led all rushers with 86 yards on 14 carries. The receiving corps was led by Scott’s uncle, sophomore Josh Smith, who hauled in three catches for 72 yards. On defense, senior linebacker Brad Jones led the Buff defense with fourteen tackles. Sophomore place-kicker Aric Goodman was perfect on the day, connecting on all three field goal attempts and all five PAT’s. Freshman running back Rodney Stewart was perhaps the most notable player on the field, making several outstanding plays, including an excellent run and catch on a screen pass from Hawkins which Stewart turned into a 29-yard touchdown. Looking for a positive defensive stat? Try this one: the Buffs’ defense held the offense to only three of 18 on third down attempts.

“We had some guys show up and make some plays today (at the first scrimmage),” said coach Hawkins, “but we have to go back and look at film.”

The Buffs and their coaches did go back and look at film, went back to the practice fields (with a side trip to Water World on Wednesday, August 14th), and then conducted a second scrimmage on Sunday.

Second scrimmage – Sunday, August 17th

Want a measure of the excitement over the 2008 Buffs? Take this number from CU’s second scrimmage: 1,400 – as in 1,400 fans who showed up to watch. No, these are not Nebraska or Alabama practice numbers, but the numbers are significantly higher than the Buffs have had in the recent past. Buff fans are ready for some football!

On the field, it was the Buffs’ defense which took its turn in having a good outing. There were eight offensive touchdowns scored in the 137 play scrimmage, but overall Dan Hawkins was pleased with the defensive effort. “I think from a defensive standpoint – last week the offense came out and got things going – the defense started out better this time,” said Hawkins. “Not as many plays from the ones and the twos”.

In the first fall scrimmage, the Buffs’ secondary did not record an interception. On August 17th, though, there were two, both by sophomore cornerback Jalil Brown. The defense recorded five sacks, including two by senior defensive tackle George Hypolite, and one each by freshman linebacker Douglas Rippy, red-shirt freshman linebacker Tyler Ahles and freshman linebacker Brandon Gouin. The defense had four players who recorded seven tackles apiece to lead the defense: junior linebacker Marcus Burton, sophomore linebacker Michael Sipili, freshman safety Patrick Mahnke and junior linebacker Shaun Mohler (Senior linebacker Brad Jones, who led the defense with 14 tackles in the first scrimmage, was held out of the second scrimmage while nursing minor injuries).

This is not to say that the offense did not have its moments on August 17th. Cody Hawkins was 17-27 for 225 yards and two touchdowns (with one interception). The rushing game was actually headed up by freshman quarterback Tyler Hansen, who had 72 yards on six carries (those who are supposed to carry the ball on a regular basis were led by sophomore tailback Corey Nabors, who had 53 yards on only four carries. The leading receivers were sophomore Scotty McKnight (five catches for 73 yards an one touchdown) and freshman tight end Ryan Deehan (five catches for 71 yards).

While praising the defense, Dan Hawkins was not critical of the offensive effort. “Definitely as a whole (the offense did well), Hawkins said. “It was interesting because we put so much new stuff in, but now we have to ratchet it down and get the ones and twos going. It’s time to start doing some more game stuff and start to prepare for the Rams.”

How players in each unit fared, and how the starting lineups for August 31st are beginning to take shape, is detailed below …..

Position updates

Offense

Quarterback

While the battle for the starting position was all but over after spring practice, an interesting battle is shaping up as to who will be Cody Hawkins’ primary backup. Senior Nick Nelson was the back-up of choice last season, but red-shirt freshman Matt Ballenger is making his bid to be the first off the bench. “Everyone wants a chance and hopefully I’ll get that this year,” said Ballenger. “If I don’t, I’m just going to try and keep getting better and show them I can one day maybe be the starter.”

None of the backups, not Nelson, Ballenger, nor true freshman Tyler Hansen, were very successful in the first scrimmage. The three combined to throw a total of seventeen passes, completing only six. Ballenger did have one touchdown pass, a five-yarder to senior wide receiver Steve Melton. Still, the elder Hawkins was satisfied with the progress of the quarterbacks not named Hawkins. “We give them a lot of reps in practice and try to keep their mental edge on,” said coach Hawkins. “And if you need them you go to the bullpen and they come in and throw strikes.”

In the second scrimmage, with Nick Nelson out with an abdominal injury, Matt Ballenger was given the opportunity to make his case. Ballenger completed 12-22 passes for 142 yards, with one interception. Tyler Hansen was only in for three series (compared to seven for Ballenger), but completed three of four passes for 54 yards and two touchdowns.

Running back

As the 2007 came to a close, the Buffs knew that they would be losing 1,000-yard rusher Hugh Charles. They also knew they had a stable full of good players to replace Charles. What they didn’t know – at least for sure, not until now – is how well that corps of returning backs would be supplemented by this year’s freshman class. That Darrell Scott guy? The one with all of the preseason accolades? Talented, personable, humble, team player? Well, so far, he is all that – and a bag of chips. Despite nursing a slight groin injury, Scott led all CU rushers in the first scrimmage, picking up 86 yards on 14 carries, including a 39-yard run. “The guy’s a load when he gets his pads squared,” said CU offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.

But Scott wasn’t alone in making a good first impression. Ray Polk and Rodney Stewart, also true freshmen, made impressive debuts. Polk chipped in 35 yards on only six carries, and Stewart, soon to be referred to in Buff circles only by his nickname, “Speedy”, had 29 rushing yards and 33 receiving yards on only six touches. Quarterback Cody Hawkins was impressed with Stewart. “Even though he’s kind of unheralded,” said Hawkins of “Speedy”, “people have a lot of respect for him in the locker room.”

“Each guy has different strengths”, said Helfrich of his new weapons. “We’ll try and put them in position, then, basically, it’s going to be whoever does their style best.”

In the August 17th scrimmage, there was fewer impressive numbers put up by the running backs. Quarterback Tyler Hansen scrambled his way to 72 yards, with sophomore Corey Nabors collecting 53 yards on only four carries. Darrell Scott had only six carries, totaling 36 yards, but did score his first touchdown. Given the bulk of the carries were returning players Kevin Moyd and Demetrius Sumler, Moyd, a junior tailback hampered by injury in 2007, had ten carries for 31 yards and a touchdown. Sumler had a total of 27 yards on nine carries.

After the scrimmage, CU running backs coach Darian Hagan named Demetrius Sumler as his starter in the backfield against CSU. “It’s that value of experience,” said Hagan of Sumler. “He’s kind of the whole package. I thought the young guys would come in and push him, but they haven’t pushed by him.”

This is not to say that the three talented freshmen will not play. Scott, Polk, and Stewart will open the season in specific situations, at least until they learn all of their assignments. “Of course, we always like to run a stable of guys in there,” said Hagan, ” and we’ll continue to do that.”

Wide receivers

The wide receivers had a good outing in the first scrimmage, with the Buffs overall accounting for 304 yards passing. Sophomore Josh Smith led all receivers with 72 yard on three catches. Fellow sophomore Scotty McKnight made the most of his two catches – only 18 total yards, but both went for touchdowns. “Both (touchdown) plays were slight improv plays by Cody and me,” said McKnight of his four yard and 14-yard scores. “We’ve worked on doing some things so that we’re on the same page when a play doesn’t go as planned. We just find a hole in the zone and today we did that.” Senior Patrick Williams also had a decent first scrimmage, collecting only two passes, but gaining 29 and 32 yards on those plays.

“The team is doing really well,” said McKnight after the first scrimmage. “The attitude is upbeat, we’ve had a great tempo throughout camp; now we just need to keep going and improving.”

Overall, receivers coach Eric Kiesau indicated he is looking for the three “most well-rounded” receivers, who can excel in both the passing and running games. With the Buffs switching to the no-huddle, up-tempo offense, there will not be as many opportunities for substitutions, so the players on the field will need to be “the guys”. Williams, Smith, and McKnight were the top three after the first scrimmage …

And nothing changed after the August 17th scrimmage. “I have a top three and we’re working on the four, five, six and seven,” said wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau. “I think the group overall is progressing very well.”

The Buffs had a total of 32 receptions for 421 yards in the second scrimmage, with sophomore Scotty McKnight collecting five catches for 73 yards (and a score), Patrick Williams three for 45, and Josh Smith one for 22 yards. Of those trying to break into the starting lineup, sophomore Kendrick Celestine made the biggest impression, catching three passes for 65 yards and two touchdowns.

Tight ends

Riar Geer, who missed all of spring practice while on suspension, did not appear to have missed a step in his preparation to return as a starter this fall. The junior collected three passes for 34 yards, including a 26-yard catch, in the first scrimmage. Also on the stats sheet in the first week were true freshman Ryan Deehan, who had two catches for eight yards, and junior Patrick Devenny, who had a 13-yard grab.

In the second scrimmage, it was the freshman Ryans – Deehan and Wallace – collecting the catches and the accolades. Deehan had five receptions for 71 yards on the afternoon, while Wallace had two catches for 38 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown. “In terms of the older guys, we’ve got a pretty good idea of who will play,” said tight ends coach Kent Riddle. “The younger guys, we’re just trying to bring them along and force feed them as much as possible and see what they’re ready to do. Ryan Deehan did a nice job today.”

Offensive line

The news for the offensive line in the second week of camp was that there was no news on the placement of the CU tackles. After toying with the concept of moving the more agile Nate Solder to right tackle, and moving the more experienced Ryan Miller to left tackle, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes decided the two were staying put. “I think we’re going to keep Ryan at right and Nate at left unless something changes,” said Grimes.

With senior Daniel Sanders entrenched at center, that leaves the guard positions up for grabs. One of those spots is likely to be filled by junior Devin Head, who started in 2007 before Ryan Miller’s move into the starting lineup pushed then tackle Edwin Harrison to the guard position – and Head to the bench. “Absolutely, it (not winning his starting guard position back) would be hard,” said Head of his bid to return to the starting lineup. “It would definitely be tough to deal with, but we all have some rough times. If that were the case, I would be supportive of any of the other young guys and do whatever I could to help them get better.”

Head is just one of six guards vying for two positions, but the other five are all either red-shirt freshmen or true freshmen. One of the true freshmen to make an impression was Bryce Givens. “Obviously, he’s talented”, said Grimes of his prize 2008 recruit. “He’s got all the intangibles that you’re looking for that would give a freshman an opportunity to come in and play.”

The issue of the final two starters remained unresolved after the second scrimmage. While noting that Devin Head has more experience that the other guard candidates, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said, “The guard position is still totally up in the air. We’ve got six guys competing for two spots, and we might go into the first game or two without those positions being completely settled.”

Kickers

The bad news: The placekicking job has fallen, almost by default, to sophomore Aric Goodman. Freshman Jameson Davis, Goodman’s competition, has been hampered by a leg injury during fall camp.

The good news: Goodman may have won the job anyway. Already nicknamed “Money” by his teammates, Goodman had a string of 25 consecutive field goals in the second week of practice. In the first scrimmage, Goodman hit on all five PAT’s, and made all three field goal attempts – from 33, 50, and 53 yards. “It doesn’t surprise me that Aric is having a great fall camp, and I expect that will continue,” said CU special teams coach Kent Riddle. “When you get confidence and are a good technician, the ball goes through. Aric is doing a good job of that.”

Goodman continued his good work in the second scrimmage – perfect again. Three for three in extra points; two-for-two on field goal attempts (29 and 49 yards). Jameson Davis did get in his first scrimmage work of the fall, with three kickoffs (one touchback).

Junior punter Matt DiLallo was, for the most part, back in form during the first scrimmage. The freshman All-American in 2006, who saw his numbers dip in 2007, had five punts for a 42.2 yard average in the first scrimmage, with a long of 50 yards and two punts downed inside the 20 yard line. DiLallo also had one kick blocked. (For those of you wondering – yes, Darrell Scott did have one punt. It went for 38 yards. On a fake punt, though, Scott was stopped short of a first down by none other than fellow freshman running back Ray Polk).

In the August 17th scrimmage, backup punter Tom Suazo was given the opportunity to make his case for the job, getting three punts. Suazo punted for an average just under 40 yards per kick, with one inside the twenty yard line. Look for DiLallo to be your starter on August 31st .

Position Updates

Defense

Defensive Line

The loss of Drew Hudgins calls into question the depth of the defensive end position at Colorado. Before suffering his season-ending ACL injury, Hudgins was expected to compete with sophomore Marquez Herrod for the starting job at right defensive end. “I feel really bad for Drew, but I think we’ll be okay,” said defensive line coach Romeo Bandison. “With one less guy, there are more repetitions to go around. Everybody has a chance to shine.” Also vying for playing with Herrod are junior Jason Brace, red-shirt freshmen Conrad Obi and Eugene Goree, and true freshman Will Pericak, converted from tight end after Riar Geer returned to the team in late July.

Pericak will also see time as a backup at defensive tackle, where senior starters George Hypolite and Brandon Nicholas are well-entrenched. “We had Will for a few minutes, and he picked up things fast,” said Bandison. “Things just seem to come natural for him.”

After the second scrimmage, three of the positions are filled – all with seniors. Hypolite and Nicholas will be your defensive tackles, with Maurice Lucas at one defensive end position. “With the older guys, the seniors, it’s probably as I expected,” said defensive line coach Romeo Bandison. “(Maurice Lucas) is probably one of the most improved I think. George (Hypolite) and Brandon (Nicholas) are steady, smart and know their stuff. There are some things we can improve on, but with those guys I’m pleased.”

As for the other defensive end position? “Jason Brice has made some progress I’ve thought. Marquez Herrod is solid also,” said Bandison. “I trust those guys and I feel good about them. I like all the young guys.”

Linebackers

The loss of Jordon Dizon to the NFL and Lynn Katoa to suspension has done little to dampen the enthusiasm in Boulder about the Colorado linebacking crew. Junior Jeff Smart, who made his first career start against Miami (Ohio) in 2007 before starting every Big 12 game, is looked upon as the leader of the group. “Anytime you spend that much time next to a guy (Dizon) in practice and meetings you kind of start figuring out what he did and what you need to do,” said coach Hawkins about Smart. “They (Dizon and Smart) have similar styles. They’re kind of similar size and similar speed.”

The other returning starter in the linebacker position is Brad Jones. Jones led the Buffs in the first scrimmage with 14 tackles (no other Buff had more than eight). “I was just trying to make plays, play hard and read the offense,” said Jones of his performance. “From a defensive standpoint it was a little sloppy, but that was to be expected. We did some things that made me say ‘wow’ – there were some really impressive plays by our defense.” Second in tackles for the defense in the second scrimmage was Michael Sipili, returning from his season-long 2007 suspension. Sipili had eight tackles, including two tackles for loss, a sack, and a fumble recovery.

Leading the balanced attack for the defense in the second scrimmage were three linebackers. Juniors Marcus Burton and Shaun Mohler, and sophomore Michael Sipili all had seven tackles on the afternoon, while red-shirt freshman Tyler Ahles and freshman Douglas Rippy chipped in six tackles apiece.

Are we any closer to a set lineup at linebacker? “I think it’s a work in progress,” said linebackers coach Brian Cabral. “I think (Jeff) Smart is on top of his game and (Michael) Sipili is coming along. After that, there is a lot of work to be done. I’ve got a three-deep right now and I’ve just got to see how all that falls out.”

Defensive backs

“I’m looking to be All-Big 12 this year,” said sophomore cornerback Jimmy Smith during the second week of practice. “That’s my goal”.

Lofty ambitions for a cornerback who has yet to start a college game. Still, the Buffs’ coaches were not discouraging Smith from being confident. “It’s Jimmy’s time. It’s time for him to step up to the plate,” said CU secondary coach Greg Brown. “He has been blessed with a tremendous set of tools. He has height and an arm span that any corner would envy.”

At present, Jimmy Smith remains second on the depth chart behind senior Gardner McKay for the starting left cornerback position, with red-shirt freshman Anthony Wright also in the mix. On the left side, junior Cha’pelle Brown and sophomore Jalil Brown are competing for the starting role.

“The competition is fierce this year,” said Smith. “It’s really good competition and everybody is making plays every day, so everybody is in the mix right now.”

As convoluted as the cornerback position is at CU, the safety position is seemingly equally as settled. Seniors Ryan Walters and Daniel Dykes return, though red-shirt freshman Anthony Perkins and true freshmen Vince Ewing and Patrick Mahnke cannot be completely discounted. “It’s so important to have that experience out there,” said Walters. “Just knowing what you are doing and knowing the scheme and the concepts of the defense allows you to play a lot faster.” On the Buffs’ defense giving up 304 yards passing and four touchdowns (and no interceptions) in the first scrimmage? “That will improve”, said Walters. “It’s early in camp and people’s legs are a little wobbly right now. We’ll work through that and get that little half step her and there to make the play.”

Did things improve in the second scrimmage? Well, not by the numbers. On August 11th, the Buffs’ defense gave up 24 receptions for 304 yards passing and four touchdowns. On August 17th, the numbers were 421 yards on 32 receptions and four touchdowns. The scrimmage did run about 35 plays longer on Sunday, but the were still some high numbers put up by the Colorado offense.

What say you, Greg Brown? “We’re making progress,” said the CU defensive backs coach, “but we didn’t have a lot of big plays in the scrimmage today. We’re far from being where we need to be two weeks from now.”

Sophomore cornerback Jalil Brown did have two interceptions on the afternoon, but even that positive stat came with an asterisk. “It (the first interception) was a zone play,” said Brown, “and actually a few plays before we were in the same zone and I was out of position and they hit Scotty for a catch.”

Anything we can hold onto as a positive? “…At least we we’re blessed that we do have two veteran safeties back who make proper calls and get everyone lined up,” said Brown.

Yippee.

Return game

On special teams, the Buffs received a bad break (no pun intended) when Jason Espinoza, a red-shirt freshman who was being counted on as one of the Buffs’ return men in 2008, fractured his collarbone during the first scrimmage. Espinoza will be out four to six weeks. Handling the return chores in the first scrimmage fell to sophomore Josh Smith, who had two punt returns and two kickoff returns, and freshman Rodney Stewart, who returned one punt and three kickoffs.

Also of note in the return game in the first scrimmage was a blocked punt by freshman safety Patrick Mahnke of a Tom Suazo punt. Mahnke, a safety by trade, was one of the first commitments of the 2008 class. While in high school, Mahnke forced three fumbles, recovered eight fumbles, and blocked four kicks (three punts, one field goal). “I think he’ll play,” said coach Hawkins of Mahnke. “Some guys I think just have a little more knack than others.”

There was much excitement in the return game in the second scrimmage, as sophomore Josh Smith returned a punt 44 yards for a touchdown. Smith also had a 62 yard kickoff return. Freshman Darrell Scott made an appearance on the kickoff return team, returning two – one for 50 yards; the other for 37.

Final word

I’ll leave to head coach Dan Hawkins the last word before the season gets underway. “I think (the team’s improvement during fall practice) is because our guys do an awesome job of doing what the coaches ask,” said Hawkins. “There is a lot of ground to cover before we tee it up, but we’ll get there but now it’s a case of really starting to look at the details.”

So there you go – previews and reviews are over – it’s time to “tee it up”! Go Buffs!

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First week of Fall practice

Buffs add one – but lose six!

One face the Buffs were happy to see as fall camp opened August 4th was that of junior tight end Riar Geer. Geer, suspended for all of spring practice due to an off-campus fight last winter, was reinstated by CU’s Office of Judicial Affairs after an appeal. Geer will be on CU’s strictest probationary status, meaning his suspension could be reactivated if any other issues arise. Translation: Geer is back, but on a very short leash.

Geer’s reinstatement was offset by the loss of six players, four who will be academically ineligible for the season. Lost due to poor grades were wide receiver Markques Simas, offensive tackle Sione Tau, linebacker Nate Vaiomounga, and offensive guard Erick Faatagi. Of the four, the loss of Simas and Faatagi will have the most impact. Simas, who red-shirted as a true freshmen in 2007, was impressive on the scout team last fall, and was expected to compete for a starting spot this August. Faatagi sat out last season due to academics and last spring due to academics. A transfer from El Camino College, Faatagi will leave Boulder without ever playing a down. (The other three, like Simas, are freshmen, and can return next season if their grades improve).

Another loss to the offensive line was suffered on the first day of practice when redshirt freshman guard Mike Iltis went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Iltis, who was expected to compete for a starting guard position this fall, will be lost for the season. Iltis, for his part, was philosophical. “It’s hard, but things happen,” said Iltis. “All I am thinking about now is just thinking about getting better mentally, getting better physically, and going through rehab with a 100 percent positive attitude and coming back better than I was.”

Friday’s practice brought about another ACL loss, this time to defensive end Drew Hudgins. Hudgins sat out last season with an Achilles tendon injury after transferring to Colorado from Highland Community College in Kansas. With three seasons lost to injury in five years, Hudgins would likely be eligible for a medical redshirt, and be allowed to play in 2009 if he wants to take one last try at playing at CU.

While Hudgins did not play last season, his loss may be the most significant of the six. Colorado is in desperate need of a solid pass rush if the pass-happy teams on the 2008 schedule are to be contained. CU is young and inexperienced at the cornerback position, so a strong pass rush is mandatory if the Buffs are going to avoid giving up big pass plays. Hudgins was being counted on to provide just such a pass rush.

Still, it is not as if the Buffs will be without options. A total of 105 players reported on Monday, August 4th, including 20 true freshman and three invited walk-ons.

Position updates

Quarterback. The big issue of spring practice is a non-issue this fall. It will take an injury to Hawkins or some exceptional play by other quarterbacks on the roster to unseat Cody Hawkins as the starter. Hawkins was reported as looking “buffed up”, appearing noticeably bigger and stronger. “Nutrition was a big part of it,” said Hawkins, who reported he can now bench press 275 pounds, up at least 50 pounds from his first year in Boulder. Of the backups, true freshman Tyler Hansen has been impressive, and may push senior Nick Nelson and redshirt freshman Matt Ballenger for the backup position by mid-season.

Running back. Are you kidding? The opening week was all Darrell Scott, all the time. Fortunately, from all appearances, Scott is not only the real deal, but is handling the pressure and attention well. Said Dan Hawkins of his prize recruit: “He’s fitting in well. And I have said this before but he’s a really good kid. He is a humble guy that has his feet on the ground.” For his part, Scott was just trying to be one of the guys. “Practice has been intense,” said Scott, “but I am trying my best to get used to the altitude and improve everyday.”

Not that the other backs in camp are conceding anything to Scott. Ray Polk, a prized recruit in his own right, was primed for the competition. “Each of us wants success for the team,” said Polk, “but at the same time, we all want that spot.” What about the returning back with the most career carries, Demetrius Sumler? “I definitely feel like I have a leg up,” said Sumler, who had 335 yards and four touchdowns on 100 carries in 2007. “But, it is also my job to help them get better. We are all helping each other. We all want to be the best running back core in the country.”

Wide receiver. The loss of Markques Simas to academics was offset by the announcement that Kendrick Celestine should be eligible to play. Celestine needed to pass two summer school classes to retain his status. The sophomore, with one summer school B on the books, finished his second class on Friday, with every indication that his work was satisfactory. Celestine joins senior Patrick Williams and sophomores Josh Smith and Scotty McKnight as the most likely candidates to see passes this fall. “Are they going to go out and take a 12-yard curl and go 80 yards for a touchdown? Probably not,” said CU wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau. “But they are just good, solid guys. I know I can count on them. They will be productive and make plays.”

Tight end. As noted, the tight end position at CU was enhanced when, just before camp opened, 2007 starter Riar Geer was reinstated. This left coaches confident enough in the depth at the position that freshman Will Pericak, the Boulder High standout who watched most of the spring practices in order to get a leg up on that position, will be switched to defensive tackle. Besides Geer, the tight end position lists juniors Patrick Devenny, Devin Shanahan, and Luke Walters, along with incoming freshmen Ryan Deehan and Ryan Wallace.

Offensive line. Leave it to Dave Plati, CU’s media relations director, to come up with this stat: sophomore tackles Ryan Miller and Nate Solder, projected starters, represent the tallest tackle duo in CU history. Solder, converted from tight end, stands 6′ 8″; Miller, who worked his way into the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2007, is 6′ 7″. The total height of the two would best, by one inch, the total height of Mark Vander Poel and Ariel Solomon in 1990. “Our offensive line,” said Miller, “is going to be gifreakinormous.”

Other than Miller and Solder, who took turns practicing at both tackle positions, the only other line position which is set is that of center, where Daniel Sanders returns at starter. The guard positions, though, are up for grabs. The good news? There are five players vying for the two spots. The bad news? Only junior Devin Head is an upperclassmen. The other position will likely fall to a redshirt freshman – Matthew Bahr, Blake Behrens, or Shawn Daniels.

Kicking game. The position of placekicker may fall to sophomore Aric Goodman by default. Goodman, who played for Wyoming in 2006, is healthy. His competition, freshman Jameson Davis, is not. Davis has undergone four knee surgeries, and he has been dealing with some pain in his left knee, on his plant leg. “My knee has been giving out on me a little bit every time I kick,” said Davis this week.

The punting job will likely fall to the incumbent, junior Matt DiLallo. However, there has been a punter in practice who has been impressing fellow players …. Darrell Scott. Really. Scott has been showing that putting him back in punt formation is not out of the question. It would certainly give opposing teams something to think about …

The return job may fall to diminutive Rodney Stewart. The 5’6″ freshman from Ohio has displayed all the cutback moves and quickness teams look for in a return man – even though Stewart did not often return kicks in high school. “He’s got quick feet, fluid hips and he never stops. He’s always going forward.” said running backs coach Darian Hagan of Stewart. “He had a five-yard run (Friday) morning with probably six or seven cuts – and no one touched him.”

Defensive line. As noted above, former tight end prospect Will Pericak has been moved to defensive tackle. “Coaches thought I would work best there and help the team and that’s what I’m doing,” said Pericak, who gained 25 pounds over the past five months. “It’s fun.” Pericak will back up George Hypolite and Brandon Nicholas, both senior starters.

Linebackers. Even with the loss of prized recruit Lynn Katoa for the season (though Katoa, to his credit, has been practicing with the team despite his season-long suspension), linebacker remains a position of strength for the Buffs. Jordon Dizon, now of the Detroit Lions, “was an outstanding player,” said junior linebacker Jeff Smart. “Obviously, those tackles are going to have to be made by someone else now. But I don’t think that necessarily has to be one person … I think those tackles will get distributed among the defense.”

There will be numerous players vying for Dizon’s tackles. Junior Marcus Burton returns from academic ineligibility, sophomore Michael Sipili returns from a season long suspension, junior college signee Shaun Mohler comes to Boulder from Orange Coast College in California, and true freshmen signees Jon Major and Doug Rippy put on their CU uniforms for the first time this past week ….. and that is just the list of new players! “The group as a whole is further along as an incoming class than probably any group I’ve ever had,” said CU linebackers coach Brian Cabral.

Secondary. Both cornerback positions lack a returning starter. Senior Gardner McKay, junior Cha’pelle Brown and sophomore Jalil Brown are the most likely candidates, with redshirt freshman Lamont Smith an option. “It’s going to be somewhat difficult with new corners,” said returning starting safety Ryan Walters. “But they’re not really rookies. They have a lot of game experience. It’s just that now they have to step up to a starting role.”

Overall

Not a bad first week. Great to have Geer back, though the losses of Simas, Iltis, Faatagi, and especially Hudgins will hurt. Part of the game. That’s why there were 105 in pads for the first practice. Perhaps the most encouraging words this week came from longtime Boulder Daily Camera columnist Neill Woelk, who noted, “there’s a palpable air of confidence – you might even call it swagger – that hasn’t been felt around the Dal Ward Center for a few years.”

Sounds good to me. Much more to come in the next three weeks, as we prepare for August 31st.

Go Buffs! Enjoy the season!

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What we learned from all of the Preseason magazines

July update

Fall camp begins in three weeks! Are you ready for some football? In this edition we have some good reads for you, starting with a look at how the preseason magazines have treated your Buffs, as well as the rest of the Big 12.

Predictions galore

If you were with us in June (of course you were), you know that I made some predictions about how the preseason magazines would treat Colorado and their Big 12 North brethren. Most of the magazines and websites have now posted their Top 25 predictions, as well as their conference rankings, so it is time to take a look at what the consensus is for the 2008 season. In addition to a detailed look at the Big 12 North, we will review the picks for the Big 12 South, as well as the four non-conference opponents for Colorado this fall.

[Note. With much thanks and credit, the magazines and sites used for this compilation were: Lindys, Athlon Sports, Phil Steele, The Sporting News, USA Today, Sure Fire Scouting, College Football News, and Rivals. Rivals is still counting down its Top 25, so not all predictions are currently available. Some sites do not predict lower than the Top 25 (Phil Steele does not predict below the Top 50; Sure Fire Scouting only posts a Top 30). USA Today has not yet posted its Top 25. For many of the above selections, as well as a look at the Top 25 consensus, log onto http://preseason.stassen.com/consensus/2008/html ]

Big 12 North

Missouri

My prediction – 1st place

Consensus prediction – 1st place (every magazine and website predicted Missouri to finish first in the Big 12 North)

Highest national ranking: 4th (Sure Fire Scouting)

Lowest national ranking: 8th (College Football News)

My June 1st comments: “What is not there to like? … Look for the Tigers to be in the top ten in almost every magazine…. Wide receiver/kick returner Jeremy Maclin and the words exciting and electrifying will also get a great deal of play.”

Selected comments from other sites: Jeremy Maclin was described in College Football News as “a bolt of lightning”; The Sporting News called Maclin “… special. His blazing speed makes him one of the most dangerous players in the nation”. Every publication had Missouri in their top ten; every publication has the Tigers finishing first in the Big 12 North. Perhaps The Sporting News put it best: “Perhaps not since the Dan Devine era of the 1960s has so much been expected of a Missouri team.”

Kansas

My prediction – 2nd place

Consensus prediction – 2nd place (Phil Steele and USA Today had Kansas 3rd, everyone else picked them 2nd)

Highest national ranking: 13th (Athlon Sports and College Football News)

Lowest national ranking: 18th (Sure Fire Scouting)

My June 1st comments: “Even though Kansas finished with a better record than Missouri in 2007, the Jayhawks will not get the love afforded the Tigers. Why? History. The Maginos were the darlings of the national media last season, but it is hard to drink the Kool-Aid for a team which has had only one other ten-win season in the past forty tries.”

Selected comments from other sites: Athlon Sports: “Kansas should be strong again in 2008 – just maybe not as strong.”; The Sporting News: “Kansas has played in 11 postseason games, but none in successive seasons. The task will be more difficult for many reasons in 2008.”; College Football News: “Now KU has to show some staying power.”

Colorado

My prediction – 4th place

Consensus prediction – 3rd place (USA Today had the Buffs finishing 2nd in the Big 12 North; College Football News had the Colorado tying for 3rd with Kansas State; and Phil Steele had the Buffs finishing 5th)

Highest national ranking: 31st (Athlon Sports)

Lowest national ranking: 42nd (College Football News)

My June 1st comments: “Look for those publications who rank all 120 teams, look for Colorado to be in the 40-50 range. For those who predict records, look for most to give the Buffs a 6-6 or 7-5 mark. Consensus: CU is a better team, but their schedule makes moving up in the standings a difficult task.”

Selected projections from other sites: The Sporting News projects CU to play in the Texas Bowl (the #8, and last, selection for bowls from Big 12 teams); College Football News projects a 6-6 record, 4-4 in the Big 12 – and a Texas Bowl bid; Athlon Sports picks four games as wins for the Buffs (CSU, Eastern Washington, Kansas State and Iowa State), two sure losses (at Kansas and at Missouri), with the remaining six games “swing” games.

Selected comments from other sites: The Sporting News: “With 14 returning starters, the Buffs should be at least as good as last season and have the chance for an even better showing.”; Lindys Sports: “The rebuilding project is moving along quite nicely under third-year head coach Dan Hawkins … The Buffs, still young, will be improved, although it might not be reflected in the final record because of a brutal schedule …”; College Football News: “While the program might still be a year away from being a serious threat to win the Big 12 title, Hawkins has his guys in place.”; and Athlon Sports: “Staying ahead of the curve means weathering a brutal schedule …. If all comes together, CU could surprise, but that is a big if.”

Nebraska

My prediction – 3rd place

Consensus prediction – 4th place (Phil Steele had the Cornhuskers finishing 2nd in the Big 12 North; Sure Fire Scouting had Nebraska tying for 4th with Kansas State; College Football News had the Cornhuskers tying for 5th with Iowa State)

Highest national ranking: 41st (Athlon Sports)

Lowest national ranking: 51st (Lindys)

My June 1st comments: “The preseason magazines will be filled with gushing stories about how Bo Pelini has restored order in Lincoln, a place where losing is just not acceptable … A few magazines will have the nerve to say that this team is a year away from contending for conference honors …”

Selected comments from other sites: Lindys: “Pelini achieved folk hero status for his season of work with the Nebraska defense in 2003, and his no-nonsense style appeals to Husker Nation.”; The Sporting News: “Pelini brings both a fiery demeanor and a history of success.”

Kansas State

My prediction – 5th place

Consensus prediction – 5th place (College Football News had the Wildcats finishing in a tie for 3rd in the Big 12 North with Colorado; Phil Steele and USA Today had Kansas State finishing 4th in the Big 12; Sure Fire Scouting had the Wildcats tying for 4th with Nebraska)

Highest national ranking: 32nd (College Football News)

Lowest national ranking: 64th (Athlon Sports)

My June 1st comments: “Kansas State is a wild card, and those who make a living making predictions do not like wild cards … Hot seat will appear in many magazines, both in connection to the four game losing streak to end 2007, and the recruiting class (including 20 junior college transfers).”

Selected comments from other sites: No team in the Big 12 North had a wider range of rankings (32nd to 64th) than the Wildcats. Athlon Sports: “It (20 JC recruits) could construed as coach Ron Prince pushing the panic button for a program that lost its final four games en route to a 5-7 finish.”; College Football News: “No, Kansas State is not a junior college; it only seems that way … If bringing in ready-made talent does not work, it might be back to square one. The future has been mortgaged to win now.”

Iowa State

My prediction – 6th place

Consensus prediction – 6th place (every site had the Cyclones 6th except for College Football News, which had Iowa State finishing in a tie for 5th with Nebraska).

Highest national ranking: 63rd (College Football News)

Lowest national ranking: 81st (Athlon Sports)

My June 1st comments: “Rebuilding and youth movement will be common threads in stories about Iowa State …. (due to an easier schedule) look for statements about an easier road to success and a possible bowl game to creep into the ISU write-ups.”

Selected comments from other sites: College Football News: “Cyclone fans have been desperate for a winner, and while this way-too-young team will be anything but consistent, it has the potential to get back into the bowl mix.”; Lindys: “The Cyclones are not among the elite of the Big 12 North, but they should be a step closer by the end of year two of the Chizik era.”

Big 12 South

Oklahoma

Consensus prediction: 1st place in the Big 12 South (only College Football News failed to pick the Sooners 1st, predicting Oklahoma to finish 2nd)

Highest national ranking: 3rd (Athlon Sports; Phil Steele)

Lowest national ranking: 7th (Sure Fire Scouting)

Texas

Consensus prediction: 2nd (three sites: Phil Steele; USA Today, and College Football News, picked the Longhorns 3rd)

Highest national ranking: 8th (Lindys)

Lowest national ranking: 15th (Phil Steele; College Football News)

Texas Tech

Consensus prediction: 3rd (College Football News picked the Red Raiders 1st in the Big 12 South; Phil Steele and USA Today picked Texas Tech 2nd)

Highest national ranking: 9th (College Football News)

Lowest national ranking: 20th (The Sporting News)

Oklahoma State

Consensus prediction: 4th (College Football News and Rivals picked Cowboys 4th; Sure Fire Scouting had Oklahoma State finishing in a tie with Texas A&M for 4th)

Highest national ranking: 32nd (Athlon Sports)

Lowest national ranking: 42nd (Rivals)

Texas A&M

Consensus prediction: 5th (Lindys picked the Aggies 4th; Sure Fire Scouting has A&M finishing in a tie with Oklahoma State for 4th)

Highest national ranking: 30th (Lindys)

Lowest national ranking: 65th (Rivals)

Baylor

Consensus prediction: 6th (other than picking Missouri to finish 1st in the North, predicting Baylor to finish last in the Big 12 South was the only consensus pick amongst the eight sites)

Highest national ranking: 83rd (Lindys)

Lowest national ranking: 95th (College Football News)

2008 Colorado non-conference opponents

Colorado State

Consensus prediction (Mountain West): 8th (Athlon Sports and The Sporting News picked the Rams 7th; College Football News had CSU in a three way tie for 7th with San Diego State and UNLV; Phil Steele and USA Today picked the Rams 9th and last in the Mountain West Conference)

Highest national ranking: 90th (College Football News)

Lowest national ranking: 96th (Rivals)

Eastern Washington

Some “Football Championship Subdivision” predictions:

The Sporting News: 1stin the Big Sky Conference and 4th nationally

Lindys: 2nd in the Big Sky and 7th nationally

West Virginia

Consensus prediction (Big East): 1st (the Mountaineers were picked first in their conference by every site)

Highest national ranking: 6th (Phil Steele)

Lowest national ranking: 10th (Lindys and College Football News)

Florida State
Consensus prediction (ACC, Atlantic Division): 3rd (Phil Steele picked the Seminoles to finish 2nd in the Atlantic Division; College Football News had Florida State tied with Wake Forest for 3rd; and USA Today picked the Seminoles 4th in the division)

Highest national ranking: 23rd (Sure Fire Scouting)

Lowest national ranking: 48th (College Football News)

So there you have it. It has all been decided for you.

Missouri will win the North; Oklahoma the South. Kansas, Texas, and Texas Tech will join the Tigers and Sooner in representing the Big 12 in the polls. Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M will vie for the remaining four bowl spots (assuming that, as usual, the Big 12 has two BCS bowl representatives). Only Iowa State and Baylor are not projected to be in the bowl mix for 2008.

Taking the average projections for Colorado (about 37th in the nation), and placing that alongside the average projections for the opposition, the 2008 season should play out as follows for the Buffs:

v. Colorado State W

Eastern Washington W

West Virginia L

v. Florida State L

Texas L

at Kansas L

Kansas State W

at Missouri L

at Texas A&M W

Iowa State W

Oklahoma State W

at Nebraska W

Assuming the Buffs can weather a nasty four game losing streak early on (a big assumption), the Buffs, according to the prognosticators, will finish strong, and wind up with a 7-5 record. Of course, these same prognosticators see the fast finishing Buffs being placed in lower tier bowls than the Oklahoma State and Nebraska teams they just vanquished.

I guess we will just have to let the teams play out the schedule, and see what happens …

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Preseason 2008 – a look at the depth chart

Last season, I graded out the depth chart on a “glass half full/glass half empty” scale, (if you want to check out how I did, click on the 2007/Preseason link under “Archived Seasons”). In 2007, the Buffs were coming off of a 2-10 campaign, and there were gaping holes on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

In 2008, such a scale is not appropriate. There is talent and depth at virtually every position. For Colorado, the glass is definitely “half full”. As a result, for each position, we will look at the players the Buffs will suit up at each position, look at the strengths and weaknesses of those players, and give each unit a letter grade.

Defense

Defensive Line

Roster:

Defensive tackles: George Hypolite (Sr.); Brandon Nicholas (Sr.); Taj Kaynor (Jr); Eugene Goree (Fr.-RS); Eric Lawson (So.); Tyler Sale (Jr.); Will Pericak (Fr.)

Defensive ends: Maurice Lucas (Sr.); Marquez Herrod (So.); Jason Brace (Jr.); Conrad Obi (Fr.-RS); Lagrone Shields (Fr.-RS); Kevin Cooney (Fr.-RS); Tony Poremba (Fr.-RS)

Starters:

The interior of the defensive line is set. Senior George Hypolite has 21 career starts, and led the Buffs with six sacks last season. A pre-season All-Big 12 selection in almost every publication, and a preseason All-American in several, Hypolite will be one best players on the field for Colorado. Hypolite will also be one of the most quoted Buffs (at the preseason Big 12 media days the gregarious Hypolite predicted a Heisman trophy for Darrell Scott in three years). Beside Hypolite in the interior of the line is senior Brandon Nicholas. Nicholas also started every game in 2007, and was third on the team in sacks with three. The Hypolite/Nicholas tandem was largely responsible for the Buffs holding the opposition to 128 yards rushing/game, 31st best average in the nation.

The defensive end positions are not as clear cut. Senior Maurice Lucas played in every game in 2007, with six starts. The other end position is up for grabs, with junior Jason Brice, sophomore Marquez Herrod and red-shirt freshman Conrad Obi amongst those trying to break into the starting lineup.

Strengths

The Colorado rush defense is well established, and with three senior starters, is not likely to falter in 2008. Hypolite and Nicholas jam up the middle of the line of scrimmage, making it possible for CU’s quality linebacking corps to take unencumbered paths to the ball carrier. The pair also had nine of the 12 sacks registered by the defensive line, and ten of the 18 quarterback hurries. There is also much better depth behind these seniors, as six red-shirt freshmen are learning the tools of the trad from two of the best in the conference.

Weaknesses

Did I mention that the two defensive tackles had nine of the 12 sacks registered by the defensive line? That translates into three sacks – for the season – from the defensive end position. While Maurice Lucas, who had two of those sacks, will be back, there needs to be immediate improvement in this area if the Buffs are to be successful in stopping some of the pass-happy attacks and mobile quarterbacks they will face this fall.

Grade: B- .

The Buffs should be solid against the run, but the Big 12 has turned into a passing conference. If the defensive front cannot put pressure on quarterbacks like Chase Daniel, Patrick White, Colt McCoy, Todd Reesing and Josh Freeman, it could turn into a long season for the Folsom Faithful.

At least there is depth now at the position. Due to a lack of bodies in 2007, Colorado was forced to play Hypolite and Nicholas on 84% of its defensive snaps. That won’t happen this year, with a half dozen potential substitutes ready to make their marks. “Ideally, with the D-line, you’d like to go into each game with ten guys – five tackles and five ends,” said Dan Hawkins. “It’s kind of like hockey; you jump over the boards, run out there, and get going.” In 2008, the Buffs will be a few steps closer to that goal.

Linebackers

Roster

Brad Jones (Sr.); Jeff Smart (Jr.); Marcus Burton (Jr.); Michael Sipili (So.); Shaun Mohler (Jr.); B.J. Beatty (So.); Bryan Stengel (Jr.); Josh Hartigan (Fr.-RS); Tyler Ahles (Fr.-RS); David Goldberg (So.); Douglas Rippy (Fr.)

Starters

Senior Brad Jones and juniors Jeff Smart and Marcus Burton are the most likely trio to be in the starting lineup at Invesco Field for the opener against Colorado State. Jones has the most career snaps, but Smart has emerged as the leader of the corps. Smart was third on the team in tackles in 2007, with 80 (behind Jordon Dizon and senior safety Daniel Dykes). “I probably have the most experience out of the inside guys now,” said Smart. “I know the defense pretty well, so I try and help them (the younger players) out in that area and in general. I know coach (Cabral) really looks to me to lead the linebackers.”

Strengths

Are you kidding? This unit is, by far, the deepest and strongest on the team. Even with the losses of Dizon to the NFL, Lynn Katoa to suspension, and Jon Major to injury, the list of potential all-stars is deep. Sophomore Michael Sipili, who returns from suspension, was to be in the mix last year as a freshman. Sophomore B.J. Beatty and junior Bryan Stengel are linebackers with experience looking to hold off red-shirt freshmen Tyler Ahles, David Goldberg, Josh Hartigan and Brandon Gouin. Oh, and did I mention the 2008 recruits? In addition to Katoa, the Buffs landed junior college transfer Shaun Mohler and true freshman Douglas Rippy. All that, with Katoa and Jon Major, lost for the season after tearing his ACL in week two of practice. This position will be deep and talented for the foreseeable future. Just sit back, Buff fans, and enjoy!

Weaknesses

They can’t all play at the same time. While the Buffs this season may, at times, play a 3-4 to get more of the linebacker talent on the field, there is only room for so many at the top of the depth chart. The cumulative talent is excellent, but what Colorado really needs is to have three or four of these players truly distinguish themselves. Who will it be? “I think (Jeff) Smart is on the top of his game and (Michael) Sipili is coming along,” said CU linebackers coach Brian Cabral after the August 17th scrimmage. “After that, there is a lot of work to be done. I’ve got a lot of work to do still, and there is a lot to sort out still.”

Grade: A-.

Lose All-American Jordon Dizon to the Detroit Lions? Okay. Lose prize prospect Lynn Katoa to suspension? Handled. Lose top recruit Jon Major to season-ending injury? Covered. No other position on the CU roster could have sustained such hits to the roster and come out with such a strong unit. The Buffs’ linebackers represent one of the strongest units in the Big 12. Good thing. With weaknesses in the pass rush and at the corners, the linebackers will have to be everywhere on the field at once.

Secondary

Roster

Cornerbacks

Gardner McKay (Sr.); Cha’pelle Brown (Jr.); Jimmy Smith (So.); Anthony Wright (Fr.-RS); Jalil Brown (So.); Lamont Smith (Fr.-RS); Jonathan Hawkins (Fr.-HS); Steven Hicks (Fr.)

Safeties

Ryan Walters (Sr.); Daniel Dykes (Sr.); Anthony Perkins (Fr.-RS); Joel Adams (Sr.); Bret Smith (So.); Matt Myer (Fr.-RS); Travis Sandersfeld (Fr.RS); Patrick Mahnke (Fr.); Vince Ewing (Fr.)

Starters

Let’s start with the good news. Senior safeties Ryan Walters and Daniel Dykes are back. Only an injury to Walters late in 2007 kept the tandem from starting every game together last season. As noted above, Dykes was second only to Jordon Dizon in tackles last season, and Walters is the field general for the defense. The bad news? The cornerback positions remain in flux. Senior Gardner McKay and junior Cha’pelle Brown continue to top the roster, but they are being pushed by sophomores Jalil Brown and Jimmy Smith, and red-shirt freshmen Anthony Wright, Lamont Smith, and Jonathan Hawkins.

Strengths

I think I mentioned that our safeties are pretty good. On the corners, there is speed, the makings of quality depth, enthusiasm, and ….um …. did I mention that our safeties are pretty good?

Weaknesses

In the Big 12, where being ranked in the top twenty in the nation in total offense barely rates a ranking in the top half of the conference, it is tough for any team to have good numbers in pass defense. Still, the Buffs’ defensive numbers continue to disappoint. Since 2000, Colorado has ranked 100th or worse in the nation in pass defense four times, including last season’s rank of 103rd – and that was with All-Big 12 cornerback Terrence Wheatley (and second round NFL pick) in the lineup. The list of quality quarterbacks the Buffs will face this season may as well be a Who’s Who of college quarterbacks. Two – Patrick White of West Virginia and Chase Daniel of Missouri – are legitimate Heisman trophy candidates. The CU secondary, which must rely on an improved pass rush in order to be effective, will decide the fate of the Buffs in 2008.

Grade: D+.

There is hope for the future at cornerback at CU. The sophomores and red-shirt freshman show signs of being All-Big 12 caliber, and the quality freshman class will only supplement the Buffs’ defense. Colorado’s starting safeties are first rate, and must anchor the defense in what will likely be some growing pains.

Check back with this group at mid-season. How is this for a prediction: If Colorado is ranked in the top half in the nation in pass defense, the Buffs will be ranked in the national polls. If Colorado is languishing back in triple digits in pass defense at the midway point, well …..

Return Specialists

Roster

Kickoff returners

Josh Smith (So.); Patrick Williams (Sr.); Scotty McKnight (So.); Cha’pelle Brown (Jr.); Jason Espinoza (Fr.-RS)(injured)

Punt returners

Josh Smith (So.); Daniel Dykes (Sr.); Jason Espinoza (Fr.-RS)

Starters

Red-shirt freshman Jason Espinoza was being counted on to be one of the Buffs’ return specialists this fall, and he still may be by season’s end. Espinoza, though, broke his collarbone in the second week of fall practice. He may be back as early as the West Virginia game. In his stead, sophomore wide receiver Josh Smith has been seeing time as both a punt returner and a kick returner. Freshman Rodney Stewart may also see time as a returner, with senior safety Daniel Dykes a solid backup if the younger players struggle.

Strengths

Speed, elusiveness, and more speed. Freshman Rodney Stewart has impressed everyone in fall camp with his quickness. In addition to seeing spot duty on offense (screens, draws, reverses), Stewart may have the opportunity to demonstrate his talents very early in the season. Sophomore Josh Smith may also see extensive duty until a dominant player can be determined.

Weaknesses

No one on the roster has any game experience with returning kickoffs and punt returns. Daniel Dykes had one punt return in 2007; Scott McKnight had one kickoff return. That’s it. As electrifying as Stewart and Smith may be, there will times – at least early on – when coaches and fans will be holding their breath that these budding stars will make good decisions (and hang on to the ball!).

Grade: C

If we could grade purely on potential, the mark would be higher. Stewart reminds me of Ben Kelly or Jeremy Bloom, and Josh Smith has the speed and moves to be an All-Big 12 performer. Next season, with a year of catches and highlight runs under their belts, this could be a much higher grade.

Defense – Overall Grade: B-

Same grade as the one given to the offense. A copout? Perhaps. While CU has one of the best defensive tackle tandems in the conference, and while the Buffs’ linebacker corps may be the envy of much of the Big 12, the fact is that, until CU can generate consistent pressure on the quarterback, the pass defense will suffer. If there is sufficient pressure on the opposition quarterback, the inexperienced cornerbacks cannot be exploited. If the Buffs can’t get to the passer, the cornerbacks will be left on an island, and the CU will be giving up some big plays on defense. Yes, the Colorado linebackers are amongst the best around. Let’s hope that they don’t spend their fall watching passes float over their heads to open receivers in the secondary.

Offense

Quarterback

Roster:

Cody Hawkins (So.); Nick Nelson (Sr.); Matt Ballenger (Fr.-RS); Kyle Black (So.); Tyler Hansen (Fr.)

Starter:

Sophomore Cody Hawkins is your starter. Not much in the way of news here. It was just this past spring when red-shirt freshman Matt Ballenger was expected to give Hawkins competition for the starting position. By the end of spring ball, though, Hawkins was entrenched.

Strengths:

Hawkins came to fall camp impressing the media with his “buffed up” look. Stronger, prepared, confident (and even a ½ inch taller!), Hawkins will be, barring injury, your starter. This is his third year in the system (or 13th year, depending on how you look at it), and Hawkins acts like a leader, talks like a leader, and has the respect of his teammates. He may not be as mobile as some of the other touted quarterbacks in the Big 12, and he may not have the rocket arm as some of the others, but smarts can go a long way at this position – and Cody Hawkins is smart. As for backups, Nelson is capable, and does have experience as a starter, while Ballenger continues to press for the top back up position. Freshman Tyler Hansen has been impressive early in his career in Boulder – but will likely red-shirt this fall.

Weaknesses:

Little playing time for any of the other quarterbacks on the roster, but that is not uncommon for most teams. Nelson and Ballenger will fight it out for the backup position, with Nelson most likely to come in if Hawkins is injured. If Hawkins goes down, the Buffs will struggle to score.

Grade: B.

Hawkins is good, but not great. In the era of spread offenses, where tall and mobile quarterbacks fill the landscape (and CU’s schedule), Hawkins is neither particularly tall nor particularly mobile. Still, Hawkins set most of the freshman quarterback records at Colorado. With more weapons at his disposal this year, and an ever improving offensive line, look for more records to fall this season.

Running back

Roster:

Tailback – Demetrius Sumler (So.); Kevin Moyd (Jr.); Darrell Scott (Fr.); Ray Polk (Fr.); Rodney Stewart (Fr.); Corey Nabors (So); Arthur Jaffee (Fr.-RS); Brian Lockridge (So.);

Fullback – Maurice Cantrell (Sr.); Jake Behrens (Jr.)

Starters:

Hugh Charles and his 1,058 yards in 2007 have moved on to the NFL. The back with the most yards on the roster is Demetrius Sumler, who had 335 yards on 100 carries last season. While Sumler is conceding nothing in terms of the starting job, few will be surprised if most of the carries, from game one, is heralded freshman Darrell Scott. Since his arrival in Boulder, Scott has been everything the Buffs could have hoped for – great individual; humble; team player; and, oh, by the way, an outstanding football player. Scott led the team in carries and yards in the first scrimmage, and will likely continue to lead in those categories all season.

Don’t count out any of the other backs, however. Sumler, Moyd, and Lockridge have experience in the Hawkins’ system, and each brings talent to the playing field. Ray Polk will be a long time contributor to the program. And Rodney Stewart – wow! Billed as a return specialist, Stewart has been one of the stories of fall camp. There has to be a way to get this young man on the field! “Speedy” will be used on screen passes, reverses, and draws – any way to get him the ball. Sit back and enjoy!

Strengths:

Depth, depth, depth, and talent, talent, talent. So many weapons, and only one football for Cody Hawkins to dish out. The challenge for the Buff coaching staff will be to figure out how to best utilize these outstanding players.

Weaknesses:

Youth and inexperience. There may be a time when we look back at this era as a golden age for CU running backs. Almost anyone of these players could be given the starting nod and perform well. The question will be how many “rookie” mistakes – fumbles, missed holes, failed blocking assignments – will be made? There is a learning curve at this level, and these talented players will be asked to perform well from opening day.

Grade: A-.

With this much talent and depth, it would be easy to give this group an “A”. However, these players are young and, for the most part, unproven. Darrell Scott may prove out to be the best back in Colorado history, but before we start chiseling his name on the 2010 Heisman trophy (as defensive tackle George Hypolite did at the Big 12 media gathering in July), I will give you a few stats: 18 carries, 98 yards; and 25 carries, 150 yards. My predictions for Scott’s stats after two games in 2008? No, these were the stats for the first two games of another “can’t miss” Buff prospect, another highly touted freshman who was going to re-write the CU record books. His name? Marcus Houston.

Wide Receiver

Roster:

Patrick Williams (Sr.); Scotty McKnight (So.); Josh Smith (So.); Cody Crawford (Sr.); Kendrick Celestine (So.); Jason Espinoza (Fr.-RS); Cameron Ham (So.); Chance Blackmon (Fr.); Steve Melton (Sr.)

Starters:

Senior Patrick Williams has the most experience, and has been waiting three years to have a break out season. Well, this is it for Williams. It’s time. Assisting Williams in the quest to improve CU’s pass numbers are two sophomores who set records last season. Scotty McKnight and Josh Smith both surpassed the CU freshman record for receptions and yards, with McKnight setting the new mark at 47 catches and 555 yards. The trio will be pushed for playing time sophomore Kendrick Celestine, red-shirt freshman Jason Espinoza, and possibly true freshman Chance Blackmon.

Strengths:

Promise. The knock on Patrick Williams is that he has never quite made the impact we expected. Williams does rank 20th all-time in receptions (74) and 28th all-time in receiving yards (748) at Colorado, but he is not the breakout player the Buffs need at the wideout position. Perhaps that role will be filled by sophomore Josh Smith, who for all of his speed, was somehow kept out of the endzone in 2007. McKnight is the possession receiver. Celestine and Espinoza will add more quickness to the lineup.

Weaknesses:

… but it is unfulfilled promise. The unit as a whole scares few teams. With a better offensive line, a rushing game which must be respected, and a quarterback in Cody Hawkins who looks prepared to have an even better campaign than in 2007, perhaps this fall the wide receiver position will become a major factor in the CU offense. It will have to, but, with Markques Simas failing to qualify academically, there is little new infusion of talent in this area to assume that greater production is a given.

Grade: C+.

The Buffs ranked a respectable 54th in the nation in passing offense last season (respectable being a relative term. Colorado ranked 68th in rushing offense; 62nd in scoring offense; and 72nd in total offense), so blaming any inadequacies of the CU offense on the wide receivers is misplaced. Still, until this unit can stretch defenses and open up gaps for the running game to prosper, it will be seen as the weak link of the Buffs’ offensive attack.

Tight End

Roster:

Riar Geer (Jr.); Patrick Devenny (Jr.); Luke Walters (Jr.); Ryan Deehan (Fr.); Ryan Wallace (Fr.); Devin Shanahan (Jr.)

Starters:

One of the best pieces of good news the Buffs and their fans received in July was that junior Riar Geer’s suspension had been lifted (or, at least abated), and that Geer would be eligible to play this fall. Geer’s return eases concerns over the tight end position which had hung over the program since February. Geer’s absence during spring training may actually turn out to be a silver lining for the Buffs, though, as during spring practice, junior Patrick Devenny ably filled in for Geer. What was once a potential negative for the Buffs this fall has turned into a positive.

Strengths:

Surprising depth. In 2006, Geer became the first freshman in CU history to lead the team in receptions (24 for 261 yards and three touchdowns). Last season, Geer was slowed by injuries, but still managed to pick up 14 catches for 128 yards and two more scores. Now, with the strong showing by Patrick Devenny, and the infusion of freshmen Ryan Deehan and Ryan Wallace, the tight end position is suddenly flush with quality (enough so that another incoming freshman, Will Pericak, a Boulder high product who watched spring practice from the sidelines, was moved to defensive tackle).

Weaknesses:

Untapped potential. Geer was a second-team freshman All-American in 2006. His production fell off in 2007, and Geer missed all of spring practice when the Buffs implemented a new-look, no-huddle offense. Can Geer regain his form quickly? Will his suspension have any other repercussions? Can Devenny or one of the Ryans step up if Geer is not available?

Grade: B-.

The potential is there (but it is still just potential ) for this group to be major contributors to the CU offense. Cody Hawkins loves his tight ends, especially near the endzone. If the receiving corps cannot adequately stretch the field, the tight ends will need to be productive for the Buffs’ offense to be successful.

Offensive line

Roster:

Daniel Sanders (Sr.); Devin Head (Jr.); Ryan Miller (So.); Nate Solder (So.); Matthew Bahr (Fr.-RS); Shawn Daniels (Fr.-RS); Ethan Adkins (Fr.-RS); Blake Behrens (Fr.-RS); Keenan Stevens (So.); David Clark (Fr.-RS); Ryan Dannewitz (Fr.); Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner (Fr.); Bryce Givens (Fr.)

Starters:

Four starters on the offensive line are known. At center will be senior Daniel Sanders, who has started 24 consecutive games for the Buffs in the middle of the line. Also appearing to be set are the tackle positions, where sophomores Ryan Miller and Nate Solder will anchor the outside of the Colorado offensive line. Miller took over as a starter midway through the 2007 season, and is destined for stardom at the position. Solder moved from tight end to offensive tackle in the spring, and has put on 25 pounds during the summer to assist him in fighting off the defensive ends of the Big 12.

The guard positions are less settled. Two potential starters have been lost, as senior Erick Faatagi failed to make grades for the second consecutive season, ending his career, while red-shirt freshman Mike Iltis suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the first week of fall practice. As a result, the only guard on the roster with any significant time in the program is junior Devin Head, who will likely earn one of the guard positions. The other may fall to red-shirt freshman Matthew Bahr or Blake Behrens, unless one of the true freshman can demonstrate in fall practice that they are ready for Division 1-A play.

Strengths:

I hate to sound like a broken record, but quality depth is the best part of this lineup. “Girthy” is set at center, and Ryan Miller is a potential All-American as sophomore. Nate Solder has drawn rave reviews for his quick transformation from tight end to tackle. The last two recruiting classes have brought both quality and quantity to the CU offensive line.

Weaknesses:

Despite two strong classes, there is, for this year and next, a dearth of experience. Sanders has 24 consecutive starts but has, at times struggled with his snaps from the shotgun formation. Miller is a load, but is still mastering the position, while Solder is learning the nuances of the tackle position for the first time. The guards will be unproven and untested, regardless of who goes out to face CSU.

Grade: C.

I would like to think that this is a unit which will become one of the most dominant in the conference, but it won’t be this year. Ask again in 2009 or 2010. In 2008, there will be growing pains. Whether this group can become cohesive and consistent in two games – leading up to CU’s murderous games three-through-six – is a question. I’m not sure the Buffs and their fans will like the answer.

Kicker / Punter

Roster:

Aric Goodman (K-So.); Jameson Davis (K-Fr.); Alex Metskas (K-Fr.); Matt DiLallo (P-Jr.); Tom Suazo (P-Sr.); Darrell Scott (P-Fr.)

Starters:

It appeared going into fall camp that the position of place-kicker was a wide open race between sophomore transfer Aric Goodman and freshman Jameson Davis. Both made a case for themselves in spring practice – a case for Buff fans being concerned, as neither kicker was particularly distinguished. This fall, though, with Davis hampered by injuries, Goodman has made his case for the starting job, earning the nickname “Money” for his consistent ability to make his field goals.

The incumbent punter is Matt DiLallo. A freshman All-American, DiLallo’s production seemed to have dropped off in 2007, with his average dropping from 43.74 yards per kick down to 40.11. But wait – Dave Plati to the rescue – it turns out that the 2007 6-7 Buffs actually had much better field position that the 2006 2-10 Buffs. Shorter field = shorter punts. Hopefully, DiLallo’s average will, in 2008, continue to fall ….

Strengths:

DiLallo will become just the 13th punter in CU history to start three seasons for the Buffs, and will, in 2009, likely become just the second punter to lead the team in punting for four years (no, the other was not Barry Helton – my guess. It was Stan Koleski, who punted for CU from 1973-76. Now there’s a trivia question!). DiLallo could be aided by an unlikely source – Darrell Scott. Scott, it turns out, is a more than adequate punter, and certainly would add a different dimension to the punting game. As for kickers, Goodman brings with him 1-A experience, having been the kicker for Wyoming in 2006,

Weaknesses:

While Goodman has had a productive fall practice, there still remains the uncertainty of how he will perform in Folsom Field. And there is that one kick – the missed extra point in overtime in a 13-12 loss to Virginia as a Wyoming freshman in 2006 – which we will keep hearing about until Goodman kicks a game winner for the Buffs.

Grade: B.

While Aric Goodman will not soon make everyone forget Mason Crosby (or even Kevin Eberhart), we will have to put our trust in “Money” until proven otherwise. At punter, Matt DiLallo is a solid player. Dave Plati’s stats notwithstanding, it would be nice to see a rise in DiLallo’s average in 2008. Plus, while we have a moment, a quick plug for junior Jason Drescher. Haven’t heard of him? Good. He probably prefers it that way. Drescher was recruited to CU for one purpose – snapping the ball on punt and place kicks. That he does his job well is a testament to his consistency. Here’s hoping we don’t hear his name announced often this fall.

Offense – overall grade: B-.

I would love to give the Buffs’ offensive personnel a higher grade, but to do so would be to grade on potential, not production. 2008 will be a season answering the following questions: Will Cody Hawkins continue to improve (after throwing 15 interceptions in his first ten games last year, Cody finished the regular season with zero interceptions in his last 70 passes)?; Will the star-studded running back corps create a sensation on the national stage? Will the wide receivers and tight ends provide enough balance for CU attack to be successful? Will the offensive line gel quickly enough to make the Buffs’ offense click on all cylinders?

I can’t wait to find out.

[comment… ]

Preseason 2008 – A look at the Schedule – and Predictions for each game

Below is an in depth look at each of the Buffs’ opponents for 2008. You’ll discover what is there for Buff fans to get excited about for each game – and why there is reason for Buff fans to lose sleep over each game – as we get ready for opening kickoff on August 31st.

v. Colorado State – August 31st – (Denver)

Fast facts – The Rams are coming off a 3-9 season, although they are also riding a two game winning streak after defeating Georgia Southern and Wyoming to close out the 2007 campaign. Gone is 15-year head coach Sonny Lubick, replaced by former offensive coordinator and CSU alumnus Steve Fairchild. Fairchild’s most recent employment was with the Buffalo Bills, where he was offensive coordinator in 2006 and 2007. Fairchild had a successful run as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at CSU from 1997-2000, a period during which the Rams went 37-12 and set a school record for points in a season.

Why Buff fans should look forward to this game with optimism:

1) The Rams were 3-9 last season, and, at times, were not particularly competitive. Colorado State lost 45-21 to Air Force, 27-3 to Utah, and 35-16 to BYU.

2) There is a new coaching staff, and, while it is true that Steve Fairchild is familiar with Ft. Collins and what it takes to win there, few are expecting an immediate turnaround.

3) Matchups. Matchups. Matchups. What is the worst aspect of the CU defense? The passing game. What does CSU lack? A passing game. There will be a new quarterback under center at Mile High for the Rams. Senior Billy Farris is the most likely successor to Caleb Hanie, but Farris’ statistics for all of 2007 read as follows: 9-20, 91 yards in mop-up duty during the two blowout losses to Air Force and Utah. Look for stories about a quarterback battle coming out of Ft. Collins during fall practice. On the other side of the ball, Colorado is looking to be more productive on offense, and Colorado State is looking to replace both of their cornerbacks as well three defensive line starters. A good start for the Buffs’ offense seems likely against a defense looking for a new identity and fielding a squad a few quality players short of a MWC contender.

Why there is reason to lose sleep the night before the game:

1) It’s CSU. It’s a rivalry game at a neutral site (though there should be significantly more Buff fans there than Ram fans at Mile High this year). The Rams have always been a tough out for the Buffs. Dan Hawkins is 1-1 v. CSU – a loss in 2006 and an overtime win in 2007. Not bad? Consider that Kevin Eberhart had to connect on a field goal to send the 2007 game into overtime – after the Buffs trailed through much of the contest. This against a CSU team was in the middle of a 13-game losing streak, and which did, from the middle of the 2006 season to the middle of the 2007 season, put together a stretch of games where they went 1-16. And the Buffs almost lost to this team! That’s what a rivalries are all about – records mean nothing come kickoff.

2) The unknown. Teams with new coaches are unknowns. Teams with new coaches who have never been head coaches before are complete unknowns. For better or worse, Steve Fairchild has never been a head coach at any level. The Buffs need to steel themselves for new formations and trick plays. The Rams will have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by throwing the kitchen sink at the Buffs.

3) Kory Sperry. Sperry had eight catches and three touchdowns against the Buffs in 2007. Sperry was a senior, so we should have been done with him. Sperry, though, tore his ACL in the second game of last season, and was granted a medical redshirt. Think Sperry is looking forward to playing the Buffs again?

4) It’s the season opener. Which CU team will show up? The one which laid an egg in the second half against Iowa State, blowing a 21-0 lead, the one which also fell behind Nebraska and fell waaay behind Alabama? Or will it be the team which dominated the first half against Iowa State, and which dominated the second half of play against both Nebraska and Alabama? If 2008 is truly to be the Buffs’ season to break through, the season opener will speak volumes about what we can expect.

CSU games before the CU/CSU game to keep an eye on:

Okay, so there will be no games which CSU will play before playing the Buffs. So we will have to be attentive to the news coming out of Ft. Collins during fall practice, trying to get past the coach-speak and the fluff stories. Who is winning the quarterback battle? Are there any injuries? Any dissension in the ranks seeping through with the new staff?

My thoughts: As brutal as the Buffs’ schedule is in 2008, there is little room for hedging: this is a must win.

v. Eastern Washington – September 6th

Fast Facts: The Eagles, like the Rams, are starting with a new coaching staff. Former EWU head coach Paul Wulff parlayed his success in Cheney, Washington, into a head coaching job just down the highway at Pullman, where he takes on the rebuilding job at Washington State. Replacing Wulff is Beau Baldwin, who coached one season as head coach at Central Washington (going 10-3). Like Fairchild at CSU, Baldwin is returning to the school where he was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, serving in that post from 2003-2006. The Eagles went 9-3 in 2007, reaching the quarterfinals of the 1-AA playoffs. Eastern Washington mauled undefeated and #2 seed McNeese State, 44-15, in the first round before falling on the road to eventual national champion Appalachian State, 38-35. The Eagles are a consensus top ten pick in all of the FCS preseason polls, and are picked to finish either first or second in the Big Sky Conference this fall.

Why Buff fans should look forward to this game with optimism:

1) Eastern Washington is a Division 1-AA/FCS team. Granted, they are a very good Division 1-AA team, but 1-AA nonetheless. There will be a very clear discrepancy in overall speed, experience, and talent at Folsom Field September 6th.

2) The Eagles will have already played a game. Eastern Washington opens at Texas Tech. The Eagles have a new head coach, but one who is familiar with the players and the system, so there should not be a dramatic shift in EWU’s style of play. By the time Eastern Washington takes the field against Colorado, there will also be game film for the Buffs’ coaches and players to watch. There should not be anything new from the Eagles’ playbook used against Colorado.

3) There is noooo way the Buffs are going to lose to another Big Sky Conference team. The 2006 game against Montana State was the first game ever for the Colorado program against a 1-AA team, and the Buffs lost, 19-10 in Dan Hawkins’ first game as head coach at Colorado. Do not think for a moment that the coaches will not spend every minute that week reminding the players not to take the Eagles for granted.

Why there is reason to lose sleep the night before the game:

1) The Eagles are a good team. They knocked off the #2 ranked 1-AA team in the playoffs in 2007, and almost upset #1 Appalachian State on the Mountaineers’ home field. Their quarterback, Matt Nichols, has 23 career starts, and was the Big Sky Conference Offensive player of the Year in 2007, throwing a school record 34 touchdowns.

2) The Eagles will not be intimidated. Eastern Washington opens with Texas Tech, which figures to be ranked in the top fifteen teams in the nation. After playing the Buffs, the Eagles open at home against Western Washington, a Division II school, after a bye week. They will have nothing to lose coming to Boulder, and probably look at Folsom Field as their best bet to pull an early season upset.

3) Montana State. Montana State. Montana State. The specter of the Bobcats looms over Dan Hawkins and the Buffs. Until CU produces a winning season and rejoins the elite of the college football world, the stench of that 19-10 loss will hang over the program. Just as removing Gary Barnett finally allowed the program to move past the sex party scandals, so too must there be a decisive win over the Eagles to remove the hex placed upon Folsom by the Bobcats.

Eastern Washington games to keep an eye on before the CU/EWU game:

Obviously, it is the Texas Tech game, the only other game for the Eagles before they travel to Boulder. The game will be on Saturday night, August 30th, so the Buffs and their fans will know before ever taking the field against the CSU Rams how that game played out. Will Eastern Washington be able to stay with Texas Tech? Will the Eagles come out against Colorado defeated and depleted, or encouraged and energized?

My thoughts: This needs to be a 42-0 game like Miami (Ohio) last season. An early deficit could prove fatal to the Buffs’ collective psyche, but I don’t see that happening. If there is one game to pencil in as a win in 2008, this is the one. The Buffs score early and often, and set the stage for their game against highly ranked West Virginia.

v. West Virginia – September 18th

Fast Facts: The West Virginia game will represent the third straight game the Buffs will face a team with a new head coach. Just think – if you were offered odds a year ago on the chances that the Buffs would face three new head coaches in their 2008 non-conference games, you would have taken the bet. If you were told that this was a guarantee, and you had to pick which coach would still be on the sidelines between Sonny Lubick of CSU, Paul Wulff of Eastern Washington, Rich Rodriguez of West Virginia, and Bobby Bowden of Florida State, would you have chosen Bobby Bowden? How many of you – besides me – would have chosen Bobby Bowden as being the least likely of the four to be back with the same team in 2008? Such is the crazy world of college football.

Bill Stewart, fresh off of his big win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, is the new head coach. While there are many who question the long term effects of this hire, the cupboard is far from bare. Heisman trophy candidate Patrick White is the catalyst for an offense. While White’s rushing makes the highlights, he is also an accomplished passer, finishing 29th in the nation in pass efficiency in 2007. The running game will be without Steve Slaton, who opted for the NFL, but will be ably manned by sophomore Noel Devine and an offensive line which is rated by almost everyone (The Sporting News has them ranked #1) as one of the best in the nation. All Devine did last season was rush for 627 yards and six touchdowns – on 73 carries (I’ll let you do the math).

The Mountaineer defense in 2007 allowed only 18 points and 300 yards per game. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel was retained, which is a plus, but Casteel must replace some good players on the defensive line, and secondary depth is an issue.

Why Buff fans should look forward to this game with optimism:

1) Atmosphere. The game will be played on a Thursday night, before a national television audience. While Folsom Field does not have the capacity or the reputation of many other stadia in the country, when the time is right and the fans are energized, the Buffs can be tough. Plus, it will be a first-ever trip for West Virginia to Mile High country, so if Colorado can hang in early against the Mountaineers, who knows?

2) Preparation. If the Buffs can get past Colorado State in the opener, and not take Eastern Washington too lightly, there should be plenty of preparation time for West Virginia. Assuming that the Buffs can keep things fairly vanilla against the EWU Eagles, there will be almost three weeks (counting the bye week) for CU and its coaching staff to try and figure out how to handle Patrick White and his cohorts, and to put in some new wrinkles the Mountaineers have yet to see.

3) Oklahoma. The Sooners were #3 in the nation coming into Folsom Field last season, averaging over 60 points a game. They left with 24 points and a loss. The 2008 Buffs are better than the 2007 Buffs – at least on paper. So anything can happen ….

Why there is reason to lose sleep the night before the game:

1) Are you kidding me? Pick a statistic, and then take an aspirin and go lay down. Patrick White averaged almost seven yards per carry last season, and needs only 724 yards rushing this season to become the top rushing quarterback in NCAA history. The Mountaineers were #3 in the nation in rushing last season and #9 in scoring, and all of the top linemen return. I could go on, but this is supposed to be a CU website.

2) Not yet ready for prime time. CU has come agonizingly close to being a good team. The upsets of Oklahoma and Texas Tech, the dominating second half against Nebraska and the rally against Alabama – all speak to the potential of this team. And yet, the Buffs are not there yet. When given the chance to take a step up in quality of play – think Missouri, Kansas, Arizona State and Florida State in 2007 – the Buffs fell flat. West Virginia is too good for the Buffs to play only one half of good football.

3) 33-5. West Virginia’s record over the past three seasons. Only USC, at 34-5, has a better record during that span. That mark will likely be 35-5 when the Mountaineers take the field against Colorado on September 18th. This team knows what it takes to win.

West Virginia game to keep an eye on before the CU/WVU game:

West Virginia at East Carolina (September 6th). After a warmup game against Villanova, the Mountaineers go on the road to face the East Carolina. The Pirates are a good team, but not great team. East Carolina finished 2007 with an 8-5 record, including a 41-38 Hawaii Bowl win over Boise State. An upset? No – West Virginia humbled East Carolina in Morgantown last season, 48-7. But the competitiveness of that game could go a long way in demonstrating how well West Virginia is making the transition into the Bill Stewart era.

My thoughts: I was glad when they moved this game to a nationally televised Thursday night game. With the bye week to prepare, and a loud home crowd in attendance, I certainly give Colorado a puncher’s chance at winning this game. As with Oklahoma in 2007, though, everything will have to fall the Buffs way for there to be an upset.

v. Florida State – September 27th (Jacksonville)

Fast facts: The Buffs will not face a new head coach for the first time in 2008. In fact, they will face one of the oldest. Hall of Fame head coach Bobby Bowden will be patrolling the sidelines for Florida State for his 33rd year (of course you already knew he came to Tallahassee from Morgantown). Still, despite Bowden’s 373 career wins (Joe Paterno has 372 career wins heading into the 2008 season), the bloom is definitely off of the rose in Tallahassee, with the Seminoles registering records of 8-5, 7-6, and 7-6 the past three seasons. There are lingering effects from academic suspensions handed out at the end of last season, but most will be mitigated as Florida State has “revised” its 2008 schedule so that the Seminoles will open with Western Carolina and Chattanooga. FSU will play Wake Forest the week before facing the Buffs, but by the time Colorado lands in Jacksonville for the “neutral site” game, all of the suspensions for the Seminoles’ players will have been served.

There will be plenty of talent on the field for Florida State on September 27th. Senior quarterback Drew Weatherford sat out spring practice with an injury, but is expected to start this fall. Preston Parker is the Seminoles’ premier receiver. He will serve a two game suspension (big surprise) for a multitude of indiscretions and criminal charges (charges which would have brought about a season long suspension in Boulder). If Parker isn’t up to speed by the Buffs’ game, newcomer Corey Surrency (from El Camino junior college – for Buff recruit afficionados, you will remember that Surrency was heavily recruited by the Buffs) is expected to have an immediate impact. While not as dominant a force as it was in the 1990’s, the Florida State defense is strong and deep, especially in the secondary.

Why Buff fans should look forward to this game with optimism:

1) Florida State is not Florida State. Yes, the talent is there, as Bobby Bowden remains one of the premier recruiters in the nation. However, the aura for the Seminoles is gone. Florida State is a good team, but not one without its weaknesses.

2) Extra prep time. After the Buffs play West Virginia on Thursday the 18th, they can sit back and watch Florida State play its first real game of 2008. On September 20th, the Seminoles square off against Wake Forest, a team which has beaten Florida State the past two seasons. No looking ahead for the Seminoles.

3) A low scoring game likely. The 16-6 score of last year’s Florida State/Colorado game was not a fluke. The Seminoles scored more than 30 points only once last season (and that was against UAB). If the Buffs can hang in there for two or three quarters, and not be shell shocked by the uniforms or the stadium, there is a good chance to pull out a win.

Why there is reason to lose sleep the night before the game:

1) CU doesn’t do the state of Florida. The Buffs are 4-8 all-time in games played in the state of Florida, with the last win coming at the 1991 Orange Bowl. Included in those losses were lopsided defeats at the hands of Florida State (47-7 in 2003) and Miami (23-3 in 2005). Yuck.

2) Staying with the receivers. Florida State does have talent and speed at the wideout position. Assuming Preston Parker can stay out of trouble, he will be looking for the CU game to be his breakout game of 2008. The Buffs’ shaky secondary will need to be ready.

3) Sandwich game. The Buffs will be coming off of an emotional home game against West Virginia, and looking forward to an emotional home conference opener the following week against Texas. While this game will have just as much of an impact on Colorado’s bowl chances as any other, it does not, at least as we look at it in August, the panache of the other two games.

Florida State game to keep an eye on before the CU/FSU game:

Florida State v. Wake Forest, September 20th. This game is the pick not just because the first two games on the Seminole calendar, Western Carolina and Chattanooga, are criminally easy. [The message the FSU administration is sending to its athletes in this instance is: “It’s okay that you cheated. We’ve got your backs. We’ll change the schedule so that you won’t miss any games of significance.”] The Wake Forest game, though, is for real. The Demon Deacons have defeated the Seminoles the last two seasons, including a 30-0 whitewash two years ago – in Tallahassee. If Florida State is planning to re-emerge as a power in the ACC in 2008, it starts for the Seminoles in game three. A loss to Wake Forest may result in a dispirited squad taking the field in Jacksonville.

My thoughts: I spent much of the 2007-08 off-season wondering what sort of Florida State team Colorado would be playing this fall. The game was originally slated to be contested on September 13th, which would have meant some of the multitude of suspensions Florida State players are facing would still be in play. Then Preston Parker got arrested (again), and it looked like the Seminoles’ star receiver would not be on the field against the Buffs. Then starting offensive tackle Daron Rose, the only upperclassman starter on the FSU offensive line, was declared academically ineligible for the season. Now it appears as if, out of all of the above, only Rose will not be in uniform against the Buffs. There are too many intangibles in this game. Until after Colorado plays West Virginia, and until after Florida State squares off against Wake Forest, it is too early to tell how our game will play out.

v. Texas – October 4th

Fast facts: Texas went 10-3 in 2007. A ten win season is nothing new to Longhorn fans. In his ten seasons in Austin, Mack Brown has won 103 games, or just over ten wins a season on average. So why is there discontent in Longhorn land? Two letters: O and U. Texas has defeated Oklahoma in two of the last three “Red River Shootouts” in Dallas, yet the perception is that the Sooners and Bob Stoops are getting the better of their counterparts to the South. Oklahoma has won six Big 12 South titles (including the last two); Texas has won four. The Sooners have won five Big 12 Championships (including the last two); Texas has won two. So, even though Texas won ten games in 2007 and ten games in 2006 after winning the national championship in 2005 -folks in Austin are still not happy.

Tough.

Fact is, Texas is not lacking for talent. Junior Colt McCoy is all you can ask for in a quarterback. In 2007, McCoy completed 65% of his passes on his way to 3,303 passing yards and 22 touchdowns. The offense, though, will be missing the star power of wide receiver Limas Sweed and Jamaal Charles. As a result, the Longhorns may have to score the old-fashioned way: jamming it down opponents’ throats.

On defense, the line has the most quality, with the biggest question marks coming in the secondary. Redshirt freshmen may be starting at both safety positions by the time the Longhorns make it to Folsom in early October. The Longhorns do have a new defensive coordinator in Will Muschamp, imported from Auburn. Texas will have to rely on speed and talent to cover deficiencies in experience.

Why Buff fans should look forward to this game with optimism:

1) 30 points. Texas gave up over 30 points a game in each of its last four games in 2007, and six times overall. There is talent there on defense, but there is a reason why Muschamp was lured away from Auburn – there was the perception that the defense needed to be fixed. A revved up CU offense playing before a loud Folsom Field crowd may just put up enough points to stay with the Longhorns’ offense.

2) The Red River Shootout factor. Last season, Oklahoma was undefeated and ranked 3rd in the nation the weekend before facing Texas. Texas was undefeated and ranked 7th the weekend before facing Oklahoma. We know what happened to Oklahoma, but do you remember what happened to Texas? The Longhorns were mauled, at home, by unranked Kansas State, 41-21. This season, the CU/Texas game is the week before the Texas/Oklahoma game. Anyone up for a little bit of history repeating itself?

3) Jet lag. Texas does not leave its home state to play a game until the October 4th matchup against the Buffs. September includes three home games and a road trop to El Paso to face UTEP (think there might be some Longhorn fans there for that game?). Okay, so a two-hour plane ride to Colorado is not likely to dull the senses of the Texas players. But maybe, just maybe, playing on the road in a hostile environment for the first time since last November could give the Buffs a small advantage.

Why there is reason to lose sleep the night before the game:

1) Bye week. While the Buffs are trying to figure out how to handle Florida State in Jacksonville, the Texas players will be spending an extra week trying to figure out new ways to attack the Buffs. A game against the Rice Owls (3-9 in 2007) in Austin on September 20th in the last hurdle Texas must overcome before taking on Colorado two weeks later. The Longhorns will be rested and ready.

2) 70-3. It seems like forever ago, but the last time Colorado played Texas was in the 2005 Big 12 championship game. It what turned out to be Gary Barnett’s last game as head coach in Boulder, the Longhorns, on their way to a 13-0 record and the national championship, buried the Buffs in Houston. Older Buffs will grow weary the week of the game answering questions about how they feel about the 2005 blowout. It may affect the Buffs’ overall confidence at kickoff.

3) Darrell Scott. This could go either way. Scott, the #1 running back recruit in the nation, was recruited by virtually every team in the nation. His decision came down to Colorado and Texas, with the Buffs winning out in the battle for his services. Longhorn fans were so distraught that Scott chose Colorado over Texas that there were internet accusations that Colorado had promised Scott’s mother a job if Darrell signed on with CU. Rest assured, if Darrell Scott is the featured CU back by early October, the Texas defensive line will be geared up to stop him. Of course, Darrell Scott may be pumped to show the Texas players a thing or two about what he can do on a football field.

Texas game to keep an eye on before the CU/Texas game:

Texas v. Arkansas – September 13th. The other three Texas non-conference opponents, Florida Atlantic, UTEP, and Rice, were all amongst the leaders in passing in 2007. This should give the Longhorns’ suspect secondary a workout, but the overall talent discrepancies don’t afford those teams much chance at victory. Arkansas, under new head coach Bobby Petrino, makes for the most interesting matchup. The Razorbacks were an underachieving 8-5 last season, including a lackluster performance against Missouri in the Cotton Bowl. While Arkansas does not have the horses to stay with Texas for sixty minutes, it will be interesting to see what Petrino can come up with to attack the vulnerable Texas secondary. At least CU will have some good game film to work with in preparing for October 4th.

My thoughts: Of the brutal four game stretch between games three and six (West Virginia, at Florida State, Texas, at Kansas), I actually see this game as the most winnable. This is not a knock on the talented team from Austin – it’s just how I see the Buffs’ stars aligning. West Virginia is at home, on national television, and under the lights, but the West Virginia offense just looks too good. Florida State is vulnerable, but playing in its own backyard. The Texas game, though, seems like the Oklahoma game of a year ago. Texas should be undefeated and ranked in the top ten. CU will (likely) be coming off a 2-2 non-conference slate. It was the same scenario last season with the Sooners. Call it fate – I see the Buffs winning this one.

at Kansas – October 11th

Fast facts: It has been a long time coming. Kansas in 2007 went 12-1, 7-1 in Big 12 play. The Jayhawks went to the Orange Bowl and capped off a magical season with a 24-21 upset win over Virginia Tech. The win over the Hokies in the final game got KU head coach Mark Magino on the black side of the ledger, giving him a 37-36 overall record in his six seasons in Lawrence.

On offense, last season was one for the books at Kansas. Junior quarterback Todd Reesing returns to set new records after completing 62% of his passes in 2007 for over 3,000 yards and 33 touchdowns (offset by only seven interceptions). The offense set school records for scoring (42.8 ppg) and total offense (479.8 ypg). Will the same hold true in 2008? The Achilles heel seems to be at tackle, where a three year starter on one side and an All-American on the other must be replaced.

The defense also has a significant amount of talent returning, particularly at linebacker. The interior defensive line took some losses, with Big 12 defensive line player of the year James McClinton no longer there to disrupt play. Still, this is a defensive which has ranked among the top 30 in the nation in rush defense over the past four seasons, so opponents cannot count on too much of a drop off.

Why Buff fans should look forward to the game with optimism:

1) History. Kansas has not played in a bowl game in consecutive seasons – ever. While that is likely to change this season, the schedule does not play out as well for the Jayhawks. South Florida is lying in wait in the non-conference schedule, while Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech from the Big 12 South get their turn at the Jayhawks in 2008. No one will be taking Kansas for granted, and Oklahoma in Norman is the next game up for Kansas after Colorado. If the Jayhawks are doing well by early October, they may be looking past the Buffs.

2) History. Part II. Colorado leads the all-time series against Kansas 41-23-3, including a 17-14-3 advantage for the Buffs in Lawrence. The last time Kansas beat Colorado in consecutive seasons before 2006-07? Try 1980-81. History favors Colorado.

3) History. Part III. Kansas could do no wrong in 2007. Players had career years. The Jayhawks were an incredible plus-21 in turnover ratio (gaining 35 turnovers, giving up only 14). The schedule aligned with four easy non-conference games (okay, that was nothing new), and the bottom half of the Big 12 South on the schedule. And yet, with all of that, Kansas snuck by an average Colorado team by the dominating score of ….. 19-14. The Buffs will not be intimidated by the Jayhawks.

Why there is reason to lose sleep the night before the game:

1) Todd Reesing is that good. Patrick White of West Virginia and Chase Daniel of Missouri are getting more Heisman-hype, but Reesing takes a back seat to no one. Thirty three touchdowns and only seven interceptions? Are you kidding? Reesing can take a look at the Colorado secondary depth chart and start drooling.

2) Kansas will still be a marquee team come October 11th. Yes, Kansas plays South Florida in September. If the Jayhawks can get past the Bulls, they will likely be undefeated (and a top ten team) coming into the CU game. The other three non-conference games (Florida International, Louisiana Tech, and Sam Houston State) are typical non-conference fare for the Jayhawks, and their conference opener is against Iowa State. Yes, Kansas has a tougher schedule in 2008, but road games against Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Missouri, along with home games against Texas, Texas Tech and in-state rival Kansas State, are all in the second half of the season. Colorado cannot count on someone else exposing Kansas as pretenders, it will be up to the Buffs to do it themselves.

3) These Buffs are not yet road warriors. Even if Kansas loses to South Florida, Kansas will likely be ranked when Colorado hits Lawrence. The Buffs have lost eight straight road games against ranked opponents, dating back to a 31-17 win over UCLA in 2002.

Kansas game to keep an eye on before the Colorado/Kansas game:

Kansas at South Florida – September 12th. This is one of the most important games for Colorado in 2008 in which the Buffs are not participants. As noted, if the Jayhawks beat the Bulls, they will be undefeated and a top ten team playing at home against the Buffs. A loss to South Florida, with a brutal 2nd half schedule still before them, makes Kansas a good, but beatable team. The Bulls were 9-4 in 2007, and have plenty of talent returning. Plenty of eyes will be watching this game to see which of these two teams is the real deal in 2008.

My thoughts: If the Buffs are 2-3 coming into this game, they will likely leave Lawrence 2-4. Going into a hostile environment, against a potentially undefeated top ten team, on the heels of a three game losing streak – it doesn’t add up for Colorado. However, if the Buffs pull of an upset against West Virginia, Florida State, or Texas, and give the Jayhawks an “L” against South Florida, and this turns into a very interesting game.

Bottom Line/ First half: The first half of the 2008 season doesn’t offer Colorado many easy outs. Colorado State is a rivalry game. West Virginia, Texas, and Kansas may all be top ten teams when they square off with the Buffs. A 3-3 record will be an achievement, but not an impossible one.

Second half – 2008

October 18th – Kansas State

Fast facts: Kansas State in 2007 was a tale of two seasons. The first half of the season was all good. A 4-2 record, including a dominating 41-21 upset win in Austin over the 7th-ranked Longhorns. The second half, by comparison, was a disaster. A 1-5 record, with some very large numbers put up against the Wildcat defense: Points? 73 given up to Nebraska, 49 to Missouri, and 45 to Fresno State in the last three games. Yards? 510 to Oklahoma State, 519 to Nebraska, and 549 to Fresno State.

What to do? Third year head coach Ron Prince brought in 19 junior college recruits to provide an immediate infusion of talent into the Wildcat lineup. It’s a high-risk, high-reward strategy. By game seven, there should be some indication of how well the experiment has played out. Six, count ‘em six, receiver recruits will be there for star quarterback Josh Freeman to throw to. On defense, eight, yes eight, defensive linemen will try to bolster a defense which is switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3.

Why Buff fans should look forward to this game with optimism:

1) Junior college pipeline. Ron Prince may have a better record at Kansas State than Dan Hawkins in his first two seasons at Colorado, but there is definitely a divergence of opinion when it comes to the directions being taken by the programs. The Wildcats loaded up on junior recruits this past spring (19, or almost as many as the rest of the Big 12 combined). First year coaches do this; perhaps even second year coaches. But a third year coach? Shouldn’t the coach’s guys – Ron Prince’s guys – be stepping into starting roles now? What does this say about the players Prince recruited the past two seasons? What will this do to team chemistry?

2) Fresno State. Just as the Montana State ghost continues to linger over Folsom Field, the ghost of Fresno State may continue to haunt Kansas State in 2008. The Wildcats, with a bowl bid on the line, lost to Fresno State, 45-29, to close out a 5-7 season which was once a 5-3 season. What do you do when you have been bucked off a horse? You never get back on – or at least that is the message K-State administrators were telling their players. Instead of revving up for a revenge game against the Bulldogs of Fresno State in game two of the 2008 seasons, Kansas State backed out, replacing the potential top 25 Bulldogs with – Montana State. Talk about bad karma!

3) It’s game seven, and it’s in Boulder. Kansas State may have a better record in the first half of the season, but that’s only because the Wildcats had three wins penciled in before fall camp opened. North Texas, Montana State, and Louisiana-Lafayette don’t figure to be a hassle for home team in Manhattan (yes, yes, I know MSU beat the Buffs in 2006. I live in Bozeman, Montana, home of Montana State. I will be reminded of that outcome for the rest of my life). The road games in the first half of the season are at Louisville and at Texas A&M, with a home game against Texas Tech. While the Wildcats have a fighting chance in each of these games, they may well lose all three. This leaves KSU with a 3-3 record when they face Colorado. Similar records, but the Wildcats will have lost three of four, and will be 0-2 in Big 12 play. Considering that Kansas State went into the tank after a 5-3 start in 2007, is a repeat in 2008 too hard to contemplate?

Why there is reason to lose sleep the night before the game:

1) 47-20. Kansas State was a good team, but certainly not a great team, when they faced Colorado in Manhattan in 2007. The Wildcats were 3-2, with respectable losses to Auburn and Kansas, and an upset win over then #7 Texas. The result of the 2007 game, though, made K-State look like world-beaters, and the Buffs look very mortal. Considering Kansas State won only one more game in 2007 (and that was against Baylor), the Wildcat players must look back fondly at the 2007 result, and are looking forward to similar success in 2008.

2) Prince v. Hawkins. While there is optimism in Boulder about the future of the Buffs, the fact remains that Dan Hawkins is 0-2 against Ron Prince, and Prince’s 13-12 record is enviable compared to Hawkins’ 8-17. Until the Buffs beat the Wildcats, there is nothing in this series Buff fans can crow about.

3) The gauntlet. The Buffs will be coming off of a four game stretch which few teams could survive. Three of the four will likely be in the top ten at some point in 2008 (West Virginia, Texas, and Kansas), with the fourth game being a road tilt against Florida State. Buff fans will look at the schedule and see Kansas State as being a “breather”. Comparatively, perhaps. But the Wildcats will not lay down for the Buffs just because Colorado had a tough September. As important as the earlier games may be to the Buffs in claiming some national attention, this game may be the most important of the season in terms of bowl eligibility.

Kansas State game to keep an eye on before the CU/Kansas State game:

Kansas State at Louisville – September 17th. This is an important game to Buff fans for several reasons. If the Wildcats can handle the Cardinals (a team which underachieved at 6-6 in 2007), they will be 4-0 in non-conference play. The game is on a Wednesday night (the night before the CU/West Virginia game), so national attention will be afforded the winner of the game. If KSU is 4-0 in non-conference games, they may be energized enough to stay with Texas Tech (see: Kansas State 41, #7 Texas 20, last season) and Texas A&M. Win either one of those games, and it will be the Wildcats with all of the momentum heading to Boulder on October 18th.

My thoughts: For a successful season, this game is a must for the Buffs. It’s at home, against a team with which the Buffs have equal or superior talent. Dan Hawkins is 0-2 against Ron Prince. Prince might not be around long enough for Hawkins to even the score in 2009.

October 25th – at Missouri

Fast Facts: After a 12-2 season in 2007, and with Heisman hopeful Chase Daniel returning for his senior season, Missouri is a legitimate contender for the national championship. This is a far cry from previous seasons, when the Tigers were perennial underachievers (remember when head coach Gary Pinkel was on everyone’s “hot seat” list? That was twelve months ago).

It’s safe to say that Missouri will not sneak up on anyone this season. The Tigers lost only two games last season – both to Oklahoma. The Sooners are not on the schedule this season – unless Oklahoma and Missouri meet again in the Big 12 championship game. By the time Colorado travels to Columbia in late October, Missouri will either be the real deal in the national title race – or exposed as a pretender. The Tigers open with a re-match with Illinois at St. Louis (the Tigers won, 40-34, last season in a game which did not receive near as much attention as this season’s game will), and will have faced off against Nebraska in Lincoln (a place where the Tigers last won in 1978) and against Texas in Austin (a place where the Tigers haven’t won since – gulp – 1896!). If Colorado is facing an undefeated Missouri team in late October, the Buffs may be facing the #1 team in the country.

Why Buff fans should look forward to this game with optimism:

1) October 25th. The date for the 2008 Colorado/Missouri is a special one for Buff fans. October 25, 1986 – Colorado 20, #3 Nebraska 10. The game which launched the Buffs back into the national spotlight after a ten year absence. The game which planted the seed which led to a national championship four years later. Want more October 25th karma? October 25, 1969 – Colorado 31, #5 Missouri 24.

2) 1-2 Missouri? The Tigers open conference play against Nebraska in Lincoln. Missouri hasn’t won in Lincoln since the Carter administration. Trust me, I will be rooting for the Tigers on October 4th, but I would not be surprised if the Cornhuskers win the emotional conference opener. Then, after a home game against Oklahoma State (not a gimme), the Tigers travel to Austin to play Texas. The Longhorns will be coming off of their encounter against Oklahoma (Texas has won the game played immediately after the Red River showdown ten years in a row), and playing their first conference home game of 2008. Three tough games to open Big 12 play – Missouri may be coming off a loss (or two) suiting up against the Buffs.

3) Restoration of Order. The Buffs are 8-3 against Missouri at Faurot Field since 1986. Included in those wins is the bizarre 33-31 win in 1990 (the “Fifth down game”) and a wild, 42-35 overtime win in 2002. Call it fate. Call it karma. Call it the Buffs lucky day. We’ll need all of the above against a talented Missouri team.

Why there is reason for Buff fans to lose sleep the night before the game:

1) Chase Daniel. Daniel was the Big 12 Offensive player of the year in 2007, and a Heisman finalist. Toys for Daniel to play with in 2008: Jeremy Maclin, who had over 1,000 yards receiving as a freshman, and tight end Chase Coffman, who already possesses the team record for touchdown catches. If the Tigers can find a tailback to replace Tony Temple, an offense which ranked in the top ten nationally last year in passing offense, total offense, and scoring – will be even better.

2) 55-10. In their two losses to Oklahoma, Missouri scored 31 and 17 points. In their other 12 games in 2007, the Tigers never scored fewer than 36 points. Seven times, Missouri posted over 40 points. The 55 points hung on the Buffs were a season high. Players on both sides of the ball will remember how the Tigers toyed with the Buffs in Folsom in 2007.

3) Cruise control. If Missouri is 7-0, or even 6-1, coming into the game with Colorado, they will be playing with great confidence. Beat Nebraska and Texas – teams which have completely dominated the Tigers over the years – and a schedule of Colorado, at Baylor, Kansas State, and at Iowa State will not intimidate the home team. Tiger fans will already be making BCS travel plans when the Buffs come to town.

Missouri game to keep and eye on before the Colorado/Missouri game:

Missouri at Nebraska, October 4th. It’s tempting to put down the Missouri/Illinois game on August 30th. The Illini may turn out to be the highest ranked team the Tigers play all season. The Nebraska game, however, will be a true sign of how far the Tigers have come. Missouri thumped Nebraska, 41-6, last season in Columbia. A similar showing in 2008 would serve notice on the rest of the Big 12 North that the Missouri Tigers are the class of the division. A loss to the Cornhuskers, though, and the division is wide open.

My thoughts: It’s August, and there is no rational reason to pick the Buffs to win this game. Missouri has a talented quarterback and a plethora of receivers to throw to, and the Buffs are weak in pass defense. The Tigers will be at home, and the Buffs struggle on the road. Last season’s score: Missouri 55, Colorado 10. It will be closer in 2008. How much closer is hard to say, but to me, this is the most likely “L” on the Buffs’ schedule.

November 1st – at Texas A&M

Fast facts: Texas A&M will be the fourth team in the first nine games for Colorado in 2008 which will be led by a new head coach. Out is Dennis Franchione, 23-24 in four seasons at College Station (including a 7-6 record in 2007). In is former A&M assistant coach and former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike Sherman. Laid back has been ditched for attack, as Sherman is noted for creating defenses designed to attack the offense, rather than read-and-react.

The question is whether Sherman has the horses to do what he intends – at least in his first season. The Aggies in 2007 gave up 255 yards passing per game last season (92nd in the nation in that category), and sacked the opposing quarterback only 18 times. There is little in the way of returning talent, as only four starters on defense are back. As a result, depth and experience will work against the A&M in 2008. On offense, there is no clear cut favorite at starting quarterback. Stephen McGee is the returning starter, but McGee is geared more towards the option attack of Franchione, not the pro-style attack of Sherman. That issue will have to be ironed out well before the Buffs travel to face the Aggies November 1st.

Why Buff fans should look forward to this game with optimism:

1) Halloween on the road. I am really looking forward to this road trip. There are few schools which have more college football traditions than Texas A&M. Yell practice, the 12th man, the bonfire, Reveille (the collie which just happens to be the highest ranking officer in the Corps at A&M) – are all part of the Aggie experience. Yell practice, held at midnight before a home game, will, against the Buffs, be conducted at midnight on Halloween. We’ll forgive the A&M players and fans if they want to have some fun at home on Halloween – and not be as rested for the Buffs as they should.

2) The schedule. If you haven’t already guessed, I am a big believer in momentum. As much as we like to analyze the college game, it is still being played by a bunch of young men who have to worry about their girlfriends, their classes, and the color and style of their i-pods. Yes, Colorado’s game against Texas A&M will be played in November, and each team will have already played eight games. For the Aggies, though, the two biggest games on the calendar – against Oklahoma and Texas – will still be ahead of them. The Aggie players, most of whom have not played against Colorado, may well be looking past the Buffs to a game against (#1?) Oklahoma the following weekend.

3) The Aggies are a good fit for the Buffs’ personnel. As head coach Mike Sherman tries to mold the Aggies in his image, there is work to be done. There are holes in the A&M offensive line, so the rushing game will be vulnerable to a good rush defense (Buffs). The receiving corps may be the weakest part of the offense, giving a break to a weak pass defense (Buffs). And the defensive line is vulnerable to a strong rushing attack (Buffs).

Why there is reason for Buff fans to lose sleep the night before the game:

1) Better record. Colorado may well have better personnel on the field against Texas A&M, but the Aggies, as the calendar turns to November, will likely have a better record coming into the game. Texas A&M has a soft non-conference schedule: Arkansas State, at New Mexico, Miami, and Army. New Mexico is decent, and the game against the Hurricanes would normally instill fear, but Miami hasn’t been Miami for several years now. In Big 12 play, the four conference games before Colorado are: at Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas Tech, and Iowa State. While there are no easy outs in the Big 12 this season, this schedule is hardly murderer’s row. Texas Tech will likely be the only ranked team the Aggies play all season before facing the Buffs.

2) 29-26. Colorado is 2-1 against Texas A&M in College Station, but the last snap the Buffs took on the Aggies’ home field turned out badly for CU. The 2004 CU/A&M game went into overtime tied at 26-all, and, after Texas A&M managed a field goal in their possession, the Buffs were primed to pull off the road win with a touchdown. On third down, running back Bobby Purify ran for five yards, apparently picking up a first down for CU. The officials ruled, however, that Purify had fumbled, giving the ball and the game to the Aggies. It’s been four years since that play, but it remains the last play for CU at Kyle Field. Bad karma ….

3) Road weary. The Texas A&M game will be the third road game in four weeks for the Buffs. The road schedule in 2008 for Colorado is enough to make a grown man cry: at Florida State (I know, Jacksonville, but c’mon – anyone really want to call that a “neutral site” game?); at Kansas; at Missouri; at Texas A&M; and at Nebraska. See an easy win there anywhere? If the Buffs are 0-fer the road in 2008 prior to the Aggie game, it will be tough to pick up road win #1 at College Station.

Texas A&M game to keep and eye on before the CU/Texas A&M game:

Texas A&M at Oklahoma State – October 4th. The Big 12 opener for both teams. The Aggies and the Cowboys will both be looking to make a statement that they belong in the Big 12 South division race. In most preseason publications, the Oklahoma Sooners are ranked in the top five; Texas and Texas Tech in the top 15. Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, according to the pundits, will be left to battle it out for fourth place in the South division. For two teams looking to be the Kansas of 2008, a loss in this game will leave the losing players doubting their chances of competing for a title, and leave the losing team’s fans grumbling about having to wait yet another year to compete with the big boys in the South.

My thoughts: If this game were in Boulder, I would see it as being a win for Colorado. The Buffs match up well against the weaknesses of the Aggies. If the Colorado rushing game is in high gear by November 1st, the Buffs can dominate the line of scrimmage and time of possession. My chief concern: I am going to the game. While I am not prepared to call myself a jinx for the Buffs, Colorado does not have a stellar record in games I have traveled to witness (don’t ask – it’s embarrassing). One plus: the last game I did watch the Buffs play in person in the state of Texas, the Buffs won (in the Houston Bowl against UTEP in 2004).

So there you go! Buffs win!

November 8th – Iowa State

Fast facts: It’s year two of the Gene Chizik era in Ames. The Cyclones struggled in 2007, finishing with a 3-9 record (ISU did manage to tie Nebraska for fifth in Big 12 North, posting a 2-5 mark). The season was one of contrasts for Iowa State. An embarrassing loss to 1-AA Northern Iowa was immediately offset by an upset win over rival Iowa. An 0-4 start in conference play, including a 56-3 loss to Texas, was quickly forgotten after the Cyclones upset Kansas State and Colorado on consecutive weekends. Then, just when it appeared that ISU was ready to stake its claim as one of the most improved teams in the second half of 2007, the Cyclones closed out the year with a forgettable 45-7 defeat at the hands of the Kansas Jayhawks.

In 2007, Iowa State was led by record setters at quarterback (Bret Meyer) and wide receiver (Todd Blythe), yet was still awful on offense, finishing 102nd in the nation in total offense and 111th in the nation in scoring. Meyer and his 48 consecutive starts are gone; his replacement undecided. There is some talent and depth at running back, and, like Colorado, inexperienced linemen from 2007 now have a full year behind them. On defense, the pass defense is weak; the rush defense only marginally better.

Why Buff fans should look forward to this game with optimism:

1) It’s about freakin’ time! For the first time since week two against Eastern Washington, Buff fans will be looking at the team on the upcoming schedule and saying, “Okay, there’s a win”. The Cyclones may, by the end of September, have already matched their win total for all of 2007, but that doesn’t mean that ISU is all that much better. Colorado will be the sixth Big 12 game for Iowa State, and reality will have set in for the Cyclones long before they travel to Boulder.

2) 21-0. Yes, Iowa State beat Colorado last season, but that game was an aberration, as the Buffs inexplicably turned a 21-0 lead into a 31-28 defeat. If the Buffs are up by three scores early in the third quarter against the Cyclones this fall in Boulder, and face a fourth down on the Buffs’ side of the field, there will be a loud cry throughout Folsom Field: “Punt!”.

3) 47-14-1. The loss last season notwithstanding, Colorado just does not lose to Iowa State. The win in 2007 gave the Cyclones their third win over the Buffs – in 23 years. That’s 3-20 against CU since 1983, 1-11 in Boulder. The Buffs have more talent, the Buffs are playing at home, and the Buffs will not, after the debacle in Ames in ‘07, look past Iowa State.

Why there is reason for Buff fans to lose sleep the night before the game:

1) No lead is safe. The Buffs were on cruise control in the 2007 game. A 21-0 halftime lead against a 2-8 team. Yes, Iowa State had upset Kansas State the weekend before, but the 5-5 Buffs needed the win in order to ensure a bowl bid, and had dominated the first half. Go for it on fourth-and-one at your own 42-yard line? Why not? ISU had 100 yards of total offense in the first half, and was averaging only 18 points per game during the season. Oops. Demetrius Sumler was stuffed on the fourth down run, and before the Buffs could say “losing season”, CU was down 31-21 on its way to a 31-28 loss. Even if the Buffs get up big against the Cyclones on November 8th, there has to be an underlying sense on both sidelines that Iowa State is still in the game.

2) Grading on improvement. With Kent State, Toledo, Northern Iowa and Iowa on the non-conference schedule, and with Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech (all three of which will be ranked in 2008) traded out for Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, and Baylor (none of which will be ranked in 2008 – at least not at the outset), there is reason for optimism in Ames. The Cyclones may be sniffing a bowl bid come November, and looking at the Buffs as a possible victim.

3) Anything left in the tank? For Colorado, the Iowa State game will either represent a chance to show that the Colorado can dominate lesser competition, or a game between teams desperate to move into bowl contention. If the Buffs have struggled through a tough schedule, and get to this game 3-6 or 4-5, it’s anybody’s game.

Iowa State game to keep an eye on before the CU/Iowa State game:

Iowa State at UNLV – September 20th. You will have to look long and hard to find coverage of this game. ISU was 3-9 in 2007; UNLV 2-10 – not exactly a marquee matchup. Granted, there are other games of interest for CU fans involving Iowa State: Can the Cyclones avoid another upset at the hands of Northern Iowa? Can the Cyclones upset Iowa again? Who will win the battle of the presumed cellar dwellers when ISU faces off against Baylor? But the UNLV game will be a good yardstick of how far the Cyclones have come under Chizik in year two. Iowa State’s last non-conference road win? Try 2005, and that was against Army. If ISU is going to be a threat in Boulder, they need to win against on the road against an inferior Rebel team.

My thoughts: If you were going to rank the schedule for Colorado in 2008, this game would fit in as #3 in the “most winnable” category, behind Eastern Washington and Colorado State. If the Buffs lose this one, you will be able to google “Dan Hawkins” and “hot seat”, and get too many hits to count.

November 15th – Oklahoma State

Fast facts: Oklahoma State finished off a 7-6 2007 season (4-4 in Big 12 play) with a 49-33 win over Indiana in the Insight Bowl. Nothing unusual about those numbers. In the Mike Gundy era the records have been average (18-19 overall under Gundy), with the Cowboys trying to out-score an opponent with an explosive offense offset by a porous defense. Need more numbers? Try these. In 2007, Oklahoma State was 7th in the nation in total offense. Wow. In 2007, Oklahoma State was 101st in total defense. Ick. The Cowboys cannot stop anyone – they have to try and outscore them. It works out for Gundy and his crew about half the time.

Look for more of the same in 2008. Zac Robinson may be the best quarterback in the nation no one is talking about. Robinson set a school single season record last season for total offense (3,671 yards), and did so despite not playing until game three. Four full time starters are back on the offensive line to make sure Robinson sets new records this fall, and there is plenty of talent at the skill positions.

Now, about that defense … Last season, Oklahoma State gave up 562 yards of total offense – to Troy (in a 41-23 loss). The Cowboys beat Texas Tech last season, 49-45, but not without trying to lose. OSU surrendered a mind-boggling 718 yards of total offense to the Texas Tech, and still won the game. In order to try and make the defense decent, coach Gundy imported six junior college defensive players. How well the imports improve the OSU defense will go along way in determining the fate of the Cowboys fare in 2008.

Why Buff fans should look forward to this game with optimism:

1) Poor man’s Texas Tech. Oklahoma State is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Big 12 South. They can’t get no respect. Despite the efforts of Gundy (and the millions of dollars donated by T. Boone Pickens), the Cowboys cannot escape the shadow of Oklahoma (or Texas, or Texas A&M, or even, lately, of Texas Tech). Since the inception of the Big 12, Oklahoma has made six Big 12 title game appearances (winning five), while Oklahoma State has yet to win a division title. In fact, the last title the Cowboys won was the 1976 Big Eight title, shared with Colorado and Oklahoma. OSU’s reward? A date with BYU in the Tangerine Bowl – the Buffs went to the Orange Bowl). My point? By November 15th, it will be apparent to all in Stillwater that 2008 will not be a breakthrough year, either. The Cowboys will be playing for a bowl record; not a championship.

2) Sandwich game. For Oklahoma State, the game against Colorado falls between games against rivals Texas Tech and Oklahoma. A week after trying to keep up with the spread offense of the Red Raiders, the Cowboys go on the road again to face the Buffs. Up next for Oklahoma State after CU? Oklahoma at home. Colorado catches a break here as the Buffs get Oklahoma State at home in between two emotional games for the Cowboys.

3) November in Boulder. Okay, So the weather is just as likely to be crappy in Stillwater in November as it is in Boulder, but the Cowboy players cannot be looking forward to the mid-November trip with much excitement. Plus, the CU game will represent the end of a long road season for OSU. Oklahoma State’s Big 12 road schedule in 2008: at Missouri; at Texas; at Texas Tech; at Colorado. Tough to see light at the end of that tunnel. If OSU can’t handle Washington State in Seattle in the season opener, the Cowboys may be winless on the road heading to Boulder.

Why there is reason for Buff fans to lose sleep the night before the game:

1) Poor man’s Texas Tech. While the Red Raiders are getting national attention, and will be ranked in the top 15 in the country at the outset of the season, Zac Robinson and the Cowboys’ offense take a backseat to no one. Robinson completed over 60% of his passes last season, and while Texas Tech was second in the nation in total offense last season, Oklahoma State was 7th. And the Cowboys beat the Red Raiders last season. There might not be as much attention paid to OSU in the national media, but the Cowboys can play with anyone.

2) Cowboys are due. Oklahoma State went 4-4 in Big 12 play in 2007, the best record in three seasons under Gundy. A 24-23 loss to Texas A&M and a 38-35 loss to Texas kept the Cowboys from being conference title contenders. A few breaks in 2008, and the Buffs will be facing a team with big dreams on their minds.

3) Rant Bowl. Mike Gundy v. Dan Hawkins. “I’m a Man!” v. “This ain’t intramurals”. Two of the media’s favorite coaches square off in Boulder. If either team is in contention for a Big 12 title berth, look for YouTube hits to go up that week. Advantage: Gundy.

Oklahoma State game to keep an eye on before the CU/Oklahoma State game:

Houston at Oklahoma State – September 6th. Houston has a new coach in 2008, Kevin Sumlin, as former Houston head coach Art Briles has moved on to Baylor. The cupboard was not left bare for Sumlin, as the core talent from an 8-5 team returns. Plus, Sumlin has offensive coordinator stints at Texas A&M and Oklahoma on his resume, so he is certainly familiar with the Cowboys. OSU stumbled out the gate in 2007, losing early to Troy. Will Houston be the Cowboys’ Trojan horse in 2008?

My thoughts: Say what you will about Gary Barnett (and I can say plenty), the Buffs in November always seemed to win the games they had to. Improbable Big 12 North titles in 2004 and 2005 were fueled by big wins in November. It’s time for the Buffs under Dan Hawkins to begin making their own November statements. Oklahoma State will come to Boulder in November already having won six or seven games. They will leave Boulder with the same win total.

November 28th – at Nebraska

Fast facts: If you are a Colorado fan, you have heard all you need to hear about how “Bo knows football” during the past off-season. Bo Pelini, in case you have been living in a biosphere for the past eight months, is the new head coach at Nebraska, replacing Bill Callahan. Pelini, with Nebraska as defensive coordinator for all of one season (2003), is seen as the returning savior of the Tom Osborne legacy. Pelini’s impressive resume, with Nebraska, Oklahoma, and LSU, belies the fact that Pelini has never been a head coach anywhere (yes, Husker fans, he is 1-0, having served as interim head coach for Nebraska’s bowl win over Michigan State in the Alamo bowl in 2003. Would you be so quick to point out Pelini’s “record” as head coach if the Cornhuskers had lost that game?).

Notwithstanding the unbridled optimism which has overtaken the Husker Nation, what does Bo Pelini have to work with? The offense will be good. Joe Ganz took over for Sam Keller late in the 2007 season, and threw for almost 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns in just three games. Running back Marion Lucky is the top returning rusher in the Big 12. The offensive line is more than adequate.

So what’s the problem? Well, that would be the defense. Yes, Ganz threw 15 touchdown passes in three games. Yes, the Cornhuskers scored a combined 163 points in three games under Ganz – and Nebraska lost two of those games. Other than rolling over Kansas State in a 73-31 win, the Cornhuskers lost to Kansas, 76-39, and Colorado, 65-51. In 2007, The Blackshirts gave up more first downs, yards, and points in a season than any other team in school history. And that unit lost all of its linebackers. Bo may know defense, but it may take some time – and different personnel – before Nebraska will regain elite status.

Why Buff fans should look forward to this game with optimism:

1) Defense wins championships. And Nebraska does not have a defense. Yes, the Cornhuskers will be better in 2008 under the tutelage of Bo Pelini – they could hardly be much worse. 114th in scoring defense in 2007. 116th in passing defense. 112th in total defense. The bright spot? The passing defense – 84th in the nation. Those numbers won’t be fixed overnight, especially not for a defense which was so thin that running back Cody Glenn was moved to linebacker – and he may start.

2) The aura is missing. The aura of playing Nebraska in Lincoln is, if not gone, at least on vacation. Colorado has played well in Lincoln of late, winning in both 2002 (28-13) and 2004 (26-20). Losses in 2000 and 2006 were close, and those were bad CU teams. In 2000, a 3-7 Buff squad was up, 32-31, over 9th-ranked Nebraska before falling on a last second field goal, and, in 2006, a 2-9 Buff squad was within a touchdown, at 20-14, late in the third quarter, before running out of steam in a 37-14 loss. The Buffs can do Lincoln.

3) Exposed. Nebraska doesn’t leave home to play a college football game until October 11th (insert your own joke about non-conference scheduling here). While there will be dancing in the streets in Lincoln after Nebraska beats up on Western Michigan, San Jose State, and New Mexico State to open the season (and will likely – though unbelievably – get Nebraska close to being nationally ranked), the following three games will show the college football world what the Cornhuskers are made of. Nebraska hosts Virginia Tech and Missouri before finally taking to the road to face Texas Tech. While two of the three games are at home, they are at least against legitimate teams. If Nebraska wins two of those three games, I will start to believe in the magic of Bo. Until then ….

Why there is reason for Buff fans to lose sleep the night before the game:

1) Home cooking. If Nebraska is not 3-0 before the Virginia Tech game, and not putting up good, in not impressive statistics, there will be cause for alarm in Lincoln. Here’s guessing the Cornhuskers will be undefeated when the Hokies come to Memorial Stadium. Virginia Tech is a good team, but lost most of its receivers, its leading rusher, and has only four returning starters on defense. A Nebraska win here would not be a complete shock. Then there is Missouri. A likely top ten team heading to Lincoln for the conference opener, the Tigers must face the reality of not having won on the road against Nebraska since 1978. Bo has an early season schedule tailor-made for a boost in confidence for the Cornhusker players. That momentum could carry through the remainder of the season.

2) It’s a rivalry, stupid. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”. The more Cornhusker fans decry the concept that Colorado/Nebraska is a rivalry, the bigger the rivalry becomes. While the 2008 showdown may not be for the Big 12 North title, it is a big game, a nationally televised game, a game after a bye week. The Cornhuskers will be ready for the Buffs in November.

3) 18-46-2. While the Buffs have certainly made inroads in the rivalry of late (winning four of the past seven games against Nebraska), this is still Nebraska we are talking about, and the overall series record heavily favors the Cornhuskers. Nebraska may have been brought down a few pegs over the past few seasons, but it is inconceivable at this point that the Cornhuskers will ever fall under the “sure win” category. Regardless of what Missouri, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma put up against Nebraska earlier in the season, Colorado will be lucky to escape Lincoln with a victory.

Nebraska game to keep and eye on before the Colorado/Nebraska game:

Nebraska v. Missouri – October 4th. This is the “show me” game for the team from the “Show Me State”. The Tigers put it to the Cornhuskers, 41-6, in Columbia last season. Can Missouri overcome all its history of misery at Memorial Stadium to rest (last win: 35-31, November 18, 1978), or will Nebraska re-enter the national rankings after putting upstart Missouri back in its place as an also-ran in the Big 12? It should be a loud and interesting game.

My thoughts: Ask me again in early November. If, as expected, the Buffs are a better team than in 2007, but, due to its schedule, has little to show for it, this will be a tough game for Colorado. Conversely, if Colorado has broken through the tough part of its schedule relatively unscathed, and is coming off two dominating home wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma State, the Buffs could be rolling into Lincoln with great momentum and optimism about the future.

OVERALL PREDICTIONS:

There are two ways to break down the 2008 Colorado schedule. One way is to work from the extremes towards the middle. In that respect, Colorado State, Eastern Washington, Kansas State, and Iowa State are the most likely wins. West Virginia, Texas, Kansas, and Missouri will all likely be ranked when the Buffs play them (perhaps all undefeated and in the top ten), so there are four losses. This means the 2008 schedule comes down to four games: at Florida State, at Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, and at Nebraska. In order to improve on the 6-6 regular season record of 2007, the Buffs will need to win three of those four games. With three of those games being on the road, such an improvement may be a tall order for Colorado.

I prefer to break down the 2008 schedule into segments. The first segment contains the first two games: v. CSU in Denver, and at home against Eastern Washington. This is easy: for the Buffs to have a winning season, both of these games must be victories.

The second segment of the season stretches four games: West Virginia; at Florida State; Texas; and at Kansas. All but Florida State will be ranked, the remaining three likely ranked in the top ten when playing the Buffs. Colorado needs to win at least one of these games. Not just to make a splash in the national media. Not just to enhance the overall record. But to set up a stretch run to a bowl game in 2008. Florida State is the easiest pick for a CU win, but the game is at Jacksonville, and the Seminoles remain an enigma. A win over Texas at home, or even over Kansas on the road, is not inconceivable. This is the crucial stretch of the season. 0-4 could send the Buffs reeling. 1-3 gives the Buffs life in the bowl chase. 2-2 (or better!), and the set up for a magical season will be in place.

The third segment of the season stretches three games: Kansas State; at Missouri; at Texas A&M. If the Buffs fail to win two games in the first segment, or fail to win one in the second segment, this stretch of the season will decide Colorado’s fate in 2008. Should the Buffs get through the first half 3-3, a bowl bid becomes a strong possibility, as the Buffs will only need one win in this segment. A victory over Kansas State leaves the Buffs playing with house money against Missouri and Texas A&M. A win over either would be gravy.

The final segment of the 2008 campaign involves three games: Iowa State; Oklahoma State; and at Nebraska. A 4-5 Buff team will not need to panic, as both Iowa State and Oklahoma State are winnable games. Should the Buffs enter the final phase of the season with a winning record, the speculation will now be over which bowl the Buffs will be invited to attend.

A tough schedule; a long season. I see great improvement in the overall talent and attitude in Boulder. How that manifests itself on the playing field remains to be seen. This could be a breakout season for the Buffs, but I believe that will come in 2009 (when the non-conference slate is much more manageable). Most breakout teams, the season before they make their move on the national stage, post eight wins the year before (including Colorado, which finished 8-4 before going 11-1 and 11-1-1 in 1989 and 1990). I see seven regular season wins, and a bowl win to conclude the season on a high note, and to set the stage for 2009.

Others may want more out of 2008, but for me – “Eight is Enough”.

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Archive Game of the Week

November 3, 1990 – @ Nebraska

#9 Colorado 27, #3 Nebraska 12

For three quarters, the Nebraska Cornhuskers kept the Colorado offense at bay.

For three quarters, Nebraska looked to be national championship contenders.

For three quarters, Eric Bieniemy, the leading rusher in the nation, played so poorly it appeared he would be the goat of the game.

Unfortunately for the Cornhusker faithful, the fourth quarter was played.

At the end of the third quarter, the scoreboard read: Nebraska 12, Colorado 0. The Buffs were on the verge of being shutout for the first time since Nebraska turned the trick two years earlier in Lincoln. Eric Bieniemy had fumbled four times, losing three on the cold and rainy afternoon. “I was frustrated, disgusted, you name it,” said Bieniemy. “It was just basically a lack of concentration.” With the start of the final quarter, though, the Buffs had the wind at their backs; their season on the line.

Down 12-0 after Nebraska scored late in the third quarter on a 46-yard pass from Mickey Joseph to Johnny Mitchell, the Buffs took off on their first extended drive of the game. Marching 71 yards, Bieniemy scored from a yard out to cut the Nebraska lead to 12-7. The score by Biemiemy was just the second rushing touchdown allowed by the Cornhuskers all season. “It all came down to this play,” said Bill McCartney. “The offense created a new line of scrimmage, and Bieniemy went over.”

Bieniemy, though, was just getting started.

After the Colorado defense forced a Nebraska punt, the Buffs drove down the field again, keyed by a 34-yard pass from Darian Hagan to Mike Pritchard. Facing a fourth down at the Nebraska two-yard line, Bieniemy again did the honors. The senior tailback scored his second touchdown of the quarter, giving the Buffs their first lead of the game, 13-12,with 8:37 to play (the two-point conversion pass attempt failed).

The Colorado defense, which had held the Cornhuskers at bay while waiting for the Colorado offense to come to life, now smelled blood. On the next possession by the home team, the Buff defense forced a three-and-out once again. The Cornhuskers now faced a fourth-and-four from their own 31-yard line. The game turned for good on the next play, when Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne, known as a conservative coach, went for a fake punt. CU senior linebacker Rob Hutchins stayed at home, though, stopping the Nebraska runner a yard short of a first down. Taking over at the Nebraska 30, the Buffs took only five plays to score, capped by a three yard run by Bieniemy, his third score of the quarter.

Colorado had now put up 20 points in one quarter against a defense which had allowed only 22 second half points to its first eight opponents combined. The Buffs were not out of the woods yet, though, as Nebraska trailed by only one score, 20-12, with 4:35 remaining. The Buff defense again rose to the occasion, as linebacker Alfred Williams sacked Joseph back at the Nebraska ten-yard line on fourth down. The celebration could now begin. The fourth touchdown of the quarter by Bieniemy, this time from five yards out with 1:31 to play, was the icing on the cake.

The four fourth quarter scores by Eric Bieniemy tied a school record for the most rushing touchdowns in a game. The 27 points tallied by the Buffs represented the most the Cornhuskers had ever given up in a single quarter in the 45 years the school had been keeping such records.

Nebraska “probably played well enough for three quarters to put it away,” coach Osborne lamented. “At the end of the third quarter and in the fourth quarter they got some things going.”

With the win, Colorado vaulted back into the national spotlight. Almost certain of returning to the Orange Bowl as the Big Eight champions (all the Buffs had left were home games against 3-6 Oklahoma State and 5-4 Kansas State), Colorado was ranked #4 in the next poll. Five voters even tabbed the Buffs as the #1 team in the nation, despite the loss and the tie in their 8-1-1 record.

The race for the Orange Bowl seemingly had been decided on a cold and rainy field in Lincoln, Nebraska. It was now up to the fates and a little luck for Colorado to have a chance at a national title.

Penthouse to Outhouse to Penthouse

Eric Bieniemy came into the Nebraska game leading the nation in rushing, averaging 153 yards per game. His 1,228 total yards was in sight of the school record of 1,386 yards set by Charlie Davis in 1971. Bieniemy already had the most rushing touchdowns in school history, and he had already set several other school standards. For three quarters against Nebraska, though, he did not play like the leading rusher in the country. Three fumbles almost cost the Buffs any chance of a comeback, and Bieniemy knew who to blame. “It was my fault”, Bieniemy said of the fumbles. “I am just glad I had the opportunity to make up for it.” Did McCartney consider other options after the errors of this star running back? Not a chance, said the CU head coach. “I told him nobody felt worse than he did,” said McCartney, “and that he has got to go in and cover the ball better, and he did.”

He certainly did.

The fourth quarter heroics from Bieniemy gave Colorado its first win in Lincoln since 1967, and its first consecutive wins over the Cornhuskers since 1960-61. The 5′ 7″ senior running back ran around and through the Cornhuskers for 137 yards on the afternoon. Four of his 38 carries had resulted in fumbles; four others resulted in touchdowns. To the delight of thousands of CU fans, the touchdowns turned out to be more important.

Back from the Brink

At 1-1-1 after the Illinois loss, the Colorado season was on the brink. Ranked 20th and facing two ranked teams over the next two weeks, the glitter of the 1989 season had seemingly all worn off. There was the very real possibility that CU would, in late 1990, being playing just for a winning season and a bowl bid. But after the Illinois loss, the 1990 Buffs refused to lose.”I think what we are talking about here is a group of guys who will not be beat, cannot be beat,” said McCartney after the Nebraska win. Down 12-0, facing a tough Nebraska defense and adverse weather conditions (37-degree day, with rain turning to snow in winds which gusted up to 25 mph), the Buffs still prevailed.

And just as the Cornhuskers had seemingly been punished for their light schedule by the pollsters, the Buffs were now seemingly being rewarded for their tough slate of games. A #4 ranking positioned the Buffs for a late season title run, but again other teams were helping to make it possible. While CU was coming back to defeat Nebraska, #1 Virginia fell out of the top ten after losing, 41-38, to #16 Georgia Tech. #4 Auburn finally was beaten, being blasted by #15 Florida, 48-7. #5 Illinois, which had handed the Buffs their only loss on the year, was crushed by #13 Iowa, 54-28. All that stood now between the Buffs and a #1 ranking were #1 Notre Dame (7-1), #2 Washington (8-1, with its only loss to CU), and #3 Houston (8-0), the sole remaining unbeaten and untied team in the national rankings. The only other team without a loss was Georgia Tech, 7-0-1 after knocking off Virginia to move from #16 to #7 in the polls.

Watching the Nebraska game, then waiting until the next morning for the polls to come out, a number of different scenarios were being discussed by Colorado fans. The most likely for Colorado was a rematch with Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. This was predicated on Notre Dame defeating #9 Tennessee the next week. If the Irish lost to the Volunteers, or merely wanted to avoid giving Colorado a chance to avenge the 21-6 loss from a year ago, they could opt for the Cotton Bowl. This would probably mean a matchup for the Buffs against fifth-ranked Miami on their home field.

And what about Houston? The undefeated Cougars could lay claim for a national title by winning out. But Houston still had 14th-ranked Texas to play, and the Cougars were on probation and not allowed to play in any bowl game. As a result, few were giving #2 Houston much chance of garnering enough support to be declared #1 January 2nd.

Georgia Tech? The Yellow Jackets only had a 13-13 tie with North Carolina to mar its record, and the three remaining opponents had a combined record of 13-15. Still, the ACC was considered a weak conference, and even though Georgia Tech had jumped nine spots to #7 in the latest poll, there did not seem to be much of a chance for the Rambling Wreck to lay claim to a national title.

At least, that was what we thought.

[Of course, Colorado and Georgia Tech would go on to share the national championship in 1990. The Buffs went on to win their final two games – 41-22 over Oklahoma State and 64-3 over hapless Kansas State. Georgia Tech would win out as well. After Tech defeated Nebraska in the Citrus Bowl, and the Buffs defeated Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, Colorado won the Associated Press vote for #1; losing out to Georgia Tech by one point in the United Press International Poll.]

Want more? Send me an email at stuart@cuatthegame.com, and we will see about getting your favorite game posted. (Remember, I have every game CU has played since 1980 in storage, just waiting for your email).

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5 Responses to “Preseason – 2008 – Fall Practice coverage; Roster battles; predictions”

  1. Hi – It’s great to find such topical writing on the Web as I have been able to fiind here. I agree with much of what is written here and I’ll be returning to this site again. Thanks again for posting such great reading material!!

  2. The site very professional! Keep up the good work! Oh yes, one extra comment – maybe you could add more pictures too! So, good luck to your team!

  3. SanJoseBuff

    Stuart,

    Thanks for the good work. Please correct a typo in your blog, it is not “Darian Hagen”
    but Hagan. Go Buffs! ’73

  4. mam2jd

    Stuart –

    Thanks for the leg work! As always you’ve been thorough and informative. Keep up the good work.

    P.S. Rivals had the Buffs at #34, up from #56 last year.

  5. The schedule change where a home-home series with Louisiana State in place of a 2-1 with Fresno State is so much more than a simple excersise of comparing strength of schedule among the Big 12. One aspect that can not be ignored involves ‘Bulldog fatigue’. For some fans, Fresno is less of a worthy opponent and more of a burden. As fans, we’ve been there, done that, and got the t-shirt. Due to Fresno’s hunger for respect, anyone who believes CU will sweep the series could be in for another rude awakening.

    LSU, on the other hand, has not faced CU in a regular season game since 1980, before many on campus had even been born. LSU is renowned for it’s tailgating and game-day experience. When it comes down to desirable road-trip experiences, trading LSU’s Death Valley for Fresno State’s Central San Joaquin Valley is definately dumbing down.

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