April 30th

Colorado held its own in 2011 NFL draft

The Colorado Buffaloes more than held their own in comparison to the rest of the new Pac-12 this weekend.

Only one new rival, USC, had more players selected in the first four rounds (four) than did Colorado (three). Cal and Stanford did catch the Buffs with their third picks in the fourth round, but the fact remains that, well through the midway point of the 2011 draft, Colorado was second alone in its new league in number of players drafted. At the end of the final day of the draft, only USC’s nine picks were more than the Buffs’ four.

(Before you assume a drop off next April, remember that there are more seniors in the Class of 2012 than there was in the Class of 2011. How well the Buffs’ fare next spring remains to be determined, but there is a decent chance that Colorado fans could be paying attention to the draft next year as well).

The totals from the Pac-12 in the 2011 NFL draft are: USC – nine picks; Colorado – four; Cal – four; Stanford – four; Oregon State – three; UCLA – three; Arizona – three; Washington – two; Utah – two; Oregon – one; Washington State – one; and Arizona State – one.

Notes of note from the 2011 NFL Draft:

– The Pac-12, including the three Buffs and two Utes drafted out of Colorado and Utah, had 37 players drafted. The Big 12, minus Colorado and Nebraska, had 19. Had Colorado remained a member of the Big 12, the Buffs would have tied for second in that league as well, behind Nebraska’s seven picks. For the ten teams remaining in the Big 12, Oklahoma, Texas, and Baylor each had four players selected. Otherwise, the Big 12 was represented by Missouri, with three picks (two in the top ten of the draft; the third not until the seventh round), followed by Kansas State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech with one each. Kansas and Iowa State both went the entire draft without a player being selected;

– Overall, Colorado finished in a tie for 14th nationally. USC and North Carolina finished with the most draft picks, with nine each. Eight players from Miami (Fla.) in the draft, while there were seven Nebraska Cornhuskers taken. Tied for fifth on the list, with six players taken, were Georgia, Clemson, Iowa, LSU. Teams with five players taken included: Alabama; Ohio State; Pittsburgh; Wisconsin; and TCU. Colorado, with four players taken, finished in a tie for 14th on the list with the following schools: California; Baylor; Stanford; Texas; Oklahoma; West Virginia; Auburn; UConn; Florida; Illinois; and Mississippi State.

– Arizona had three players selected in 2011 NFL draft – all three were defensive linemen;

– Oregon, which played in the 2011 BCS national championship game, had only one player selected (linebacker Casey Matthews, in the fourth round). Auburn, which won the national champiosnhip, had four players selected – two in the first round and two in the seventh round;

– Boise State, which had players recruited by Dan Hawkins before he left for Boulder and Colorado in 2006, had three players from the Class of 2006 drafted;

– Colorado 2011 non-conference opponent draftees: Hawai’i – three, including two wide receivers and a running back; California – four, incluing a defensive lineman, a linebacker, and a defensive back; Colorado State – zero; and Ohio State – five, all from the defense (a first round defensive tackle; two linebackers; and two defensive backs.

April 29th

Colorado only Pac-12 team with two first round selections in the 2011 NFL draft

In the first round of the 2011 NFL draft, there were five first round picks from teams of the new Pac-12.

And two of them wore the black-and-gold of Colorado.

Other than Nate Solder and Jimmy Smith, the only three other first round picks from Pac-12 teams came from Washington (Jake Locker, quarterback, No. 8 overall); USC (Tyron Smith, offensive tackle, No. 9 overall); and from Cal (Cameron Jordan, defensive end, No. 24 overall). Shut out of the first round were Oregon and Stanford, both top five finishers at the end of the 2010 season, along with the other six schools in the new conference: Utah; Arizona; UCLA; Arizona State; Oregon State; and Washington State).

Looking back at the Buffs’ old conference, Colorado fared well by comparison. Two other Big 12 schools had two first round picks, Missouri and Baylor, but otherwise, only Nebraska and Texas A&M, with one first round pick each, had their team’s name called. Shut out of the first round were Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas, and Iowa State.

There are still five rounds of the 2011 NFL draft to go, and, if the draft boards are any indication, Colorado will soon be lapped by some of the higher ranked schools from the past few seasons …

… but it’s nice to enjoy Colorado’s status for a day or so. And to look forward to what can be again …


April 26th

Why all the love for Arizona State?

Last season, Arizona State finished with a 6-6 record, including two wins over 1-AA teams (which is why the Sun Devils were not invited to a bowl game).

Last season, Colorado finished with a 5-7 record.

Last season, Arizona State finished on a roll, winning two of its final three games, including a 30-29 two overtime thriller over in-state rival Arizona.

Last season, Colorado finished on a roll, winning two of its final three games after Dan Hawkins was fired and Brian Cabral was installed as the interim coach.

Arizona State has 17 starters returning, although two starters, cornerback Omar Bolden and receiver T.J. Simpson, suffered knee injuries this spring, and miss most if not all of the 2011 season. The Sun Devils’ quarterback, Brock Osweiler, returns – with two career starts.

Colorado has 17 starters returning. The Buffaloes’ quarterback, Tyler Hansen, returns – with 16 career starts.

Arizona State hasn’t had a winning season since 2007.

Colorado hasn’t had a winning season since 2005 – but was 6-6 going into its bowl game in 2007.

Arizona State is a trendy pick to win the first-ever Pac-12 South title.

Colorado is a consensus pick to finish at or near the bottom of the Pac-12 South in 2011.

Getting the drift here?

There are many similarities between Colorado and Arizona State heading into the 2011 season, but the Buffaloes are considered to be in re-building mode, while Arizona State is considered as primed to challenge for the Pac-12 title.

“A lot of people are talking about the Rose Bowl,” quarterback Brock Osweiler told ESPN.com. “But we’re talking about the Sugar Bowl (and the BCS national championship game). That’s how much confidence we have as a team.”

One reason for optimism in Tempe is that, while the Sun Devils have not had a winning season since 2007, they have been close. In 2010, Arizona State should have defeated #11 Wisconsin, but lost late, 20-19. The following week, the Sun Devils stayed close to #5 Oregon (42-31) despite seven turnovers. The story was the same against USC (34-33) and #6 Stanford (17-13). Close losses all, but losses nonetheless. In 2009, Arizona State finished 4-8, but lost four games by five or fewer points.

“We have some experience coming back, and we have a lot of confidence in what were doing,” said Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson. “Our players have been through a lot the last three years, lost some close games. Now it’s their chance to step up and make some plays.”

So, despite an 11-21 record against Division 1-A competition the last three seasons (Colorado is 12-23 against Division 1-A competition the last three seasons), Arizona State is being picked to win the Pac-12 South.

And Colorado is being picked to bring up the rear of the Pac-12 South.

Apparently, attitude is everything. “Everybody has to be optimistic before the season starts, but this year it’s like everybody knows,” said wide receiver Gerell Robinson. “It’s not a hope or a feeling. Everybody just knows that if we do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll get where we want to be.”

If attitude is the necessary element to go from basement to penthouse in the Pac-12 South, then you have to like the Buffs’ chances, both short and long term. Head coach Jon Embree and his staff have been nothing if not focused on bringing in a new attitude to Boulder. And it seems as if the Buffs are buying in.

So perhaps, just perhaps, this Buff team will prove to be better than what is being predicted …

April 25th

“We had a few guys out there forgetting what they’re doing out there”

Perhaps UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel, if he doesn’t last much longer as the coach in Westwood, can take up the role of “Head Apologist”.

Last fall, after his team was skunked at home by Stanford, 35-0, Neuheisel took a microphone at the end of the game and apologized to those of the Bruin faithful who remained for the ending. “Tonight was an offensive disaster,” coach Rick Neuheisel at the time. “There is no other way to say it.”

After the 2011 Spring game, Neuheisel again grabbed the microphone, and again apologized, this time to the few thousand in attendance for the final scrimmage of the spring. “I know it looked a little rough with that offensive line,” Neuheisel explained. UCLA has gone without four offensive linemen this spring, and was forced (like Colorado) to conduct a scrimmage instead of a game.

“I don’t think we were sharp as a group,” said new offensive coordinator Mike Johnson. “I don’t think we threw the ball well. I don’t think we caught the ball well.” Between junior Richard Brehaut and freshman Brett Hundley, the Bruin quarterbacks went 18-for-33 for 159 yards and two touchdowns. As a group, UCLA quarterbacks had 12 passes deflected.

“I don’t have a depth chart at quarterback,” Neuheisel said, who has named himself as the UCLA quarterbacks coach. “We can’t have quarterbacks playing inconsistent football if we’re going to be a winning football team. Can’t do it. And I’m not going to tolerate it as a coach. I expect more out of myself, and I expect more out of the players that play the position.”

“It was a little sloppy,” said quarterback Richard Brehaut. “We had a few guys forgetting what they’re doing out there.”

UCLA opens on the road on September 3rd against Houston …

April 24th

Former Colorado coach near the top of the “hot seat” candidates this fall

Colorado fans can be pleased to be off of at least one chart for a change – the “coaches in the ‘hot seat’ chart”. With the Dan Hawkins’ era finally a part of CU lore, new head coach Jon Embree will enjoy a honeymoon period of at least two, and perhaps three, seasons.

Meanwhile, former Colorado head coach Rick Neuheisel is atop many of those lists this spring. In three seasons at his alma mater, Neuheisel’s UCLA Bruins have posted records of 4-8, 7-6, and 4-8. The 2010 team lost six of its final seven games, with back-to-back wins over No. 23 Houston and No. 7 Texas in non-conference play a distant memory.

Neuheisel knows that this is his year to produce. “I don’t feel it. I’m sure it’s there,” said Neuheisel of the extra pressure to win this season. “I don’t go up there and sit in (the athletic director’s) office every day, but I don’t feel it.”

His actions, if not his words, though, seem to indicate Neuheisel does feel the heat. He has replaced five of his coaches, including both coordinators (remember how it took over a month for Neuheisel to find a new defensive coordinator?). To focus the attention – and pressure – more upon himself, Neuheisel has taken over as the Bruins’ quarterback coach. “I’m putting it on me. I don’t want it on anybody else’s shoulders,” said Neuheisel. “It’s been hard for me to watch that position coached by somebody else (that would be Norm Chow, who coached three quarterbacks to Heisman trophies before parting ways with Neuheisel and landing back at Utah) … but it’s what I do. It’s what I enjoy doing. I’m excited about the challenge.”

It’s not as if Neuheisel has much to work with. A story by ESPN blogger Ted Miller, entitled “No savior yet for UCLA at quarterback“, started off with, “The savior is going to prom next week”, suggesting that it may fall to true freshman Brett Hundley to lead the Bruin offense this fall.

Then there is the division of duties. UCLA ran a pistol offense last year. The move worked well for the rushing attack (UCLA was 32nd in the nation in 2010), but was a disaster for the passing game (where UCLA finished 116th out of 120 teams). Now Neuheisel has brought in Mike Johnson – who has no experience with the pistol – to be the offensive coordinator, while also hiring Jim Mastro to be the running backs coach. Mastro comes to UCLA from Nevada, where the pistol has been perfected. “It’s defined,” said Johnson of the roles of the offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, and running backs coach. “My job as offensive coordinator is not to come up with all the ideas. It’s to be the leader of the group.”

UCLA opens the 2011 schedule with a road game against Houston before returning home to face San Jose State and Texas. Both Houston and Texas will have revenge on their minds, as both were ranked when the Bruins upset them last fall. In Pac-12 play, UCLA avoids having to play Oregon, but faces tough road games against Stanford, Utah, and USC. The Bruins will host Colorado in the final home game of the season on November 19th.

Can Neuheisel produce a winning record and save his job? Neuheisel isn’t worried about his future. “If it were to happen, that they were to replace me, I’m confident I would find another job,” said Neuheisel. “It wouldn’t be the end of the world … But I’m adamantly wanting to be here, because this is my school, and I believe we’re closing in on where we want to go.”

Where have we heard that one before …

Other 2011 Colorado opponents with coaches on the “hot seat” …

UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel comes in at No. 4 on the list of potential firings at CoachesHotSeat.com.

First on the list of coaches believed to be close to firing is Washington State’s head coach Paul Wulff. In three seasons with the Cougars, Wulff has posted records of 2-11, 1-11, and 2-10. For a time in December, it was thought that the firing of Wulff – and the hiring of former Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti, but Wulff was given a reprieve. Barring a significant improvement in 2011, however, Wulff will be gone this December.

No. 6 on the hot seat list is Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel. The listing, of course, has nothing to do with Tressel’s ten-year record with the Buckeyes of 106-22. Instead, it has everything to do with Tressel knowing that he had players who had violated NCAA rules by receiving improper benefits, then lying about his knowledge for nine months (so his players could remain eligible). Jim Tressel has voluntarily agreed to sit out coaching along the sidelines during the first five weeks of the 2011 season (including the Colorado game), but that is a self-imposed sanction. The NCAA isn’t done with Tressel … yet.

A surprise at No. 8 on the hot seat list is Jeff Tedford at Cal. All Tedford had done for the Bears is post a 72-42 record in nine seasons in Berkeley, but, in the “what have you done for me lately” world of college athletics, last season’s 5-7 record – coupled with the rise of rival Stanford into the top ten nationally – has made things uncomfortable for Tedford.

Coming in at No. 16 on the list is Steve Fairchild at Colorado State. In three seasons with the Rams, Fairchild has posted records of 7-6, 3-9, and 3-9. After a promising start to his career in Ft. Collins, including a bowl win over Fresno State in 2008, Fairchild and his Rams have fallen upon hard times. Colorado State lost its last nine games in 2009 after a 3-0 start, and limped home with losses in five of its last six games last year, including year-end embarrassing losses to BYU (49-10) and Wyoming (44-0).

The No. 22 entry on the hotseat list is Dennis Erickson at Arizona State. Erickson is a mediocre 25-24 in four seasons with the Sun Devils, including six straight losses to end a 4-8 campaign in 2009. Two big wins to end the 2010 season, including a win over rival (and 23rd-ranked) Arizona, gave Erickson another year. With almost all of his team returning for 2011, Arizona State is expected to compete for the first Pac-12 South title. Anything short of that, and Erickson may not be with the Sun Devils in 2012.

The final Colorado 2011 opponent with their coach on the hot seat is USC, whose coach, Lane Kiffin, comes in at No. 25 in the rankings. Kiffin posted an 8-5 record in his first season with the Trojans, coming to Los Angeles after a one-year stint (7-6) with Tennessee. NCAA sanctions aside, Kiffin has not exactly endeared himself to the Trojan Nation, so unacceptable loss totals – like the five losses in 2010 – will not long be tolerated.

It will be interesting to see how the 2011 season plays out. Not to wish anyone ill, but … it is nice to see fans of other teams have to struggle with their coaching staff for a change …

April 21st

Eric Richter fourth strongest player in NCAA

Junior Eric Richter, who moved from the offensive line to the defensive line this spring, is considered by ESPN to be the 4th-strongest player in the NCAA.

According to ESPN, Richter, “a transfer from Saddleback College in California, wowed his new CU teammates when he arrived one day in the weight room last year and benched 500 pounds for three reps, according to Buffs receiver Scotty McKnight. The 6-foot-3, 310-pound former defensive lineman can bench press 405 pounds for sets of 6-to-8, reports new CU strength coach Malcolm Blacken, who adds that Richter also did 41 reps of 225 last month.”

Arizona loses three to ACL injuries

Colorado fans had to go without a Spring game due to numerous injuries along the defensive line.

And should be thankful.

The Buffs had a myriad of minor injuries during spring practices, but most were just that, minor. There were no season-ending injuries sustained, and every player (if you don’t count wide receiver Will Jefferson and offensive lineman Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner, whose injuries will keep them from returning to football), should be available for the fall.

That will not be the case in Tucson, where three players suffered ACL injuries.

The latest was starting linebacker Jake Fischer, who tore his ACL during the Spring game. Fischer was fourth on the Wildcats in tackles in 2010, with 58 tackles, 7 1/2 tackles for loss, and two sacks. It’s also a blow to a thin linebacker corps, because top backups R.J. Young and Trevor Erno left the team in the offseason. Starters Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls return. Coaches say a trio of incoming freshmen — Rob Hankins, Hank Hobson and Domonique Petties — will have to be ready to play.

Arizona also lost starting safety Adam Hall and backup tailback Greg Nwoko to ACL injuries this spring. Last season, Nwoko had 57 rushes for 270 yards and three touchdowns, while Hall was just behind Fischer on the team with tackles, finishing fifth on the team with 54 tackles. Hall also two interceptions last fall.

April 19th

Deals being made … but not with the Pac-12

Partnerships are being formed, alliances are being made, and checkbooks are being opened.

But not for the Pac-12 … yet.

The NHL, one of the few remaining big fish out there to be had in the media’s rush to obtain broadcast rights, will be staying with NBC and Versus for the next ten years. The NHL had drawn interest from ESPN, Turner and Fox Sports, but decided to stay with its partner for the past six years.

“When we looked at the entire package and the relationship, it was clear we were going to stay with the incumbent,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “But it’s nice to go out and find you’re pretty.”

The package, which will run for ten seasons, will bring in about $200 million to the league, which far exceeds the $75 million or so the league was paying under the existing contract.

What does the NBC/NHL contract mean to Colorado and the Pac-12?

It’s not totally unexpected, and really doesn’t change the playing field all that much. In a perfect world, ESPN or Turner would have obtained the rights to the NHL, which would have made NBC/Comcast all the more desperate to sign on with the Pac-12. NBC/Comcast, seen as the main competitor for the Pac-12 contract with Fox Sports, now has a contract – and programming – in its back pocket. Will NBC/Comcast be satisfied with a seasonal sport which rarely registers in the national consciousness? Probably not.

But they may be just a little less willing to break the bank to get the Pac-12.

Meanwhile … back at the Mother ship …

ESPN, according to SportsBusinessJournal, is looking to extend its contracts for football and basketball with the Big East. The current contract doesn’t expire until the end of the 2013 football season, but ESPN is looking to lock up its longtime partner into a long-term contract.

The current contract with ESPN nets the Big East $36 million per year, almost an insult under the current climate. The new deal is reportedly going to be in the $110-$130 million range. Significantly higher, but also significantly less than what the Pac-12 would be looking for.

What does the ESPN/Big East contract talk mean to Colorado and the Pac-12?

Does ESPN”s willingness to extend its contract with the Big East mean that ABC/ESPN is not interested in the Pac-12? No more than was the case before. With a significant inventory of college football games already under contract with the Big Ten, the Big 12, and the ACC, ESPN was not likely to be a primary bidder for the Pac-12, anyway. If ESPN does participate in the new Pac-12 contract, it will likely only be to purchase a certain number of games from the winner of the Fox/Comcast battle.

Should the ESPN/Big East contract projections – $110 – $130 million per year – mean that the speculation that the Pac-12 contract may go as high as $220 million per year is out of line? Probably not. Remember, football is the fuel which drives the television bus (remember that from last summer, Jayhawk fans?). The Big East, while a power in basketball, is a secondary power in football. There are large media markets targeted by the league, with hopes that the addition of TCU will bring in fans from the Southwest, but the Big East is not as powerful a draw as the Pac-12. (Quick test: Name the football teams in the Big East. Go ahead, I’ll wait …. Now name the teams in the Big Ten or SEC …. A lot easeir, isn’t it?

Television exectuives think so, too.

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