Head Coach Dan Hawkins walks to the sideline after speaking with his players in huddle. (CU Independent/Molly Maher)
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If a team—which some thought could win 10 games—goes two time zones away, puts up a good fight and loses, does it make a sound?
Does its effort reverberate loud enough to allow the head coach to stick around a little longer?
Is the coach simply buying time by not getting embarrassed on national TV, but also not winning outside its home state for the 16th time in 18 tries?
Is it OK to be 1-3 if the team has gotten better after each game?
Or is it time to tar-and-feather the coach and run him out of town?
I don’t ask these questions in a tongue-in-cheek manner. The truth is I don’t really know the answer and the Colorado Buffaloes football team’s 35-24 loss to West Virginia on Thursday didn’t make the picture clearer.
The defensive line showed up more than they have all year, sacking Mountaineers quarterback Jarrett Brown three times for a loss of 43 yards. But then, they gave up a whopping 257 yards on the ground.
CU quarterback Cody Hawkins threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns, including a perfect pass to wide receiver Scotty McKnight in the third quarter, but he also threw three interceptions at critical points in the game.
Heck, the Buffaloes led a team who was supposed to blow them out of the stadium and kept the game close until the fourth quarter, only to squander it away and lose.
Perhaps one place we can begin with this loss is this: Head coach Dan Hawkins’ reputation after three-plus seasons at CU is becoming increasingly more apparent; his teams play either up or down to the competition. Don’t believe me? I’ll give you an example from each season so far, starting with his first.
After opening at home with a loss to Division I-AA Montana State and starting the season 0-3 in 2006, Hawkins brought his team to Athens, Ga., where the Buffaloes shut out the ninth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs for three quarters and came within 46 seconds of one of the biggest upsets in school history. Hawkins’ team would go 2-10 but never lost by more than 23 points. Not bad for a team that won two games.
The following season, the Buffs’ only bowl season so far under Hawkins, Colorado pulled off a huge upset by beating the third-ranked Oklahoma Sooners at home. Fans from Boulder to Pueblo were drinking the Kool-aid and “Hawk love” was in the air. Six weeks later, however, CU would lose on the road to the lowly Iowa State Cyclones by three. Sure, teams pull off upsets every year and they lose games they shouldn’t, but to beat a national title contender and lose to the bottom feeder of the Big 12 North in one season? Noticing a trend?
OK, I’ll give you another example at the risk of sounding like the lonely drunk guy at the sports bar that can rattle off every win and loss. Last year, Colorado didn’t have any major upsets, but they went into Lincoln, Neb., needing a very tough win to go to a bowl game against a Nebraska team that won nine games. They barely fell short due to a 57-yard go-ahead field goal by the Cornhuskers with less than two minutes left.
Then, we have tonight. A Colorado team that lost to Colorado State, Toledo and was given no chance to beat the Mountaineers went into West Virginia’s stadium and almost stole one on national TV.
Maybe I’m stretching a bit since they didn’t beat Georgia, Nebraska or West Virginia, but the team that showed up on those three days was a team that should beat Montana State, Iowa State, Colorado State or Toledo night in and night out. Yet, they didn’t.
It’s becoming an all-too-familiar pattern with Hawkins. A man who preaches that his team must stay off the mountaintop and out of the valley seems to have a vacation home in both venues; he either goes to beat our expectations handily or come up wildly short.
In the beginning, I mentioned that it’s possible Hawkins is buying time by having his team play best when we least expect it. Gary Barnett, his predecessor, was very good at buying time as well. Barnett outlasted an athletic director and a university president, both let go because of a football recruiting scandal that tarnished the university. But Barnett could only buy a finite amount of time because eventually, the on-field results caught up with him. Barnett couldn’t escape the nationally ranked Texas Longhorns, who outscored the Buffs 112-20 in two contests in 2005 and single-handedly drove Barnett out of town.
Don’t look now, but there is one massive mountaintop waiting for the Buffaloes down in Austin, Texas next week. Hawkins may have to produce his biggest upset so far if he wants to stick around.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ryan Callahan at Ryan.email@example.com.
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