Last November, the Colorado football team walked off their own field defeated by the rivals in red. The third straight loss gave end to a long despondent season, which defined itself with midseason transfers, a quarterback switch and an unpredictable line.
In September the great cycle of college football will repeat.
The out-of-conference schedule features SEC powerhouse Georgia, future Pac-10 foe California and pass-happy Hawaii in their first three games after the annual civil war game with CSU.
Starting quarterback Tyler Hansen looks at the tough competition with delight.
“If we can beat some of the top teams in the nation it will burst us onto the national stage,” said the junior from Murrieta, Calif. “I think whenever you can beat the teams like Georgia or California, it gives you a little more confidence.”
Here are four reasons the Buffs can contend for the Big 12 North:
1. The offensive line returns all five starters. The same offensive line that allowed only one sack to Nebraska (and that was awarded for intentional grounding). Nebraska finished second in the FBS in sacks last season with 44 and the second overall NFL draft pick Ndamukong Suh had 12 of those himself.
Now that Colorado brings back one of the deepest offensive lines in the country, Coach Dan Hawkins said he feels a little more relaxed in practice.
“We’ve been running with about four full offensive lines, which is nice,” Hawkins said. “There’s a ton of guys who have played and know the system. It’s nice when they can play center and guard, or guard and tackle.”
Not only did the O-line, which averages a height of nearly 6-foot-6, allow Hansen to throw for 269 yards and three touchdowns, but it gave Rodney Stewart enough room to run for over 100 yards against the Huskers. The Buffs, in coach Hawkins’ view, will need to run the ball consistently in the Big 12 conference.
“Those are always two things that I think are critical in football: Being able to run it and being able to stop it,” Hawkins said. “That obviously starts up front.”
2. Defensive Coordinator Ron Collins returns seven starters to his side of the ball and 20 defenders who had significant playing time last season.
The secondary brings back three starters: Jimmy Smith, Jalil Brown and Anthony Perkins and could be the strength of the defense.
At the end of the 2009 season, CU defense’s results were more bad than good.
“We look at it that everyone is pushing us aside, that we are going to shock the world,” B.J. Beatty said. “We have a lot of guys, a lot of depth so if somebody goes down, another guy can come right in and do the exact same job.”
The defense will be battle-tested by the time it reaches conference play in October. Players like California’s Shane Vereen, Georgia’s A.J. Green and Hawaii’s Greg Salas are some of the best offensive weapons in the nation.
3. Coaches named quarterback Hansen as the starting guy two weeks before opening kickoff.
“Tyler gives us a little more of an edge when it comes to the things we can do on offense and being a little more creative,” said Offensive Coordinator Eric Kiesau after announcing Hansen as the starter. “His athleticism [helps], whether it’s dropping back to pass or making something happen on his feet.”
4. This team is filled with talent in all the right gaps offensively. Since the 2009 season kicked off at Folsom, the Buffs have lost a number of important playmakers. Hawkins’ big time recruit Darrell Scott is long gone, running back Demetrius Sumler went out to California with him, and troubled receiver Markques Simas finally got the boot.
Before his departure, Simas was Hansen’s favorite deep target, and had 106 yards against Nebraska’s secondary. This offseason, three receivers have arrived in hopes of picking up where Simas left off, after being released from their respective scholarships.
Preseason Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Toney Clemons was with the team during spring practices and has locked up a starting spot at X receiver. With a 6-foot-2 frame and a 4.4. in the 40 to match, he’ll be Hansen’s best threat for big yardage.
The late arrivals of ultra-quick USC transfer Travon Patterson and UCLA recruit Paul Richardson give the Buffs much needed open field speed. Scotty McKnight, who is two catches from being the school leader in receptions, looks forward to being surrounded by the talent.
“We thought it was going to hurt to lose Markques, at it turned out that we’ve added so many people we can look past that,” McKnight said.
When the grudge match against CSU kicks off in Denver, the Buffs will have a clean 0-0 slate to work with. Alongside their fans, critics and coaches, CU’s starting quarterback said he wants to see what the 2010 season brings for the boys in Boulder.
“The last few years have been disappointments to us,” Hansen said. “We have to go out there and prove to people who we are; we are a strong team.”
Four seniors were chosen as captains for the football team on Sunday, all seniors: cornerback Jalil Brown, quarterback Cody Hawkins, wide receiver Scotty McKnight and offensive tackle Nate Solder.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Michael Krumholtz at Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org.