Saturday, November 4, 2006

A tale of two rookies

Prince, Hawkins head in opposite directions in first year


— Ron Prince at Kansas State and Dan Hawkins at Colorado were named new coaches 11 days apart in December, but have experienced different levels of success during their inaugural seasons.

Prince has Kansas State on the verge of bowl eligibility for the first time since 2003, while Colorado is poised for the first losing season since the same year. A victory at Colorado today would make Kansas State bowl eligible.

About all that's left for Colorado - winners of four of the last five division crowns - is to play the role of spoiler in the Big 12 North race.

"There's nobody in this building taking this team lightly," Prince said of Colorado.

As tempting as it may be, Hawkins won't take steps toward next season.

"I'm not throwing any senior out just because I want to get a junior or sophomore some reps in there. I'm not doing that," he said. "I think there's something to be said for teaching a group of people what it is to finish."

Of the 11 programs to hire new coaches this season, Prince is off to one of the more promising starts, especially considering his team didn't go to a bowl last season. Hawkins joins three other coaches - Chuck Long (San Diego State), Turner Gill (Buffalo) and Al Golden (Temple) - with only one victory this season.

The Wildcats (5-4, 2-3 Big 12) are actually a carbon copy of the Buffs, only with more victories. They entered the season with a new coach and a bar set quite high for them. But recent losses to Nebraska and Missouri have hindered the Wildcats' aspirations for their first title since 2003.

"You can really see them getting better, getting more familiar, getting more comfortable with what they're doing," Hawkins said. "They're making progress, you can see that."

Sounds like what other coaches have said about Colorado (1-8, 1-4) this season. Kansas State has a healthy dose of respect for the Buffs.

"Their defense doesn't play like a 1-8 football team," freshman quarterback Josh Freeman said. "They are playing like a team that has a chance to play in a big bowl game."

Barring an improbable chain of events, there will be no bowl bids for Colorado. The Buffs still have a tiny glimmer of hope, but would have to win out and receive major help to win the Big 12 North and then win the conference's championship game.

That's why the temptation is there for Hawkins to work in younger players.

"We're going to try to ... be as good as we can against Kansas State," Hawkins said. "And when that's over, we'll try to be good against Iowa State. It's more of a question of that kind of thing versus 'Well, that guy's not going to be on our team next year, let's not worry about him.'"

Kansas State realizes the importance of this game to its bowl hopes. Although the Wildcats need just one victory, this may be their best shot. After this weekend, Kansas State hosts No. 4 Texas and then goes on the road to play rival Kansas. The Wildcats are 1-9 on the road in conference play since 2004.


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