Both teams are winless in Big 12 Conference play, both have suffered some forgettable beatings in 2010 and both have head coaches who have drawn the ire of angry fan bases.
On top of all that, both Colorado (3-5 overall and 0-4 in Big 12 play) and Kansas University (2-6, 0-4) are taking a remarkably similar approach to today’s 1 p.m. showdown at Memorial Stadium.
“Really, we’re just trying to concentrate on ourselves and getting better,” KU senior Jake Laptad said. “We can’t really look at our opponent and underestimate them. The first week we obviously underestimated North Dakota State, so we can’t look at our opponent and their record and what they bring. We gotta look at ourselves and get better week-to-week.”
Earlier in the week, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins uttered a similar stance about a game that, for both teams, might represent the last real chance at a conference victory this season.
“For us, it’s that same old boring stuff,” Hawkins said. “We try to take each week for what it is, face value. Every week there’s teams that win or lose that shouldn’t, and I don’t place a whole lot of credence based on what has gone on in the past because things can change in a week. So we don’t try to either overplay or downplay anybody because of their record or what’s gone on.”
On the surface, people might look at the records of these teams and think this is an even matchup. Several other factors say otherwise. For starters, Colorado opened the week as a nine-point favorite in Las Vegas. What’s more, Colorado was ranked 54th in the most recent Sagarin ratings, while the Jayhawks occupied the 136th spot.
A big reason for the difference is schedules. While KU has played the 58th-most-difficult schedule in the nation, Colorado’s ranks fifth. It includes a loss at Cal, a home victory against Georgia and conference losses to Baylor, Missouri and Oklahoma, all three of which are currently ranked in the Top 25.
“Their schedules, year in and year out, are probably as tough as anybody plays in this league,” KU defensive coordinator Carl Torbush said. “We’ve got our hands full again, but that’s gonna be true every week in this league.”
Colorado’s most dangerous weapon appears to be speed. In tailback Rodney Stewart (765 yards and five TDs on 173 carries), the Buffs have a player who can score any time he touches the ball.
“(He) is extremely quick and fast, small,” Torbush said. “He’s the kind of guy that scares you to death because you think you’ve got him, and he’s not (always) going to run in the hole he’s supposed to run in. That worries you because that’s probably been our biggest nemesis. We haven’t been able to get a guy like that on the ground like we need to consistently.”
Beyond Stewart, the Buffs feature a trio of wide receivers — Scotty McKnight, Travon Patterson and Toney Clemons — who can burn their way down the field.
The key to their success will be whether senior quarterback Cody Hawkins can get them the ball. Hawkins, a former starter at CU and the son of the coach, has taken over for injured starter Tyler Hansen.
“He’s had some hots and colds over his career,” Torbush said of Cody Hawkins. “But you’re really talking about a three-year starter. He knows what to do to win, and I’ve been very impressed with him this year.”
Added Laptad: “He was throwing the ball around a lot (last week against Oklahoma). He’s a calm quarterback, and he’s been a starter before so he knows the offense very well.”
Hawkins should get plenty of time to make the right decision in this one. He’ll be protected by a mammoth offensive line that, Torbush says, features several pro prospects, and KU’s pass rush has struggled this season.
Defensively, the Buffaloes are led by senior cornerbacks Jalil Brown and Jimmy Smith, who thrive under pressure and are among the best defensive backs in the Big 12.
For these teams, it’s not as much about the opponent’s strengths or weaknesses as it is about putting their best feet forward and playing a complete game.
“You work on yourself as you’re working toward the opponent,” Torbush said.
Added Hawkins, when asked if the fact that the Jayhawks see this as their best chance at a win, could work to Colorado’s advantage: “I don’t know. That’s on their shoulders. I’m not gonna try to get into their helmet much.”