In his fourth season, coach Dan Hawkins is setting the bar high for the University of Colorado football team. Proof lies in his statement at the Buffaloes' senior awards banquet as last season came to an end: "10 wins and no excuses," he said, according to a Rocky Mountain News article.
Can Hawkins turn around a team with most of the same personnel that went just 2-6 in conference play last year?
It's easy to see why the Buffaloes struggled in 2008. Colorado was decimated by injuries. In fact, CU suffered 10 season-ending injuries last year and went through most of its conference schedule with a makeshift offensive line.
This year, the Buffaloes are healthier and more experienced. Hawkins is hoping it's the year of their breakthrough.
Welcome to another edition of Conference Chatter's summer gridiron report. Here's a schedule of when each Big 12 team was/will be featured:
Big 12 North
Big 12 South
The gridiron report's journey continues today with Colorado, which finished the 2008 season a pedestrian 5-7 overall (2-6 conference).
Biggest question mark: Quarterback. Will it be Cody Hawkins or Tyler Hansen? Hawkins, a junior, has started the past two years, but Hansen jumped into the mix as a true freshman last season. He appeared in five games and showed more of an ability to run than Hawkins, who is more of a pocket passer. Hansen reportedly has made strides in throwing the football with more effectiveness this spring. A starter hasn't been announced, and this could be the most heated QB battle in the Big 12.
A look at Hawkins' stats from his freshman and sophomore campaigns. He appeared in all 12 games each year.
Hawkins 2007: 239-424 (56.4 percentage), 2,693 yards, 19 TD, 15 INT.
Hawkins 2008: 183-320 (57.2 percentage), 1,869 yards, 17 TD, 10 INT.
Thad Allender/Journal-World File Photo
The Buffs must see improvement in Hawkins' junior season if he's to keep the job for the third year in a row. He's had trouble with tipped passes at the line of scrimmage, which is likely because he stands at 5-foot-11. He has to cut down on the interceptions as well.
Hansen broke his thumb in the spring game, but should be able to resume throwing this month. This is not expected to affect the battle for starter. In his five games last season:
Hansen 2008: 34-65 (52.3 percentage), 280 yards, TD, 4 INT; 261 rushing yards, 0 TD. For reference, Hawkins was credited for -23 yards rushing last season.
It should be interesting to see who starts, or if the Buffs decide to go with a dual-QB system. Tall task for new offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau, who was promoted this season from wide receivers coach. Former CU offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich left Colorado in May for the same position at Oregon.
Whoever plays quarterback will have to direct a CU offense that ranked toward the bottom of the conference in nearly every basic offensive category last season.
Biggest strength: Running backs. Many of them. In fact, this is so easily the team's strength that the Buffs could rotate between four backs this fall: sophomores Darrell Scott, Rodney Stewart and Brian Lockridge, and junior Demetrius Sumler. Scott, Stewart and Sumler all have playing experience from last year, while Lockridge took a redshirt because of hernia surgery he had in the spring of 2008. With a lack of big-play wide receivers, Colorado has the talent at running back to feature a ball-control offense that would combat the trend of aerial assaults seen so much in the Big 12.
Breakthrough player: Sophomore RB Scott. He was one of the most heralded recruits in the nation last year, but struggled as a freshman due to injuries. It's time for us to see flashes of his ceiling, which should carry him to the NFL. Listed at 6-1 and 225 pounds, Scott had a good spring and appears injury-free. It's showtime.
Coaching stability: The amusing, but respectable Web site coacheshotseat.com lists Dan Hawkins as No. 5 in the nation among coaches on the hot seat. The first three seasons in Boulder, Colo. haven't gone as scripted for Hawkins, who won on a regular basis at Boise State before arriving at CU. In Hawkins' first year in 2006, Colorado finished 2-10; he then went 6-7 and 5-7 the next two years. He's just 13-24 overall. Folks in Boulder are looking for results this year, particularly after the coach's 10-win proclamation.
Fearless forecast: 4th in North.
The Buffaloes could contend for a North title, but the quarterback battle scares me a bit, and the lack of a big-play receiver scares me even more. Would-be junior receiver Josh Smith recently decided to leave CU and it's unknown where he'll transfer. Smith was one of Colorado's best receivers and an even better punt returner. His 1,987 all-purpose yards ranked in the top 10 in the country last season.
Smith reportedly would like a transfer because Colorado doesn't offer the music major or program he wants. The CU athletic department granted Smith's release, but only would let him talk to USC about a transfer. With the factory that is USC, it seems Smith would be a long shot for significant playing time. Smith appealed the CU athletic department's decision and will know whether he can talk to more schools within the next week or two. What's more is that running back Scott is Smith's nephew and a big reason Scott chose Colorado in the first place. I wonder how he feels about the decision.
As always, discuss.