IN THE SPOTLIGHT
2007 Colorado football outlook
At the season-ending press conference for the 2006 season, when asked what grade he would give himself, first-year Head Coach Dan Hawkins responded with "an F."
After all, the Buffaloes were 2-10, their worst mark in 22 seasons and just the third 10-loss campaign in 117 seasons of intercollegiate football. The difference between this one and the other two was that the Buffaloes were in every game, with four of the losses by a combined 13 points, including one in triple overtime.
Colorado heard things all season like, "CU is the best 0-6 team in history… Colorado is much better than its 1-9 record," etc., etc., etc. No coach or player anywhere will tell you that is any consolation; all would rather be the worst 6-0 team ever. The feeling was no different in Boulder, even though fans rushed Folsom Field after both wins, decisive verdicts over Texas Tech and Iowa State.
A 19-10 loss to Montana State in the season opener put an immediate damper on Hawkins' first year, as the highly respected coach came to Colorado from Boise State, where he left as the winningest coach in Division I-A over a five-year span. Hawkins and staff spent the entire off-season analyzing every aspect of the program, with the reality that with his résumé, expectations might have been higher than they should have been, though no one expected a 2-10 season and the Buffaloes being home come bowl time for just the fifth time since 1984.
"We had a pretty good handle on what we needed to do to get better and why things didn't work out last year," Hawkins said when evaluating the program following his first fall at the foot of the Flatirons. "A lot of things that we did in the off season were just in terms of being a little more demanding, and really emphasizing the finer points of everything from academics to strength and conditioning. Putting the squeeze on the things we know are very important to being a successful person, student and football team. It's a rebuilding culture, and we're rebuilding confidence as much as anything."
The 10 losses by a total of 112 points in 2006 likely exacerbated the situation, even though the six losses in 2005 were by 162 points. And though Colorado is realistically in a rebuilding stage as opposed to a reloading one it had been accustomed to for two decades, long-time observers of the program did see several positives, including penalty and turnover counts being reduced.
Hawkins is obviously eager to get year two rolling, and has stayed upbeat and positive. He believes that with a foundation now built, along with the usual first-year newlywed issues most incoming staff experience at new schools now behind them, things will be much different in 2007. With just one scrimmage remaining prior to the season opener against Colorado State, the difference between this year's Buffaloes and the team at this juncture in August a year ago, both in practice and in conditioning, is like the space program today to where it was in, oh, the 19th century.
Want proof? CU had 11 players who could snatch 300 pounds off the ground last year, and many were not the linemen in the trenches; that number is now 68. Hawkins emphasizes that the team must learn how to finish games, and conditioning is a big part of it.
"We can now expand the entire packages on both offense and defense, because we were able to lay down a baseline of components and now we can build upon those," Hawkins said. "The experience factor has made a huge difference; we'll be able to do a lot of things more creatively on both sides of the football, and be able to add more things into game plan packages as well."
The Buffaloes return 16 starters, along with six others with significant starting experience in their careers, and 41 lettermen in all from the 2006 squad. So a nucleus is present to build around and the cupboard isn't bare, but depth along the lines is most certainly an issue. The entire second-team offensive line consisted of true freshmen in the team's first fall depth chart, something relatively unheard of.
The schedule is challenging, with perhaps the best roll call ever of opponents rolling into Folsom Field this fall, a list that includes Florida State, Oklahoma and Nebraska, three schools that have won national championships in the last decade. But it all starts some 25 miles southeast on Sept. 1, when CU and Colorado State renew their rivalry at Invesco Field at Mile High.
2007 Colorado Football Outlook
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