Two-a-Days rolls on with our 14th installment, in which we take a closer look at the Colorado Buffaloes.
To read previous entries, click HERE.
Colorado in a flash:
Head Coach: Dan Hawkins, fifth year
2009 Record: 3-9 (2-6 Big 12)
2009 Stats: Total offense, 314.33 ypg (12th Big 12, 104th nationally); Total defense, 363.00 ypg (7th Big 12, 57th nationally)
Coaching Changes: Ashley Ambrose takes over for Greg Brown as DBs coach, Brian Cabral takes over all linebackers after the departure of OLBs coach Bob Foster. Robert Price takes over as receivers coach.
Starters Returning: Offense (8), Defense (7), Special Teams (1)
Key Player Losses: LB Jeff Smart, LB Marcus Burton, S Ben Burney
Big Games: @ Cal (9/11), @ Missouri (10/9), @ Oklahoma (10/30), @ Nebraska (11/26)
Non-Conference Slate: Colorado State (9/4), @ Cal (9/11), Hawaii (9/18). Georgia (10/2),
How long has it been since Colorado made its trip to Athens? Well, Matthew Stafford was a true freshman who had to be pulled from the game in favor of redshirt freshman Joe Cox in order for the Dawgs to pull out a win. So needless to say, a lot has happened both in Athens and Boulder since then.
To catch us up on where the Buffaloes stand now, I turned to Denver Post beat writer Tom Kensler, who covers CU.
David Hale: The quarterback competition was obviously the big headline of the spring. How did the QBs perform this spring, and is the competition between Tyler Hansen and Cody Hawkins likely to continue well into the fall?
Tom Kensler: The philosophy of Colorado coach Dan Hawkins has always been to open up all positions each spring. Hawkins and offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau continually answered reporters' questions about the quarterback "battle" by saying junior Tyler Hansen and senior Cody Hawkins (son of the head coach) were pretty much in a dead heat, and that naming the starter for next season won't be made until August drills. Don't believe it. Hansen, who is an exceptional scrambler (Bulldog and NFL fans old enough to remember might compare his elusiveness to Fran Tarkenton) and has the stronger arm, was the starter for the last seven games in 2009. There is no reason to believe that would change.
DH: What kind of progress did the O line make this spring? Last year, the group allowed 44 sacks -- most by far in the Big 12. Is Ryan Miller's spring injury a concern, and is Nate Solder good enough to lead a turnaround for the unit?
TK: Building a solid offensive line has been a tedious process since Dan Hawkins arrived in December, 2005. It has taken a lot of patience. Colorado had only six available offensive linemen during Hawkins' first spring practices (2006), but finally there is some depth. And there's some talent, too, led by towering senior left tackle Nate Solder (6-9, 300) and junior guard Ryan Miller (6-8, 310). Both are considered pro prospects -- especially Solder, who has good enough feet to have played tight end during his first two years on campus. Miller underwent arm surgery in the spring but should be fine. This won't be the best offensive line in the Big 12, but it's no longer among the worst.
DH: Bigger story this spring: The continuing woes of the running game, including more injury problems for Rodney Stewart, or the emergence of Michigan transfer Toney Clemons in the passing game?
TK: When healthy, Rodney Stewart is one of the best running backs in the Big 12. He got banged up in the spring but nothing serious. Stewart is one of those "recruiting is not an exact science" stories. He was lightly recruited out of Columbus, Ohio, but found a home in Colorado. Stewart is quick and there's not a lot of wasted motion. He's just 5-6, 175 pounds, but is among the strongest players on the team with a 400-pound bench. He will take on tacklers and often wins the battle. Trouble is, there is little depth behind Stewart. Four running backs were signed in November and a couple will need to help. As for Clemons, signs point to him being one of the nation's most successful transfers. A former national top-100 bluechipper from the Pittsburgh area, Clemons signed with then Michigan coach Lloyd Carr and, without complaining, he played behind two future NFL receivers as a freshman. As a sophomore, Clemons didn't like how he was being used under new coach Rich Rodriguez and decided to leave. He looks like a future pro - good size (6-2, 205), excellent speed, great hands and lots of savvy.
DH: Colorado loses its top two linebackers from last season in Marcus Burton and Jeff Smart. Did anyone step up this spring and appear ready to fill the void?
TK: Linebacker is a concern but position coach Brian Cabral, who played with Mike Singletary on the Chicago Bears' 1985 Super Bowl championship team, said his worries were eased by the spring play of senior Michael Sipili in the middle (Mike position) and sophomore Jon Major at the Will. Sipili, a hard-nosed Hawaiian of Samoan decent, earned freshman All-America mention in 2006. But he was suspended for 2007 after being involved in an off-campus incident and has struggled to regain his early form. Cabral is hoping this is his breakout year. Same for Major. Named a 2007 Parade All-American in suburban Denver, Major promptly suffered a torn ACL early in his first CU August drills and redshirted in 2008. Soreness lingered in the knee last fall and he saw only spot duty, but, now fully healed, Major shows the quickness and hitting ability that made him a highly regarded recruit. There are no concerns at outside linebacker, where senior B.J. Beatty has a great motor and will be one of the team's best players.
DH: It has been a rocky road for Dan Hawkins so far at CU. How crucial is this season for his survival, and did this spring give you a sense that the Buffs might be ready to turn the corner?
TK: Many Colorado fans (and media members) were surprised that Dan Hawkins was retained following last season's 3-9 disaster. Given a fifth year without a winning record (his second team, in 2007, finished the regular season 6-6 but lost to Alabama 30-24 in the Independence Bowl), Hawkins may need a bowl appearance this season to continue on. This appears to be Hawkins' most talented squad, with 16 returning starters, but the price of poker has gone up. Not only is there more pressure, but Colorado faces a tougher schedule. Non-conference foes include Georgia and California, along with the always tough rivalry game with Colorado State. And games against the best teams of the Big 12's North Division (Missouri, Nebraska) are on the road.
DH: Bonus Question: Any advice on food, entertainment or general Boulder trivia for Georgia fans planning their travel schedule for the fall?
TK: When looking for dining possibilities, there is no reason to leave Boulder's Pearl Street Mall. It's one of the nation's most famous and picturesque pedestrian strolls, lined with interesting shops and good eats. For fine dining, Frasca Food and Wine (Italian) has been ranked among the nation's best restaurants, and Flagstaff House offers spectacular views. For the casually inclined, Old Chicago is a popular watering hole that has good pizza and pasta. Try Juanita's and Rio Grande for Mexican Food. Colorado is famous for its microbrews, including the Walnut Brewery, which serves Boulder Beer products and has excellent food. Other good dining choices include Jax Fish House, Pasta Jay's and the Boulder Chophouse.
Great stuff from Tom and a fantastic primer on both Colorado and Boulder. (I don't know about you, but I'm already excited for the trip!)
You can read Tom's CU coverage HERE or check out his blog HERE.
Oh, and when I asked Tom for some "general Boulder trivia" he was also happy to provide. So while you discuss Georgia's date with the Buffs in September, chew on this one: Boulder was the imaginary location for what memorable TV sitcom?
And don't forget, we'll be wrapping up Two-A-Days with an in-depth look at Georgia, so if you have questions you want answered, leave them in the comments section here or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEXT UP: A big-picture look at the SEC on Thursday morning.