Last season, the Colorado Buffaloes football team came out on fire, starting 4-2. It looked like the Buffs would contend for the Big 12 North, but the team soon faded, finishing 6-6, losing a nail-biter to Alabama in the Independence Bowl.
This season, the Buffs have 14 returning starters and 40 returning lettermen. Expectations are high at Buffalo camp not just to contend for the Big 12 North, but also the Big 12 Championship.
This leads to the 10 burning questions for the CU Football team entering the 2008 regular season.
10) Will the Buffs take Eastern Washington as seriously as they did Montana State in 2006?
The Dan Hawkins era got off to a rough start in 2006, losing to Division I-AA (now the FCS: Football Championship Subdivision) Montana State Bobcats in the opening game of the season.
Luckily for Hawkins and the Buffs, Michigan’s loss to Appalachian State last season all but erased the loss to the Bobcats from the minds of college football experts.
This year, CU takes on the Eastern Washington Eagles, one of the top teams in the FCS, in week two of the season. Will Coach Hawkins learn from his mistakes or will another FCS team take another one from the big dogs?
9) Can Colorado beat a rebuilding Colorado State team?
There’s no doubt that every year, Colorado is a better team than Colorado State. They always play a much tougher schedule due to the fact that they’re in a much tougher conference.
I’m not saying the Mountain West is a bad conference. Believe me, I have respect for the West, but the competition isn’t the same as in the Big 12.
That said, every season the Buffs have trouble against their foes from Fort Collins. Take last year as an example. The Buffs were clearly the much better team, but CU kept the Rams in the game forcing Buff place kicker Kevin Eberhart to make a very difficult field goal in overtime to squeak past rival Colorado State.
For the first time in a long time, Colorado State will be without Sonny Lubick as head coach. Enter former Ram Steve Fairchild, fresh off an assistant coaching gig in Buffalo. Will this be the year that the Buffs will take advantage of the Rams, or will Rams find a way to mess up CU’s season opener?
8) Will CU be able to compete in the Big 12 North with the likes of Missouri and Kansas?
The big surprises last year in the Big 12 were Missouri and Kansas. Usually, the Big 12 North’s only competition is Colorado and Nebraska, but now it looks like there are some new sheriffs in town in the Tigers and Jayhawks.
Last season the Buffs went 1-5 against teams from the North. However, if you’re going to win one, it might as well be against your archrival from Lincoln.
Other than the Buffs two blowout losses to Kansas State and Missouri, CU barely lost to a very good Kansas team, 19-14, and lost by dumb penalties in the last seconds against Iowa State.
Will CU be able to reclaim the prestige they had in the North, or will they struggle again against their North rivals?
7) How will the team fare in a Thursday-night prime time game?
Last season, the Buffs big prime time game was against Florida State in the second week of the season. This year, CU will play Florida State, but that won’t be the big one. The big one will be week four (Sept. 18) against West Virginia.
The game will be on Thursday night on ESPN, which means the nation's focus will be on Folsom Field and the Buffs. Last season against the Seminoles, the game was declared a “Blackout” by students, meaning everyone attending the game was to wear black.
This season, the prime time game looks to become another “Blackout,” with the Buffs hoping for a different result. Last year’s game didn’t go well for the Buffaloes, but luckily Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles didn’t play great, either. The Buffs' defense kept the game close, but the Buffs still ended up losing, 16-6.
This season, the Mountaineers of West Virginia are the hot pick by College Football experts, putting more pressure on Dan Hawkins’ squad. How will the team react to nationwide attention, a packed house, an excellent opponent, and a prime time game?
6) Will Dan Hawkins be able to use some more of his “Homecoming Magic” to beat Texas?
Before last year’s homecoming game, people thought Dan Hawkins was nuts. Why would you schedule your homecoming game (a game you’re supposed to win), against No. 3 Oklahoma?
Well, after the Buffs thrilling victory over the Sooners, Dan Hawkins went from a nut to a genius. This year, he’ll have his hands full as the Texas Longhorns roll into Boulder to make sure what happened last year to Oklahoma, doesn’t happen to them.
Will coach Hawk have enough “Homecoming Magic” left in the bag, or will he have to rely on another bag to tricks to pull out a win against the Longhorns?
5) Will Colorado’s new recruits make a huge impact?
You may be wondering why this is only 5thon my list. Well this question just doesn’t involve Darrell Scott, but the whole recruiting class. Let’s get it out of the way first, though.
Darrell Scott, the 6-foot, 204-pound running back out of St. Bonaventure High School in California, is supposed to be the savior of Colorado Football. But what will his impact be on the team?
Odds are fairly good that he’ll start, but if he doesn’t come out to play in fall practice, don’t be surprised if you don’t see him on the field for the first couple of games.
Now, if he does come out and compete, he may be the next Maurice Clarett, and we’ll be talking about CU going to a BCS game in a few months. However, Scott isn’t the only recruit that we should be keeping our eyes on.
CU has a great linebacker class coming in and it begins with the Colorado's own Jon Major. The 6-foot-2, 224 pound Freshman from Parker, was the top linebacker recruit in the state, and was considered the third best linebacker recruit in the nation. With all that said, no wonder coach Hawkins expects him to have a huge impact with the team in the fall.
Other big recruits will include a few big guys on the offensive line in Colorado native Bryce Givens, and guard Max Tuioti-Mariner. In Tuioti-Mariner’s case, he’s coming off an ACL tear that caused him to miss his entire senior season.
Will Scott be the savior that Colorado fans are all hoping he’ll become? Will Major and Katoa become star linebackers in their first year? Will Tuioti-Mariner be rusty after missing an entire season?
4) How will the no-huddle offense work during the regular season?
Colorado is one of a few teams in the Big-12 Conference that instituted a no-huddle offense during the off-season. The new plan was the talk of spring practice, and at the spring game, the team executed the offense very well.
But now that it’s been a few months since the game, and the regular season is beginning in a month, can the team execute the no-huddle offense in a regular season game? Especially when they play other Big 12 schools who have the same scheme and know how to defend it?
3) Will Cody Hawkins become a more efficient passer?
Cody took a lot of heat early on, with people wondering if he only got the job because he was the coach’s son. But that soon changed as he proved he could be the quarterback at a big time university.
However, his size is a disadvantage with him only being 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds. But he makes his size count when he gets out of the pocket and runs away from defenders. Last season, he had 22 touchdown passes, with many of them coming out of the pocket.
However, Baby Hawk also had 17 interceptions to go along with his 22 TD’s. If this sophomore quarterback can be more of a scholar of the game, and use his size to his advantage, he can definitely have a better touchdown-to-interception ratio this season, and possibly become a Heisman candidate by his senior year.
2) What will the Buffs' Defense be like now that Dizon and Wheatley are no longer there?
The 2008 NFL Draft proved that CU had a great defense last season with linebacker Jordan Dizon, and cornerback Terrence Wheatley getting drafted in the early rounds. With Dizon and Wheatley not walking through the Folsom Field locker room this season, the team will need others to stand up and take the torch.
One of them will be senior defensive tackle George Hypolite, who had six sacks last season. The Buffs may have to rely on underclassmen to make their defense be a strong force. Luckily, their first tough matchup isn’t until week four against West Virginia.
1) Who will replace Hugh Charles at running back?
Colorado in recent years has been a run-first, pass-second team. The school has had some amazing running backs in its day with Chris Brown, Bobby Purify, Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam and most recently, Hugh Charles.
Last season Charles rushed for 1,058 yards—not bad for a player who was injured and had to split time. So who will be this year’s Charles?
Well, the easy answer would be Darrell Scott, but it looks like Dan Hawkins will start with experience in Demetrius Sumler, the back who split time with Charles last fall. But if Sumler falters or gets injured, then get ready, Boulder, for the Darrell Scott revolution, and Scott may never relinquish the starting role once he gets it.
A name you may not have heard about who could get some playing time is Ray Polk. Polk is a freshman tailback from Arizona who earned All-American honors and had over 2,500 yards in his last two seasons in Scottsdale.
So who will start at tailback for the Buffs come Aug. 31? It looks like Sumler, but don’t worry, Boulderites, you’ll get to see Darrell Scott do his thing soon enough.