2010 College Football Predictions: Previewing Colorado's Offense
2010 Colorado Preview – Offense
Personnel: Senior Cody Hawkins and junior Tyler Hansen.
New to the Buffs this season: Freshman Nick Hirschman and freshman Justin Gorman (walk-on). Hirschman and Gorman are additions in 2010, with Hirschman enrolling in January, and Gorman coming to the Buffs from Manheim, Pennsylvania, as a preferred walk-on.
Losses from 2009: Seth Labato was a preferred walk-on last season, but has since transferred (to Northern Colorado), as has former quarterback recruit Clark Evans, who had been switched to tight end before he too, decided to transfer.
Strengths: Colorado boasts two quarterbacks with ample starting experience. Cody Hawkins already ranks first in all-time touchdown passes (46) in Colorado history, and is third in all-time passing yards (5,862), behind only Kordell Stewart and Joel Klatt. Hawkins, however, is also first on the all-time list for interceptions (36). Tyler Hansen started the last seven games of 2009, and has stepped in for Cody Hawkins mid-season each of the past two years. Hansen was named the starter after the Buffs’ second scrimmage, giving Hansen two weeks to assume undisputed leadership of the offense.
Weaknesses: There is an old axiom in football: “Show me a team with two quarterbacks, and I’ll show you a team with none.” Hawkins and Hansen have split duties because neither has been able to produce a consistent winning product on the field. While both have another year’s worth of experience, Buff fans are waiting to see when all that experience will translate into victories.
The Buffs can go 8-4 if … Tyler Hansen steps up his game. Beating out Cody Hawkins should not be the goal; winning the starting job should not be an end in and of itself. Right now, claiming the starting quarterback position at Colorado is like being named the world’s tallest midget, or, in a classic line from M*A*S*H, “roughly equivalent to being the finest ballerina in all of Galveston”. Hansen needs to have Landry Jones, Jerrod Johnson, and Blaine Gabbert in his sights (and even those three are not going to be confused with Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford, or Todd Reesing from last season’s stock of quarterbacks). “You always hear that stuff like, ‘Tyler, you’re ranked No. 7 out of the Big 12 quarterbacks’ “, said Hansen. “And that always gets at you … My thing is if I do something special this year, maybe I can be one of those key, name guys in the Big 12, which would be awesome.” Awesome, indeed.
The Buffs will go 4-8 if … Colorado once again rotates its starting quarterbacks. Nothing against Cody Hawkins and his records, but if Colorado is to have a winning season in 2010, Tyler Hansen needs to be the one and only starter. There has been some momentum building this summer – the Pac-12 announcement; the signing of several top receiver recruits – and fans, despite the 3-9 record in 2009, are getting excited for the season. Barring injury, seeing Cody Hawkins run out onto Invesco Field on September 4th will sap away much of that energy. It will be back to the “same ol’, same ol’ ” for the Buffs and their fans. I believe that Cody Hawkins will one day make a very good coach. For the Buffs’ sake, though, that coaching experience should begin this season - carrying a clipboard while aiding Hansen in running the team.
Personnel: Senior Corey Nabors; junior Rodney Stewart; junior Brian Lockridge; and red-shirt freshman Quentin Hildreth.
New to the Buffs this year: Freshmen Cordary Allen, Tony Jones, Trae Jones, and Justin (”J.T.”) Torres.
Losses from 2009: There was the loss of one Darrell Scott, who was the top running back in the nation in the recruiting class of 2008. Scott rushed for all of 95 yards in 2009 (85 in the embarrassing loss to Toledo), before quitting the team in November. He is now on the roster at South Florida. Demetrius Sumler was the team’s second leading rusher in 2009, but opted out of playing his senior season after graduating in December. Fullback Jake Behrens also graduated.
Strengths: Speed, speed, and more speed – the Buffs’ running backs are small, but they are quick and elusive. Despite being the lowest rated running back of the Colorado recruiting class of 2008 (in addition to Scott, the Buffs picked up highly rated Ray Polk, who is now the starting free safety for the Buffs), Rodney Stewart led the team in rushing both his freshman and sophomore years. “Speedy” is only 5′6″, 175, but bench presses 400 pounds, and is the best short yardage back the Buffs have on the roster (not counting the “utility backs” Matthew Bahr and Scott Fernandez, who will be counted on as an extra blocker in short yardage situations).
Colorado fans are anxious to see what Stewart can produce this season, after Speedy posted 804 yards in 2009. Brian Lockridge is even faster than Speedy, and Quentin Hildreth, a preferred walk-on last fall, has been a pleasant surprise. Of the four freshman, running backs coach Darian Hagan expects to play at least one, perhaps two. Justin Torres is one freshman who apparently already has his ticket punched. “It was an easy determination,” said Hagan of Torres. “It was first day, first meeting, and he didn’t forget anything … (Torres, who is 6′0″, 215-pounds) playing will give us an opportunity to have a bigger back in there. And like I said, he is smart, he is on it.”
Weaknesses: If speed is one element teams would like to see in their running backs, experience would the other element highest on the list … and here the Buffs are lacking. Stewart has led the team in rushing the past two seasons, but has yet to make it through either year without injury. Brian Lockridge has been with the team the longest, but he had all of 12 carries in 2009 – and that’s it for running back experience. If Stewart fails to make it through the 2010 without injury, there is no experienced backup to fill the void. Asked if he held his breath when Stewart carries the ball in full-contact practices, Darian Hagan responded, “No, I never do … In my opinion, (Stewart) is durable. When he does get hurt, it is some freak stuff. I never worry about him.” Pass protection is also a concern, what with all but freshmen Cordary Allen and Justin Torres checking in at under 200 pounds. Again, however, Hagan says that this is not a concern. “I’m not nervous at all (about pass protection),” said Hagan. “They really do a good job for us. I like that they are small, but they’ll come up and hit you in the mouth.”
The Buffs can go 8-4 if … Rodney Stewart goes for over 1,000 yards rushing. Speedy went for 804 yards in 2009, and that included four games in which, due to various injuries, he had fewer than ten carries. As a result, it would seemingly not be a stretch for Stewart to go for well beyond 1,000 yards this fall if he can stay healthy. Still, it won’t be easy, as the 1,000-yard barrier has proven elusive for Colorado backs. A healthy Rodney Stewart would become the first Colorado running back to eclipse the 1,000 yard barrier since Bobby Purify went for 1,017 yards in 2004. Lest Buff fans forget, Colorado ranked 113th in the nation (out of 120 teams) in rushing in 2009 (87.9 yards/game). If the yards/game total is bettered considerably in 2010, so will the win total.
The Buffs will go 4-8 if … Rodney Stewart does not start 12 games. Yes, Lockridge is explosive, and his speed will be an asset. Yes, Quentin Hildreth adds some measure of experienced depth, having at least been with the program for the past year. And yes, the new freshman class has intriguing storylines – BUT – Colorado needs Rodney Stewart to stay healthy and present a constant threat to opposing defenses. Colorado has upgraded its receiving corps, but if defenses only have to scheme against the Buffs’ passing attack, all the speed and talent on the outside will not generate much in the way of consistent success.
Personnel: Senior Scotty McKnight; senior Andre Simmons; junior Jason Espinoza; junior Toney Clemons; junior Kyle Cefalo; junior Kendrick Celestine; sophomore Will Jefferson; sophomore Mario Conte; sophomore Dustin Ebner (injured during fall practice); and red-shirt freshman Jarrod Darden.
New to the Buffs this year: senior transfer (USC) Travon Patterson; freshmen Paul Richardson and Alex Turbow. Patterson comes to the Buffs without having to sit out a year (as did Toney Clemons, who transferred from Michigan) due to NCAA sanctions against USC. Paul Richardson does not have to sit out a year as he did not enroll at UCLA before coming to Boulder.
Losses from 2009: Senior Anthony Wright (medical), and sophomore Markques Simas (transfer). Simas finished his freshman season with three 100-yard games in the final four games of the year. Simas, however, was arrested for DUI in February, and, after missing a Court appearance in May, was suspended from the team. Simas has since decided to transfer. Terdema Ussery, a wide receiver recruit from 2009, took the spring off for personal reasons, and will try and earn playing time at safety this fall.
Strengths: Unlike the running backs, the wide receiver corps is oozing with depth. Scotty McKnight is just three catches shy of becoming Colorado’s all-time leading receptions leader. McKnight is also 7th all-time in receiving yards (1,900); fifth in receiving touchdowns (15); and already owns the record for most consecutive games with at least one catch (37). All that – and no one has been paying any attention to the Buffs’ senior.
Toney Clemons sat out his transfer year last fall, and, if coaches and teammates are to be believed, is poised to take his place amongst the best receivers in Colorado history. Media members have bought in as well, naming Clemons as the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. “It doesn’t add any pressure,” said Clemons of the recognition. “It only increases the high expectations I have for myself … All that has just made me more motivated.” New receivers coach Ron Prince is ready for Clemons to contribute. “We expect Toney Clemons to be a big factor,” said Prince. “He is big (6′2″, 210 pounds), he is fast, he is strong, he can jump high. Toney is going to do great things for us this year.”
Another senior expected to get on the field early and often this fall is USC transfer Travon Patterson. A 5′9″, 175-pound speedster did not get much playing time for the Trojans, something he expects will change in Boulder. “With all the guys there at SC, it was going to be hard for one guy (to get much attention from the NFL)”, said Patterson. “I felt like it would be a better opportunity going elsewhere.” With only a few weeks in the Colorado system, will Patterson be able to contribute? “Travon is doing a very nice job of learning the offense,” said Prince. “With him being a senior, we’ve actually had him play different positions. Usually when you get a new guy, you might try and limit him and have him learn one spot. But Travon is a very smart guy, and we’re moving him around to different spots, and he is adjusting well.”
The above does not go into several other players who could perform well this fall, including incoming freshman Paul Richardson, sophomore Will Jefferson, and what could become the feel good story of the fall, junior Kendrick Celestine (who abruptly left the team during the season in 2008 to take care of family concerns, only to return to Boulder and pay his own way through school, earning back his scholarship last Christmas). It also doesn’t mention what could be the true strength of the Colorado wide receiver corps – coach Ron Prince. The newest member of the coaching staff, Prince replaced head coach Dan Hawkins, who coached the wide receivers in 2009. Prince comes to Boulder after having spent most of the past decade coaching in the NFL (Seattle; Atlanta), and certainly has the attention of all of the talented receivers on the roster who aspire to play in the NFL. “He’s a difference maker,” said Clemons of his new coach. “He’s coached at the highest level and seen highest caliber athletes. He teaches detail and challenges us every day.”
Weaknesses: For all of the depth in the wide receiver lineup, there is surprisingly little experience. The Buffs could line up with two seniors (McKnight; Patterson) and a junior (Clemons) at wide receiver on September 4th, yet have only one receiver on the field with a catch in a Colorado uniform. Scotty McKnight had 76 catches last season, but amongst those returning to the Buff lineup from 2009, only Jason Espinoza had more than ten catches (13, for 136 yards). Otherwise, only Will Jefferson, with six catches last fall, returns.
The Buffs can go 8-4 if … Clemons and Patterson are the real deal. If the Michigan and USC transfers live up to the hype they have been afforded this summer, the Colorado passing game can return to heights not seen since the mid-90’s. Colorado has had only one 1,000-yard receiver in the past 13 seasons (D.J. Hackett, with 1,013 yards in 2003) In fact, Scotty McKnight’s 893 yards receiving last season was the only other season a Buff had as many as 800 yards receiving since 2003. Scotty McKnight is poised to become the first receiver in Colorado history to lead the team in receptions for all four of their years in Boulder. McKnight should be able to lead the team in receptions, but only because he is being utilized as the “possession receiver” he truly is. For the Buffs to register more wins, a speedster, like Clemons or Patterson, needs to lead the team in receiving yards in 2010.
The Buffs will go 4-8 if … once again, Scotty McKnight not only leads the team in receptions, but in yards. In 2009, the Buffs had a grand total of six plays of over 40 yards in length (compared to 15 such plays surrendered), after posting only four such plays in 2008. If the Colorado receivers cannot find a way to stretch the defense of the opposition, it will be a long year indeed. Clemons and Patterson will be expected to provide just such a threat.
Personnel: Senior Luke Walters; junior Ryan Deehan; and red-shirt freshmen DaVaughn Thornton and Alex Wood
New to the Buffs this year: Freshmen Harold Mobley; Henley Griffon; Matt Allen; and Kyle Slavin
Losses from 2009: Senior Riar Geer; senior Patrick Devenny; and senior Devin Shannahan. Clark Evans, the former quarterback recruit, was going to compete for playing time at tight end, but this summer decided to transfer after failing to qualify academically for the 2010 season.
Strengths: Only 32 tight ends nationwide were nominated this August for the prestigious John Mackey Award, given out each December to the nation’s top tight end (Colorado’s Daniel Graham won the award in 2001). On that list for 2010 is Buff junior Ryan Deehan. After playing behind three seniors last fall, and catching only ten passes for 91 yards, the nomination may come as a bit of a surprise to many. But not to Colorado tight ends coach Kent Riddle. Deehan, “will be a big part (of the Colorado passing game)”, said Riddle. “He’s in his third year and knows what he’s doing. He’s got excellent hands and understands how to run routes.”
Trying to assist Deehan in manning tight end duties are two very different players. The first, Luke Walters, is a sixth year senior. A former transfer from New Mexico, Walters has endured many injuries, including two lower leg surgeries which kept him on crutches for a total of eight months. Still, Walters is ready for one last season. “Honestly, I feel like a completely new player,” said Walters. “I’m not having anything in my subconscious to worry about – ‘Am I going to hurt myself?’ – or anything like that. I feel like I did when I was 100 percent healthy.” Walters will be asked to contribute from game one in 2010. “He is running really well, and obviously he is a smart guy, and he can catch the ball, too,” said Dan Hawkins. “So he can pose some problems for people.”
The other tight end looking to contribute immediately is red-shirt freshman DaVaughn Thornton, who sat at watched last fall as the Buffs played three seniors at tight end. This summer has been a “crash course” for the only other tight end on the roster with time in Boulder. “(We’re) getting him honed in on assignments and techniques, the speed at which things happen,” said Kent Riddle of Thornton. “We’re progressing on that.”
Weaknesses: Colorado has a total of ten players on the roster who answer to position titles of tight end, fullback, or H-back. Of the ten, only two have taken snaps in a college uniform. That could be a problem if Ryan Deehan gets hurt, or if Luke Walters and DaVaughn Thornton do not step up and play well in their new roles. “We’ve got three new guys who are coming in and trying to learn a three-inch (thick) playbook,” said Walters, of the Buffs’ 2010 tight end recruits. Of the three freshman, Riddle said that Kyle Slavin, who played locally at Littleton (Chatfield), might have a slight advantage. “(Slavin) was around some during the spring, and got an idea of what is going on,” said Riddle. “He might be a little ahead mentally.”
Colorado can go 8-4 if … Ryan Deehan is a finalist for the John Mackey award. The Buffs’ offense is set up for a strong tight end with good hands to have a monster season. The line has award candidates; Rodney Stewart is poised to become one of the all-time leading rushers in Colorado history; and the Buffs finally have receivers who can stretch defenses. If opposing safeties have to be concerned about the Buffs’ rushing attack, but also have to be wary of deep routes by the receivers, the middle of the field should be open for a tight end to post great numbers. If Deehan’s numbers merit him making the cut for the Mackey award, Colorado is having a good season.
Colorado will go 4-8 if … Deehan is hurt/ineffective, and Walters and Thornton cannot pick up the slack. Walters, back for his sixth season, is a feel good story, and Thornton has a great future ahead of him, but if either of these two inexperienced players are called upon to take over for Deehan, a weapon has been removed from the Colorado offensive arsenal. If the defensive backfield for the opposition can ignore the tight end position, it will make it difficult for the Colorado offense to be successful.
Personnel: Senior Nate Solder; senior Keenan Stevens; junior Ryan Miller; junior Ethan Adkins; junior Mike Iltis; junior Sione Tau; junior Shawn Daniels; junior David Clark; junior Blake Behrens; sophomore Bryce Givens; sophomore Ryan Dannewitz; sophomore Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner; red-shirt freshman Gus Handler; red-shirt freshman Jack Harris (injured); and red-shirt freshman David Bakhtiari.
New in 2010: Junior Eric Richter; freshman Kaiwi Crabb; freshman Daniel Munyer.
Losses from 2009: None – unless you want to count the move by junior Matthew Bahr from the line to the role of “utility back”. Bahr was in for 244 snaps last year, 7th-most on the team, and started three games at right guard. Otherwise, the offensive line unit returns intact.
Strengths: Depth and experience, the two elements missing at running back (depth) and wide receiver (experience), are not a problem for the Buffs’ offensive line. Colorado is the only team in the Big 12 to have its entire offensive line return all five starters. Senior left tackle Nate Solder and junior right guard Ryan Miller have been named to the preseason All-Big 12 team, and both are up for national awards. Both Solder and Miller are on the watch list for the Outland trophy, and Solder was also named to the watch list for the Lombardi award. Not to be outdone, senior Keenan Stevens was named to the watch list for the Rimington award, handed out to the best center in the nation.
With three positions – left tackle; right guard; and center – seemingly spoken for, the battle of fall camp was for the jobs at right tackle and left guard. Junior Ethan Adkins made the top of the depth chart for the season opener at left guard, beating out junior Mike Iltis and junior college transfer Erich Richter. The right tackle position, after the second scrimmage of the fall, was still too close to call, with both sophomore Bryce Givens and red-shirt freshman David Bakhtiari named as co-first teamers. Bakhtiari has been one of the pleasant surprises of the 2010 fall camp. “Last year, I was like fourth string; I didn’t see myself where I am at all right now,” said Bakhtiari. “I was just grinding. I put in a lot of hard work in the off-season, lifting and trying to gain weight (he’s up to 275, still considered small for a right tackle). It’s starting to pay off.”
Weaknesses: What’s not to like? The Buffs went 20 deep along the offensive line this fall, allowing the team to run four lines in practice. This is a far cry from 2006, when the spring game was more like a controlled scrimmage as the Buffs did not have enough healthy offensive linemen to field even two lines. Colorado returns all five starters, and has three award candidates.
The only problem … this excellent stock of talent has yet to produce any results on the field. In 2009, Colorado was 113th in rushing; 117th in sacks allowed. Colorado rushed for an average of 2.8 yards per carry, better than only Texas Tech (which ran an offense in which the running game is an afterthought) amongst Big 12 teams. “We were young, but that’s not an excuse,” said Keenan Stevens of the Buffs’ 2009 numbers. “We have to go out and perform. This year, we’re older, more experienced. I think we expect ourselves to perform a lot better.” At the opening of fall practice, offensive line coach Denver Johnson indicated that he wanted to have his five starters in place, and now it appears that he does. “Just as long as we have a couple of weeks together before the first game, that’s great,” said Stevens. “You always need chemistry for at least that long.”
Colorado can go 8-4 if … the Buffs have the same five starters all season, and Ryan Miller joins Nate Solder as All-Big 12 honorees. Colorado used seven different starting lineups along the offensive line in 2009, and the results (or lack thereof) were predictable. Objectively, the talent is there. Nate Solder is an All-American candidate, and such recognition does not come about without reason. Stevens and Miller are also on award watch lists.
The Buffs have been stockpiling talented offensive linemen for the past four seasons. It’s time for them to live up to their billing.
Colorado will go 4-8 if … Tyler Hansen continues to run for his life. Colorado gave up 44 sacks last year. Conversely, Boise State, which went 14-0, gave up five. Center Keenan Stevens believes the sack total will go down, and that the rushing totals will go up. “Having good receivers will help so much,” said Stevens. “Those guys can get the safeties out of the box, which is going to be huge four our offense running the ball.” Quarterback Tyler Hansen is also confident. “Our O-line will be a lot better,” said Hansen. “If they play up to their potential, we can be really good offensively.”
Hansen’s statement could be a mantra for all of the Buffs’ offensive units this spring …
If they play up to their potential, the Colorado offense can be really good.
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