Colorado Buffaloes Football Predictions (Games 7-12)

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Colorado Buffaloes Football Predictions (Games 7-12)

The first half of a difficult schedule behind them, the Buffs will open the second half of the 2008 campaign against an old nemesis.

 

Oct. 18:  Kansas State

Fast facts: Kansas State in 2007 was a tale of two seasons. The first half of the season was all good. A 4-2 record, including a dominating 41-21 upset win in Austin over the No. 7-ranked Longhorns.

The second half was a disaster. A 1-5 record, with some very large numbers put up against the Wildcat defense: Points? 73 given up to Nebraska, 49 to Missouri, and 45 to Fresno State in the last three games. Yards? 510 to Oklahoma State, 519 to Nebraska, and 549 to Fresno State.

What to do? Third-year head coach Ron Prince brought in 19 junior college recruits to provide an immediate infusion of talent into the Wildcat lineup. It’s a high-risk, high-reward strategy.

By game seven, there should be some indication of how well the experiment has played out. Six, count ‘em six, receiver recruits will be there for star quarterback Josh Freeman to throw to. On defense, eight, yes eight, defensive linemen will try to bolster a defense which is switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3.

 

Why Buff fans should look forward to this game with optimism:

1) Junior college pipeline. Ron Prince may have a better record at Kansas State than Dan Hawkins in his first two seasons at Colorado, but there is definitely a divergence of opinion when it comes to the directions being taken by the programs.

The Wildcats loaded up on junior recruits this past spring (19, or almost as many as the rest of the Big 12 combined). First year coaches do this; perhaps even second year coaches. But a third year coach?

Shouldn’t the coach’s guys—Ron Prince’s guys—be stepping into starting roles now? What does this say about the players Prince recruited the past two seasons? What will this do to team chemistry?

2) Fresno State. Just as the Montana State ghost continues to linger over Folsom Field, the ghost of Fresno State may continue to haunt Kansas State in 2008.

The Wildcats, with a bowl bid on the line, lost to Fresno State, 45-29, to close out a 5-7 season that was once a 5-3 season.

What do you do when you have been bucked off a horse? You never get back on—or at least that is the message K-State administrators were telling their players.

Instead of revving up for a revenge game against the Bulldogs of Fresno State in game two of the 2008 season, Kansas State backed out, replacing the potential top 25 Bulldogs with...Montana State. Talk about bad karma!

3) It’s game seven, and it’s in Boulder. Kansas State may have a better record in the first half of the season, but that’s only because the Wildcats had three wins penciled in before fall camp opened.

North Texas, Montana State, and Louisiana-Lafayette don’t figure to be a hassle for home team in Manhattan (yes, yes, I know MSU beat the Buffs in 2006. I live in Bozeman, Montana, home of Montana State. I will be reminded of that outcome for the rest of my life).

The road games in the first half of the season are at Louisville and at Texas A&M, with a home game against Texas Tech. While the Wildcats have a fighting chance in each of these games, they may well lose all three.

This leaves KSU with a 3-3 record when they face Colorado. Similar records, but the Wildcats will have lost three of four, and will be 0-2 in Big 12 play. Considering that Kansas State went into the tank after a 5-3 start in 2007, is a repeat in 2008 too hard to contemplate?

 

Why there is reason to lose sleep the night before the game:

1) 47-20. Kansas State was a good team, but certainly not a great team, when they faced Colorado in Manhattan in 2007. The Wildcats were 3-2, with respectable losses to Auburn and Kansas, and an upset win over then No. 7 Texas.

The result of the 2007 game, though, made K-State look like world-beaters, and the Buffs look very mortal. Considering Kansas State won only one more game in 2007 (and that was against Baylor), the Wildcat players must look back fondly at the 2007 result, and are looking forward to similar success in 2008.

2) Prince v. Hawkins. While there is optimism in Boulder about the future of the Buffs, the fact remains that Dan Hawkins is 0-2 against Ron Prince, and Prince’s 13-12 record is enviable compared to Hawkins’ 8-17. Until the Buffs beat the Wildcats, there is nothing in this series Buff fans can crow about.

3) The gauntlet. The Buffs will be coming off of a four-game stretch which few teams could survive. Three of the four will likely be in the top ten at some point in 2008 (West Virginia, Texas, and Kansas), with the fourth game being a road tilt against Florida State.

Buff fans will look at the schedule and see Kansas State as being a "breather." Comparatively, perhaps, but the Wildcats will not lay down for the Buffs just because Colorado had a tough September.

As important as the earlier games may be to the Buffs in claiming some national attention, this game may be the most important of the season in terms of bowl eligibility.

 

Kansas State game to keep an eye on before the CU/Kansas State game:

Kansas State at Louisville on Sept. 17. This is an important game to Buff fans for several reasons. If the Wildcats can handle the Cardinals (a team which underachieved at 6-6 in 2007), they will be 4-0 in non-conference play.

The game is on a Wednesday night (the night before the CU/West Virginia game), so national attention will be afforded the winner of the game. If KSU is 4-0 in non-conference games, they may be energized enough to stay with Texas Tech (see: Kansas State 41, No. 7 Texas 20, last season) and Texas A&M.

Win either one of those games, and it will be the Wildcats with all the momentum heading to Boulder on Oct. 18.

My thoughts: For a successful season, this game is a must for the Buffs. It’s at home, against a team with which the Buffs have equal or superior talent. Dan Hawkins is 0-2 against Ron Prince. Prince might not be around long enough for Hawkins to even the score in 2009.

 

Oct. 25 at Missouri

Fast Facts: After a 12-2 season in 2007, and with Heisman hopeful Chase Daniel returning for his senior season, Missouri is a legitimate contender for the national championship.

This is a far cry from previous seasons, when the Tigers were perennial underachievers (remember when head coach Gary Pinkel was on everyone’s "hot seat" list? That was 12 months ago).

It’s safe to say that Missouri will not sneak up on anyone this season. The Tigers lost only two games last season - both to Oklahoma.

The Sooners are not on the schedule this season - unless Oklahoma and Missouri meet again in the Big 12 championship game.

By the time Colorado travels to Columbia in late October, Missouri will either be the real deal in the national title race or exposed as a pretender.

The Tigers open with a re-match with Illinois at St. Louis (the Tigers won, 40-34, last season in a game which did not receive near as much attention as this season’s game will), and will have faced off against Nebraska in Lincoln (a place where the Tigers last won in 1978) and against Texas in Austin (a place where the Tigers haven’t won since—gulp—1896!).

If Colorado is facing an undefeated Missouri team in late October, the Buffs may be facing the No. 1 team in the country.

 

Why Buff fans should look forward to this game with optimism:

1) Oct. 25. The date for the 2008 Colorado/Missouri is a special one for Buff fans.

October 25, 1986: Colorado 20, No. 3 Nebraska 10. The game which launched the Buffs back into the national spotlight after a ten year absence.

The game which planted the seed which led to a national championship four years later. Want more Oct. 25 karma? Oct. 25, 1969: Colorado 31, No. 5 Missouri 24.

2) 1-2 Missouri? The Tigers open conference play against Nebraska in Lincoln. Missouri hasn’t won in Lincoln since the Carter administration.

Trust me, I will be rooting for the Tigers on Oct. 4, but I would not be surprised if the Cornhuskers win the emotional conference opener. Then, after a home game against Oklahoma State (not a gimme), the Tigers travel to Austin to play Texas.

The Longhorns will be coming off of their encounter against Oklahoma (Texas has won the game played immediately after the Red River showdown 10 years in a row), and playing their first conference home game of 2008.

Three tough games to open Big 12 play—Missouri may be coming off a loss (or two) suiting up against the Buffs.

3) Restoration of Order. The Buffs are 8-3 against Missouri at Faurot Field since 1986. Included in those wins is the bizarre 33-31 win in 1990 (the "Fifth down game") and a wild, 42-35 overtime win in 2002.

Call it fate. Call it karma. Call it the Buffs' lucky day. We’ll need all of the above against a talented Missouri team.

 

Why there is reason for Buff fans to lose sleep the night before the game:

1) Chase Daniel. Daniel was the Big 12 Offensive player of the year in 2007, and a Heisman finalist. Toys for Daniel to play with in 2008: Jeremy Maclin, who had over 1,000 yards receiving as a freshman, and tight end Chase Coffman, who already possesses the team record for touchdown catches.

If the Tigers can find a tailback to replace Tony Temple, an offense which ranked in the top ten nationally last year in passing offense, total offense, and scoring will be even better.

2) 55-10. In their two losses to Oklahoma, Missouri scored 31 and 17 points. In their other 12 games in 2007, the Tigers never scored fewer than 36 points. Seven times, Missouri posted over 40 points.

The 55 points hung on the Buffs were a season high. Players on both sides of the ball will remember how the Tigers toyed with the Buffs in Folsom in 2007.

3) Cruise control. If Missouri is 7-0, or even 6-1, coming into the game with Colorado, they will be playing with great confidence.

Beat Nebraska and Texas—teams which have completely dominated the Tigers over the years—and a schedule of Colorado, at Baylor, Kansas State, and at Iowa State will not intimidate the home team.

Tiger fans will already be making BCS travel plans when the Buffs come to town.

 

Missouri game to keep an eye on before the Colorado/Missouri game:

Missouri at Nebraska, Oct. 4. It’s tempting to put down the Missouri/Illinois game on Aug. 30. The Illini may turn out to be the highest-ranked team the Tigers play all season.

The Nebraska game, however, will be a true sign of how far the Tigers have come. Missouri thumped Nebraska, 41-6, last season in Columbia. A similar showing in 2008 would serve notice on the rest of the Big 12 North that the Missouri Tigers are the class of the division.

A loss to the Cornhuskers, though, and the division is wide open.

My thoughts: It’s August, and there is no rational reason to pick the Buffs to win this game. Missouri has a talented quarterback and a plethora of receivers to throw to, and the Buffs are weak in pass defense.

The Tigers will be at home, and the Buffs struggle on the road. Last season’s score: Missouri 55, Colorado 10. It will be closer in 2008. How much closer is hard to say, but to me, this is the most likely "L" on the Buffs’ schedule.

 

Nov. 1  at Texas A&M

Fast facts: Texas A&M will be the fourth team in the first nine games for Colorado in 2008 which will be led by a new head coach.

Out is Dennis Franchione, 23-24 in four seasons at College Station (including a 7-6 record in 2007). In is former A&M assistant coach and former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike Sherman.

Laid back has been ditched for attack, as Sherman is noted for creating defenses designed to attack the offense, rather than read-and-react.

The question is whether Sherman has the horses to do what he intends, at least in his first season. The Aggies gave up 255 yards passing per game last season (92nd in the nation in that category), and sacked the opposing quarterback only 18 times.

There is little in the way of returning talent, as only four starters on defense are back. As a result, depth and experience will work against the A&M in 2008.

On offense, there is no clear cut favorite at starting quarterback. Stephen McGee is the returning starter, but McGee is geared more towards the option attack of Franchione, not the pro-style attack of Sherman.

That issue will have to be ironed out well before the Buffs travel to face the Aggies.

 

Why Buff fans should look forward to this game with optimism:

1) Halloween on the road. I am really looking forward to this road trip. There are few schools which have more college football traditions than Texas A&M. Yell practice, the 12th man, the bonfire, Reveille (the collie which just happens to be the highest ranking officer in the Corps at A&M) are all part of the Aggie experience.

Yell practice, held at midnight before a home game, will, against the Buffs, be conducted at midnight on Halloween. We’ll forgive the A&M players and fans if they want to have some fun at home on Halloween,  and not be as rested for the Buffs as they should.

2) The schedule. If you haven’t already guessed, I am a big believer in momentum. As much as we like to analyze the college game, it is still being played by a bunch of young men who have to worry about their girlfriends, their classes, and the color and style of their i-pods.

Yes, Colorado’s game against Texas A&M will be played in November, and each team will have already played eight games. For the Aggies, though, the two biggest games on the calendar—against Oklahoma and Texas—will still be ahead of them.

The Aggie players, most of whom have not played against Colorado, may well be looking past the Buffs to a game against (No. 1?) Oklahoma the following weekend.

3) The Aggies are a good fit for the Buffs’ personnel. As head coach Mike Sherman tries to mold the Aggies in his image, there is work to be done. There are holes in the A&M offensive line, so the rushing game will be vulnerable to a good rush defense (Buffs).

The receiving corps may be the weakest part of the offense, giving a break to a weak pass defense (Buffs). And the defensive line is vulnerable to a strong rushing attack (Buffs).

 

Why there is reason for Buff fans to lose sleep the night before the game:

1) Better record. Colorado may well have better personnel on the field against Texas A&M, but the Aggies, as the calendar turns to November, will likely have a better record coming into the game.

Texas A&M has a soft non-conference schedule: Arkansas State, at New Mexico, Miami, and Army. New Mexico is decent, and the game against the Hurricanes would normally instill fear, but Miami hasn’t been Miami for several years now.

In Big 12 play, the four conference games before Colorado are: at Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas Tech, and Iowa State. While there are no easy outs in the Big 12 this season, this schedule is hardly murderer’s row. Texas Tech will likely be the only ranked team the Aggies play all season before facing the Buffs.

2) 29-26. Colorado is 2-1 against Texas A&M in College Station, but the last snap the Buffs took on the Aggies’ home field turned out badly for CU. The 2004 CU/A&M game went into overtime tied at 26-all, and, after Texas A&M managed a field goal in their possession, the Buffs were primed to pull off the road win with a touchdown.

On third down, running back Bobby Purify ran for five yards, apparently picking up a first down for CU. The officials ruled, however, that Purify had fumbled, giving the ball and the game to the Aggies. It’s been four years since that play, but it remains the last play for CU at Kyle Field. Bad karma...

3) Road weary. The Texas A&M game will be the third road game in four weeks for the Buffs. The road schedule in 2008 for Colorado is enough to make a grown man cry: at Florida State (I know, Jacksonville, but c’mon - anyone really want to call that a "neutral site" game?); at Kansas; at Missouri; at Texas A&M; and at Nebraska.

See an easy win there anywhere? If the Buffs are 0-fer the road in 2008 prior to the Aggie game, it will be tough to pick up road win No. 1 at College Station.

 

Texas A&M game to keep and eye on before the CU/Texas A&M game:

Texas A&M at Oklahoma State on Oct. 4: The Big 12 opener for both teams. The Aggies and the Cowboys will both be looking to make a statement that they belong in the Big 12 South division race.

In most preseason publications, the Oklahoma Sooners are ranked in the top five; Texas and Texas Tech in the top 15. Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, according to the pundits, will be left to battle it out for fourth place in the South division.

For two teams looking to be the Kansas of 2008, a loss in this game will leave the losing players doubting their chances of competing for a title, and leave the losing team’s fans grumbling about having to wait yet another year to compete with the big boys in the South.

My thoughts: If this game were in Boulder, I would see it as being a win for Colorado. The Buffs match up well against the weaknesses of the Aggies. If the Colorado rushing game is in high gear by Nov. 1, the Buffs can dominate the line of scrimmage and time of possession.

My chief concern: I am going to the game. While I am not prepared to call myself a jinx for the Buffs, Colorado does not have a stellar record in games I have traveled to witness (don’t ask; it’s embarrassing).

One plus: the last game I did watch the Buffs play in person in the state of Texas, the Buffs won (in the Houston Bowl against UTEP in 2004).

So there you go! Buffs win!

 

Nov. 8: Iowa State

Fast facts: It’s year two of the Gene Chizik era in Ames. The Cyclones struggled in 2007, finishing with a 3-9 record (ISU did manage to tie Nebraska for fifth in Big 12 North, posting a 2-5 mark).

The season was one of contrasts for Iowa State. An embarrassing loss to 1-AA Northern Iowa was immediately offset by an upset win over rival Iowa. An 0-4 start in conference play, including a 56-3 loss to Texas, was quickly forgotten after the Cyclones upset Kansas State and Colorado on consecutive weekends.

Then, just when it appeared that ISU was ready to stake its claim as one of the most improved teams in the second half of 2007, the Cyclones closed out the year with a forgettable 45-7 defeat at the hands of the Kansas Jayhawks.

In 2007, Iowa State was led by record setters at quarterback (Bret Meyer) and wide receiver (Todd Blythe), yet was still awful on offense, finishing 102nd in the nation in total offense and 111th in the nation in scoring.

Meyer and his 48 consecutive starts are gone; his replacement is undecided. There is some talent and depth at running back, and, like Colorado, inexperienced linemen from 2007 now have a full year behind them. On defense, the pass defense is weak; the rush defense only marginally better.

 

Why Buff fans should look forward to this game with optimism:

1) It’s about freakin’ time! For the first time since week two against Eastern Washington, Buff fans will be looking at the team on the upcoming schedule and saying, "Okay, there’s a win".

The Cyclones may, by the end of September, have already matched their win total for all of 2007, but that doesn’t mean that ISU is all that much better. Colorado will be the sixth Big 12 game for Iowa State, and reality will have set in for the Cyclones long before they travel to Boulder.

2) 21-0. Yes, Iowa State beat Colorado last season, but that game was an aberration, as the Buffs inexplicably turned a 21-0 lead into a 31-28 defeat.

If the Buffs are up by three scores early in the third quarter against the Cyclones this fall in Boulder, and face a fourth down on the Buffs’ side of the field, there will be a loud cry throughout Folsom Field: "Punt!".

3) 47-14-1. The loss last season notwithstanding, Colorado just does not lose to Iowa State. The win in 2007 gave the Cyclones their third win over the Buffs in 23 years. That’s 3-20 against CU since 1983, 1-11 in Boulder.

The Buffs have more talent, the Buffs are playing at home, and the Buffs will not, after the debacle in Ames in ‘07, look past Iowa State.

 

Why there is reason for Buff fans to lose sleep the night before the game:

1) No lead is safe. The Buffs were on cruise control in the 2007 game. A 21-0 halftime lead against a 2-8 team. Yes, Iowa State had upset Kansas State the weekend before, but the 5-5 Buffs needed the win in order to ensure a bowl bid, and had dominated the first half. Go for it on fourth-and-one at your own 42-yard line? Why not?

ISU had 100 yards of total offense in the first half, and was averaging only 18 points per game during the season. Oops. Demetrius Sumler was stuffed on the fourth down run, and before the Buffs could say "losing season," CU was down 31-21 on its way to a 31-28 loss.

Even if the Buffs get up big against the Cyclones on Nov. 8, there has to be an underlying sense on both sidelines that Iowa State is still in the game.

2) Grading on improvement. With Kent State, Toledo, Northern Iowa and Iowa on the non-conference schedule, and with Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech (all three of which will be ranked in 2008) traded out for Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, and Baylor (none of which will be ranked in 2008, at least not at the outset), there is reason for optimism in Ames.

The Cyclones may be sniffing a bowl bid come November, and looking at the Buffs as a possible victim.

3) Anything left in the tank? For Colorado, the Iowa State game will either represent a chance to show that the Colorado can dominate lesser competition, or a game between teams desperate to move into bowl contention.

If the Buffs have struggled through a tough schedule, and get to this game 3-6 or 4-5, it’s anybody’s game.

Iowa State game to keep an eye on before the CU/Iowa State game:

Iowa State at UNLV on Sept. 20. You will have to look long and hard to find coverage of this game. ISU was 3-9 in 2007; UNLV 2-10 - not exactly a marquee matchup.

Granted, there are other games of interest for CU fans involving Iowa State: Can the Cyclones avoid another upset at the hands of Northern Iowa? Can the Cyclones upset Iowa again? Who will win the battle of the presumed cellar dwellers when ISU faces off against Baylor?

But the UNLV game will be a good yardstick of how far the Cyclones have come under Chizik in year two. Iowa State’s last non-conference road win? Try 2005, and that was against Army. If ISU is going to be a threat in Boulder, they need to win against on the road against an inferior Rebel team.

My thoughts: If you were going to rank the schedule for Colorado in 2008, this game would fit in as No. 3 in the "most winnable" category, behind Eastern Washington and Colorado State. If the Buffs lose this one, you will be able to google "Dan Hawkins" and "hot seat", and get too many hits to count.

 

Nov. 15: Oklahoma State

Fast facts: Oklahoma State finished off a 7-6 2007 season (4-4 in Big 12 play) with a 49-33 win over Indiana in the Insight Bowl. Nothing unusual about those numbers.

In the Mike Gundy era, the records have been average (18-19 overall under Gundy), with the Cowboys trying to out-score an opponent with an explosive offense offset by a porous defense.

Need more numbers? Try these. In 2007, Oklahoma State was seventh in the nation in total offense. Wow. In 2007, Oklahoma State was 101st in total defense. Ick.

The Cowboys cannot stop anyone; they have to try and outscore them. It works out for Gundy and his crew about half the time.

Look for more of the same in 2008. Zac Robinson may be the best quarterback in the nation no one is talking about. Robinson set a school single season record last season for total offense (3,671 yards), and did so despite not playing until game three.

Four full-time starters are back on the offensive line to make sure Robinson sets new records this fall, and there is plenty of talent at the skill positions.

Now, about that defense... Last season, Oklahoma State gave up 562 yards of total offense to Troy (in a 41-23 loss). The Cowboys beat Texas Tech last season, 49-45, but not without trying to lose.

OSU surrendered a mind-boggling 718 yards of total offense to Texas Tech, and still won the game. In order to try and make the defense decent, coach Gundy imported six junior college defensive players.

How well the imports improve the OSU defense will go along way in determining the fate of the Cowboys in 2008.

 

Why Buff fans should look forward to this game with optimism:

1) Poor man’s Texas Tech. Oklahoma State is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Big 12 South. They can’t get no respect.

Despite the efforts of Gundy (and the millions of dollars donated by T. Boone Pickens), the Cowboys cannot escape the shadow of Oklahoma (or Texas, or Texas A&M, or even, lately, of Texas Tech).

Since the inception of the Big 12, Oklahoma has made six Big 12 title game appearances (winning five), while Oklahoma State has yet to win a division title.

In fact, the last title the Cowboys won was the 1976 Big Eight title, shared with Colorado and Oklahoma. OSU’s reward? A date with BYU in the Tangerine Bowl while the Buffs went to the Orange Bowl.

My point? By Nov. 15, it will be apparent to all in Stillwater that 2008 will not be a breakthrough year, either. The Cowboys will be playing for a bowl record; not a championship.

2) Sandwich game. For Oklahoma State, the game against Colorado falls between games against rivals Texas Tech and Oklahoma. A week after trying to keep up with the spread offense of the Red Raiders, the Cowboys go on the road again to face the Buffs. Up next for Oklahoma State after CU? Oklahoma at home. Colorado catches a break here as the Buffs get Oklahoma State at home in between two emotional games for the Cowboys.

3) November in Boulder. Okay, So the weather is just as likely to be crappy in Stillwater in November as it is in Boulder, but the Cowboy players cannot be looking forward to the mid-November trip with much excitement.

Plus, the CU game will represent the end of a long road season for OSU. Oklahoma State’s Big 12 road schedule in 2008: at Missouri; at Texas; at Texas Tech; at Colorado. Tough to see light at the end of that tunnel.

If OSU can’t handle Washington State in Seattle in the season opener, the Cowboys may be winless on the road heading to Boulder.

 

Why there is reason for Buff fans to lose sleep the night before the game:

1) Poor man’s Texas Tech. While the Red Raiders are getting national attention, and will be ranked in the top 15 in the country at the outset of the season, Zac Robinson and the Cowboys’ offense take a backseat to no one.

Robinson completed over 60 percent of his passes last season, and while Texas Tech was second in the nation in total offense last season, Oklahoma State was seventh. And the Cowboys beat the Red Raiders last season. There might not be as much attention paid to OSU in the national media, but the Cowboys can play with anyone.

2) Cowboys are due. Oklahoma State went 4-4 in Big 12 play in 2007, the best record in three seasons under Gundy. A 24-23 loss to Texas A&M and a 38-35 loss to Texas kept the Cowboys from being conference title contenders. A few breaks in 2008, and the Buffs will be facing a team with big dreams on their minds.

3) Rant Bowl. Mike Gundy v. Dan Hawkins. "I’m a Man!" v. "This ain’t intramurals." Two of the media’s favorite coaches square off in Boulder. If either team is in contention for a Big 12 title berth, look for YouTube hits to go up that week. Advantage: Gundy.

 

Oklahoma State game to keep an eye on before the CU/Oklahoma State game:

Houston at Oklahoma State on Sept. 6. Houston has a new coach in 2008, Kevin Sumlin, as former Houston head coach Art Briles has moved on to Baylor. The cupboard was not left bare for Sumlin, as the core talent from an 8-5 team returns.

Plus, Sumlin has offensive coordinator stints at Texas A&M and Oklahoma on his resume, so he is certainly familiar with the Cowboys. OSU stumbled out the gate in 2007, losing early to Troy. Will Houston be the Cowboys’ Trojan horse in 2008?

My thoughts: Say what you will about Gary Barnett (and I can say plenty), the Buffs in November always seemed to win the games they had to. Improbable Big 12 North titles in 2004 and 2005 were fueled by big wins in November.

It’s time for the Buffs under Dan Hawkins to begin making their own November statements. Oklahoma State will come to Boulder in November already having won six or seven games. They will leave Boulder with the same win total.

Nov. 28 - at Nebraska

Fast facts:If you are a Colorado fan, you have heard all you need to hear about how "Bo knows football" during the past off-season. Bo Pelini, in case you have been living in a biosphere for the past eight months, is the new head coach at Nebraska, replacing Bill Callahan. Pelini, with Nebraska as defensive coordinator for all of one season (2003), is seen as the returning savior of the Tom Osborne legacy. Pelini’s impressive resume, with Nebraska, Oklahoma, and LSU, belies the fact that Pelini has never been a head coach anywhere (yes, Husker fans, he is 1-0, having served as interim head coach for Nebraska’s bowl win over Michigan State in the Alamo bowl in 2003. Would you be so quick to point out Pelini’s "record" as head coach if the Cornhuskers had lost that game?).

Notwithstanding the unbridled optimism which has overtaken the Husker Nation, what does Bo Pelini have to work with? The offense will be good. Joe Ganz took over for Sam Keller late in the 2007 season, and threw for almost 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns in just three games. Running back Marion Lucky is the top returning rusher in the Big 12. The offensive line is more than adequate.

So what’s the problem? Well, that would be the defense. Yes, Ganz threw 15 touchdown passes in three games. Yes, the Cornhuskers scored a combined 163 points in three games under Ganz - and Nebraska lost two of those games. Other than rolling over Kansas State in a 73-31 win, the Cornhuskers lost to Kansas, 76-39, and Colorado, 65-51. In 2007, The Blackshirts gave up more first downs, yards, and points in a season than any other team in school history. And that unit lost all of its linebackers. Bo may know defense, but it may take some time - and different personnel - before Nebraska will regain elite status.

Why Buff fans should look forward to this game with optimism:

1) Defense wins championships. And Nebraska does not have a defense. Yes, the Cornhuskers will be better in 2008 under the tutelage of Bo Pelini - they could hardly be much worse. 114th in scoring defense in 2007. 116th in passing defense. 112th in total defense. The bright spot? The passing defense - 84th in the nation. Those numbers won’t be fixed overnight, especially not for a defense which was so thin that running back Cody Glenn was moved to linebacker - and he may start.

2) The aura is missing. The aura of playing Nebraska in Lincoln is, if not gone, at least on vacation. Colorado has played well in Lincoln of late, winning in both 2002 (28-13) and 2004 (26-20). Losses in 2000 and 2006 were close, and those were bad CU teams. In 2000, a 3-7 Buff squad was up, 32-31, over 9th-ranked Nebraska before falling on a last second field goal, and, in 2006, a 2-9 Buff squad was within a touchdown, at 20-14, late in the third quarter, before running out of steam in a 37-14 loss. The Buffs can do Lincoln.

3) Exposed. Nebraska doesn’t leave home to play a college football game until October 11th (insert your own joke about non-conference scheduling here). While there will be dancing in the streets in Lincoln after Nebraska beats up on Western Michigan, San Jose State, and New Mexico State to open the season (and will likely - though unbelievably - get Nebraska close to being nationally ranked), the following three games will show the college football world what the Cornhuskers are made of. Nebraska hosts Virginia Tech and Missouri before finally taking to the road to face Texas Tech. While two of the three games are at home, they are at least against legitimate teams. If Nebraska wins two of those three games, I will start to believe in the magic of Bo. Until then ....

Why there is reason for Buff fans to lose sleep the night before the game:

1) Home cooking. If Nebraska is not 3-0 before the Virginia Tech game, and not putting up good, in not impressive statistics, there will be cause for alarm in Lincoln. Here’s guessing the Cornhuskers will be undefeated when the Hokies come to Memorial Stadium. Virginia Tech is a good team, but lost most of its receivers, its leading rusher, and has only four returning starters on defense. A Nebraska win here would not be a complete shock. Then there is Missouri. A likely top ten team heading to Lincoln for the conference opener, the Tigers must face the reality of not having won on the road against Nebraska since 1978. Bo has an early season schedule tailor-made for a boost in confidence for the Cornhusker players. That momentum could carry through the remainder of the season.

2) It’s a rivalry, stupid. "The lady doth protest too much, methinks". The more Cornhusker fans decry the concept that Colorado/Nebraska is a rivalry, the bigger the rivalry becomes. While the 2008 showdown may not be for the Big 12 North title, it is a big game, a nationally televised game, a game after a bye week. The Cornhuskers will be ready for the Buffs in November.

3) 18-46-2. While the Buffs have certainly made inroads in the rivalry of late (winning four of the past seven games against Nebraska), this is still Nebraska we are talking about, and the overall series record heavily favors the Cornhuskers. Nebraska may have been brought down a few pegs over the past few seasons, but it is inconceivable at this point that the Cornhuskers will ever fall under the "sure win" category. Regardless of what Missouri, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma put up against Nebraska earlier in the season, Colorado will be lucky to escape Lincoln with a victory.

Nebraska game to keep and eye on before the Colorado/Nebraska game:

Nebraska v. Missouri - October 4th. This is the "show me" game for the team from the "Show Me State". The Tigers put it to the Cornhuskers, 41-6, in Columbia last season. Can Missouri overcome all its history of misery at Memorial Stadium to rest (last win: 35-31, November 18, 1978), or will Nebraska re-enter the national rankings after putting upstart Missouri back in its place as an also-ran in the Big 12? It should be a loud and interesting game.

My thoughts: Ask me again in early November. If, as expected, the Buffs are a better team than in 2007, but, due to its schedule, has little to show for it, this will be a tough game for Colorado. Conversely, if Colorado has broken through the tough part of its schedule relatively unscathed, and is coming off two dominating home wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma State, the Buffs could be rolling into Lincoln with great momentum and optimism about the future.

OVERALL PREDICTIONS:

There are two ways to break down the 2008 Colorado schedule. One way is to work from the extremes towards the middle. In that respect, Colorado State, Eastern Washington, Kansas State, and Iowa State are the most likely wins. West Virginia, Texas, Kansas, and Missouri will all likely be ranked when the Buffs play them (perhaps all undefeated and in the top ten), so there are four losses. This means the 2008 schedule comes down to four games: at Florida State, at Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, and at Nebraska. In order to improve on the 6-6 regular season record of 2007, the Buffs will need to win three of those four games. With three of those games being on the road, such an improvement may be a tall order for Colorado.

I prefer to break down the 2008 schedule into segments. The first segment contains the first two games: v. CSU in Denver, and at home against Eastern Washington. This is easy: for the Buffs to have a winning season, both of these games must be victories.

The second segment of the season stretches four games: West Virginia; at Florida State; Texas; and at Kansas. All but Florida State will be ranked, the remaining three likely ranked in the top ten when playing the Buffs. Colorado needs to win at least one of these games. Not just to make a splash in the national media. Not just to enhance the overall record. But to set up a stretch run to a bowl game in 2008. Florida State is the easiest pick for a CU win, but the game is at Jacksonville, and the Seminoles remain an enigma. A win over Texas at home, or even over Kansas on the road, is not inconceivable. This is the crucial stretch of the season. 0-4 could send the Buffs reeling. 1-3 gives the Buffs life in the bowl chase. 2-2 (or better!), and the set up for a magical season will be in place.

The third segment of the season stretches three games: Kansas State; at Missouri; at Texas A&M. If the Buffs fail to win two games in the first segment, or fail to win one in the second segment, this stretch of the season will decide Colorado’s fate in 2008. Should the Buffs get through the first half 3-3, a bowl bid becomes a strong possibility, as the Buffs will only need one win in this segment. A victory over Kansas State leaves the Buffs playing with house money against Missouri and Texas A&M. A win over either would be gravy.

The final segment of the 2008 campaign involves three games: Iowa State; Oklahoma State; and at Nebraska. A 4-5 Buff team will not need to panic, as both Iowa State and Oklahoma State are winnable games. Should the Buffs enter the final phase of the season with a winning record, the speculation will now be over which bowl the Buffs will be invited to attend.

A tough schedule; a long season. I see great improvement in the overall talent and attitude in Boulder. How that manifests itself on the playing field remains to be seen. This could be a breakout season for the Buffs, but I believe that will come in 2009 (when the non-conference slate is much more manageable). Most breakout teams, the season before they make their move on the national stage, post eight wins the year before (including Colorado, which finished 8-4 before going 11-1 and 11-1-1 in 1989 and 1990). I see seven regular season wins, and a bowl win to conclude the season on a high note, and to set the stage for 2009.

Others may want more out of 2008, but for me - "Eight is Enough".

For more on CU football, log on to http://www.cuatthegame.com

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