Colorado Buffalo's College Football: What to Watch for Before Spring Practice

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Colorado Buffalo's College Football: What to Watch for Before Spring Practice
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What to Watch for While Waiting for Spring Practice

Spring practice will not begin until March 11th, but that doesn’t mean that there will not be news of interest over the next month. Here are some stories worth tracking between now and the start of spring ball.

Michael Thomas

Michael Thomas is a four-star wide receiver recruit from Woodland Hills, California, and is rated by Rivals as the 36th-best wide receiver from the 2011 Class of recruits (Rivals bio). Due to a death in the family, Thomas postponed announcing his choice for a school. However, there were questions about Thomas’ recruitment even before the death of his grandmother. Thomas did not take any official visits before Signing Day, and only holds (at present) offers of scholarship from Colorado, Houston, Oregon State and Colorado State.

Why no official visits? Why aren’t there more offers from BCS schools?

There is speculation that grades might have something to do with Thomas’ lack of offers. Or it may be that Thomas is having a difficult time, not necessarily with grades, but with demonstrating his eligibility (he was home-schooled for a year, which may have brought up issues of core credits).

It has been rumored that Thomas will be taking his official visit to Colorado on the week of February 14th. There is also speculation from Kevin Scarpati of Rivals.com that Thomas will be taking a number of official visits, including trips to Oregon, North Carolina and USC. Then there is the story making the rounds that Thomas will end up signing with a junior college.

The Buffs certainly would like another wide receiver recruit, and Thomas (86 receptions, 1,656 yards, 21 touchdowns in 2010) is certainly a quality prospect, but his recruitment has taken on the air of the old Sports Illustrated article about Sidd Finch*.

Guess we’ll have to wait and see … 

*In 1985, Sports Illustrated ran an article about pitching phenom Sidd Finch. The article described an unknown pitcher, Finch, who was taking the Mets’ training camp by storm. Reportedly, Finch could throw a fastball 168 mph, some 60 mph faster than any other recorded pitch. The article took on a life of its own, until the reader noted that the date of that week’s Sports Illustrated was dated April 1st.

Injury Updates

Four players are known to be “out” for spring practice, as they recover from off-season surgeries. The four Buffs who are still on the mend are tight end Matt Bahr (shoulder), offensive lineman Blake Behrens (shoulder), center Mike Iltis (knee), and offensive lineman Max Tuioti-Mariner (knee).

Four other players have recovered from 2010 injuries, and are listed as “full go” for spring practice … quarterback Tyler Hansen (spleen); running back Brian Lockridge (ankle); linebacker Jon Major (knee); and offensive lineman Shawn Daniels (foot).

What Buff fans will want to keep an eye out for, though, is news about three players on the injury list whose status is listed as “to be determined”.  All are defensive backs – a unit which will be crucial to the success of Colorado in its first season in the pass happy Pac-12.

Those players who may recover sufficiently to participate this spring in practices are: Junior defensive back Vince Ewing, who suffered a torn ACL during the first scrimmage of fall practice (August 12th), and is still recovering; sophomore defensive back Parker Orms, who was injured in the first quarter of the first game against CSU, and who is still working on bringing his knee back to full strength; and senior defensive back Anthony Perkins, who was injured during the Missouri game, and later had surgery on his knee (October 22nd).

Keep an eye out for announcements to whether any or all of these three players will be able to workout this spring.

Open Date

Colorado presently has 12 games on the 2011 schedule, with a “TBA” still listed under the September 10th home date.

The game was originally supposed to be a game with California, the return of a home-and-home against the Bears which began with a game in Berkeley in 2010. The series was scheduled, however, before Colorado joined the Pac-10, and now the non-conference game is a game between conference opponents.

The natural solution for the Pac-12 officials, of course, was to put Colorado and Cal on each’s others conference schedule for 2011, making the scheduled September 10th matchup a conference game. When the schedules came out in October, however, the Buffs and the Bears were not scheduled to play against one another in Pac-12 play.

Since October, Buff officials have been working with Cal administrators to try and find a solution. Colorado already has seven road games on the calendar, and faces Stanford, Ohio State and Oregon, three teams which finished in the top five in the nation last year.

In addition to this, there is the long trip to Hawaii, the always tough game in Denver against Colorado State, and home games against Pac-12 South favorites USC and Arizona State. Yet another tough game for the new coaching staff is not optimal, but it may happen anyway.

The latest rumor is that the game between Colorado and Cal will, in fact, be played in Boulder on September 10th as a non-conference game. The announcement could come at any time.

(All things considered, I would prefer not to have Cal as an opponent. Not because I am wary of the 52-7 beatdown put on the Buffs by the Bears in 2010, but because an easier game would allow the Buffs the chance at a fast start to the 2011 season.

A lesser opponent in week two would allow the Buffs to focus on breaking the road losing streak against Hawai’i, then have a “gimme” game before taking on Colorado State in Denver. Such a schedule would give the Buffs, under their new coaching staff, a realistic chance at a 3-0 start).

Spring Game Activities

The Colorado Spring game will be competed under the lights on Saturday April 9th, at 6:00 p.m. Concern for the weather aside (even if it is an “average” April 9th, the temperature should be in the high 30’s at kickoff, and continue to drop throughout the game), there are other aspects to the Spring Game day which Buff fans will appreciate.

Colorado will conduct its Junior Day on that Saturday. The Buffs will be bringing in a number of players who are still high school juniors this spring, in hopes of obtaining some early commitments – or at least some early interest.

For years, Texas has used its Junior Day to obtain commitments from over half of its next year’s recruiting class. The Spring game will be the first opportunity for Jon Embree and his coaching staff to makes its pitch to the recruiting Class of 2012.

Another event scheduled is an alumni flag football game before the Spring Game. This move should come as no surprise, as CU alumn Jon Embree is reaching out to former Buffs, and former Buff traditions, almost as much as former head coach Dan Hawkins tended to shy away from them.

Colorado also plans on inviting state champions from various classes – another shrewd move to bring in players from top schools – as well as tailgating opportunities for the fans.

The record for attendance at a Spring game is 17,800, set in 2008 when former head coach Bill McCartney challenged Buff fans at the spring luncheon to help fill Folsom Field for the spring game. Attendance the past two Spring games, while still in the top seven all-time, have shown a significant decline: 11,700 in 2009; 9,100 in 2010.

Look for the Colorado athletic department to make a push to set a new record this spring.

Colorado Excellence Fund

Speaking of the Colorado athletic department …

While not scheduled to launch officially until March 15th, the push for the “Colorado Excellence Fund” is already underway. The fund is designed for Colorado fans to make direct contributions to the Colorado football team, above and beyond their annual Buff Club donations.

Fans will receive 5 points for every $100 donated, with points going toward priority for parking, road game tickets, as well as post-season or tournament tickets. For those in the higher donating categories ($5,000 – $25,000), there are additional benefits, including pre-game sideline passes, access to private CU events, access to closed practices, and priority for individual game tickets and road hotel accommodations.

The Colorado Excellence Fund is set to be introduced March 15th, with a full launch set for July 1st (when Colorado is set to join the Pac-12). The athletic department, though, is already “priming the pump” with donor events (a meet-and-greet with the new coaching staff in Los Angeles netted over $75,000 in donations last week).

Look for a solicitation – coming to a mailbox near you  - in the near future …

NFL Draft

It’s been pretty quiet around Boulder the past few NFL drafts.

In 2010, no Buff player was drafted, only the third time (2005; 2001) in the past twenty seasons in which no Colorado player had his name called. This was after a year (2009) in which Buff fans had to wait until late in the seventh round for a Buff to be drafted, when linebacker Brad Jones was picked by the Green Bay Packers with the 218th-overall pick.

In 2011, Colorado fans will have a reason to tune in early to the NFL draft coverage.

Colorado has not one, but two players being projected as potential first round draft picks. Todd McShay of ESPN is currently projecting, in his mock draft, that Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith will be drafted with the 11th pick overall, going to the Houston Texans, while teammate Nate Solder will go to the Detroit Lions with the 13th overall pick.

Nate Solder has received most of the All-American mentions coming out of the 2010 season, but Smith has been impressing the scouts in the post-season workouts. While their positioning in the draft will certainly change between now and April, it will be exciting for Colorado fans to track the progress of these two potential NFL stars.

The last time Colorado had a first-round draft pick? In 2003, when defensive lineman Tyler Brayton was selected by the Oakland Raiders.

The last time Colorado had two first-round draft picks in the same season? In 1997, when guard Chris Naeole went to the New Orleans Saints, and wide receiver Rae Carruth was drafted by the Carolina Panthers.

Preferred Walk-ons

Dan Hawkins liked to keep a few scholarships in his pocket, so that he could dole out scholarships to walk-ons who deserved them. The strategy of holding back scholarships worked last summer, when the Buffs had a scholarship to give to Paul Richardson, who was dropped by UCLA in June. It has also worked against the Buffs, as Hawkins famously awarded kicker Aric Goodman a scholarship after the walk-on kicked the winning field goal against West Virginia in 2008.

Jon Embree’s philosophy appears to be to try and keep as close to the 85 scholarship limit as possible. In a recruiting cycle when Colorado was expected to sign only 12-15 players, Embree brought in 20 total. There is always some attrition when there is a change in coaches. 2011 is no exception, with players such as Kendrick Celestine, Dakota Poole, and Andre Simmons not having their scholarships renewed.

This would apparently leave little room for preferred walk-ons, but the Buffs still might have a few. One name in particular to keep an eye out for is that of long-snapper JJ Drescher from Southlake Carroll high in Texas. For those of you who have been with CU at the Game for some time, you know that I was always a fan of JJ’s big brother, Justin Drescher, who was a four-year starter at long-snapper for the Buffs.

Justin Drescher was offered a scholarship to come to Boulder. Currently only walk-on Ryan Iverson fills that post. It will be interesting to see if JJ – or any other preferred walkons – are invited to Boulder.

Rick Neuheisel

The saga in Westwood continues.

As noted in the February 10th addition of the Colorado Daily, UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel continues in his quest to fill the defensive coordinator slot. Three other candidates have not worked out, and it has now been almost two months since Neuheisel fired Chuck Bullough from the post.

Speculation has now turned to former Miami head coach Randy Shannon, who has been interviewed for the job. Also interviewed was Kentucky defensive coordinator Steve Brown.

With the natives already restless in Westwood, Neuheisel did not endear himself to the Bruin faithful when he took a vacation to Cabo to celebrate Neuheisel’s 50th birthday. Neuheisel called the trip a “command performance” for his wife, and assured UCLA fans that he “was not there long enough to get a tan.”

Watching how the soap opera that is the Rick Neuheisel show at UCLA should make for great fun for Buff fans this spring …

So, stay tuned, everyone.

It may be four weeks until the start of spring practice, but there is still a great deal going on …

More on Colorado football at www.cuatthegame.com

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