One play. One play that turned into a 10-point swing Saturday night, one play that made the difference between the No. 2 team in the nation and a struggling team desperate for something good to happen.

One lousy play -- and it might turn out to be the play that does more than any other this year in changing the long-term fortunes of the Colorado football program.

We won`t call it a blessing in disguise. Any play that costs a team a chance at a win -- especially a chance at beating the No. 2 team in the nation -- can`t be called a blessing.

But if indeed the Cody Hawkins interception that was returned 92 yards for a touchdown proves to be a defining moment in CU`s fortunes ... well, the payoff might be worth the pain.

Certainly there were other moments that hurt the Buffaloes in their 38-14 loss Saturday. A 39-yard Texas touchdown pass in the final minute of the first half. A blocked punt that produced another UT touchdown, and a punt return for a touchdown in a fourth quarter that finally opened the Texas floodgates.

But more than anything, the game turned for good on Hawkins` pass, one that was returned the other way for a touchdown and a 24-14 Texas lead.

At worst, Colorado shouldhave been in position for a game-tying field goal. At best, the Buffs could have taken the lead after a Jalil Brown interception gave CU possession deep in UT territory.

Either way, the Buffs had a wonderful opportunity to swing momentum back in their favor. After a terrific first half and a solid defensive effort all night long, CU had a chance to make it anyone`s ballgame with a little more than a quarter left to play.

Instead, the worst became the unimaginable. One play cemented the Longhorns` victory.

That was enough, even for head coach Dan Hawkins, whose son also happens to be the quarterback who threw the pass.

Minutes later, Tyler Hansen entered the huddle for Colorado`s first series of the fourth quarter.

You could hear the gasp of surprise throughout Buff nation. It wasn`t as much déj vu as it was that sinking feeling you get in your gut from bad leftovers.

We saw a similar situation a year ago. With Cody Hawkins struggling against Kansas State, Hansen came on in relief and led the Buffs to a win. But just three games later, Hawkins was back in the lineup for good and Hansen has been wearing headphones since.

But after the game, Dan Hawkins made it clear. Tyler Hansen is his No. 1 quarterback. He insisted it is a permanent change.

"We`re going to get him in there and he`s going to be the guy," Dan Hawkins said. "Cody wants to be a coach. He`s going to learn what it`s like to be a coach."

CU fans can only hope that "permanent" means exactly that -- and not just because Hansen may offer a better alternative at quarterback the rest of this season.

What is even more important is the overall health of the Colorado program. This soap opera must come to an end. The cloud created by the head coach naming his son the starting quarterback must be cleared away once and for all.

What is imperative is that Dan Hawkins must not waver from that decision. No rotation, no maybes, no question. Not next week, the week after or the week after. No change of heart, even if Hansen struggles mightily.

Hansen must be the starter for the remainder of the season and the Buffs must carve their fortunes with him under center.

Another change back to the coach`s son could mean Hawkins losing this team completely. A defense that played well enough to win against the No. 2 team in the nation will not sit quietly if CU`s coaches waffle and return to Cody Hawkins.

The consequences here reach much farther more than one play or one game. The consequences here concern this season -- and the next and the next. What`s at stake is the future of the program that was entrusted to Dan Hawkins three-plus years ago.

After the game, Hawkins said he told his team not to forget how well they played. "Hopefully, our guys know how good they can be."

In other words, don`t waste the effort.

With seven Big 12 games remaining, the Buffs still have the opportunity in front of them to make something good out of this season. If they play like they did Saturday, there`s not a team left on the schedule they should fear.

Meanwhile, CU`s head coach must heed his own advice.

Before the season started, I wrote that Hansen should be the starting quarterback. Eliminate the problems created by having a coach`s son as the starting quarterback and go with the bigger upside presented by Hansen. It seemed to be the best possible option.

Now, five games into the season, CU`s coaches have turned in that direction. They have what amounts to a fresh start. They have a new quarterback, a chance to create a new perception of the program and a chance to still reap some respectability from this season.

But this may be their last opportunity.

They`d be well advised not to waste this one.