To paraphrase noted optimist Gen. George Armstrong Custer, the bright side of Friday`s 28-20 Colorado loss to Nebraska can be summed up succinctly:

Now we know where all the problems are.

The question for the next nine months will be whether Colorado coach Dan Hawkins and his staff can fix them.

Technically, Hawkins is not a lame-duck coach. He still has three years remaining on his contract.

But while Hawk did receive a lifeline this week, it wasn`t a lifetime. The guess here is that if he can`t cure the ills that plagued his team all season, the well of patience from CU officials that saved him this year will dry up in a hurry.

Friday`s story line proved to be an all-too-familiar one for Buff fans, a microcosm of a season in which the Buffs gave away a handful of games by committing unforced errors at the worst possible times.

Two missed field goals. A turnover converted into an immediate score by the opponent. A punt return for a touchdown. Poor special teams play in general. Penalties that killed drives.

Generally, just enough mistakes to eliminate a good offensive effort (403 yards), negate a solid defensive effort (only two touchdowns allowed while holding NU to 217 yards) and frustrate the hometown crowd.

As Hawkins said, "It was one of those seasons where you take away 10 plays and we`re probably a bowl team."

But fact is, you can`t take them away.


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You can`t change the past. You can`t pick and choose which parts of a season you`d like to erase.

Or, as Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops once said after CUcoach Gary Barnett bemoaned the Buffs` mistakes in a loss to the Sooners, "Everybody gets their shot when it comes on Saturday. Everybody knows the date. Be ready to play. If you watch the PGA, they don`t get a mulligan on the first tee, do they?"

The Buffs need to be ready to play next year -- and to get there, they`d better start working toward that goal right away.

There will be no more mulligans for Hawkins or his staff.

"It starts tomorrow," said Buff wide receiver Scotty McKnight. "Tyler (Hansen) and I and a lot of the other guys have to turn this thing around.

"There`s a lot of potential on this team, but we`ve got to stop talking about being young. We`ve got to stop making these dumb mistakes that are killing us. It`s not acceptable. ... It`s not the coaches. It`s us."

I`d agree with McKnight on the potential part. Look at the Buffs who made plays on Friday and the vast majority of them will be back in 2010.

Tyler Hansen threw for 269 yards (and also a very, very costly interception). Rodney Stewart ran for 110 yards. McKnight and Markques Simas both had 100-yard receiving games. Three of CU`s top five tacklers -- Anthony Perkins, Will Pericak and B.J. Beatty -- will return.

And, the bulk of a CU offensive line that had one of its better days in the running game will also be back.

But I`d also beg to differ with McKnight in his defense of the coaches, at least in terms of some of the mistakes.

When a team suffers a delay of game penalty in the fourth quarter deep in an opponent`s red zone, that`s a lack of communication -- and communication comes down to coaching.

When a team has been burned repeatedly on kickoff and punt returns, it`s a matter of coaching.

And, when your field goal kicker has missed 19 attempts in two seasons, that`s coaching.

Find a way to get plays into the huddle on time. Find another kicker (preferably someone along the lines of NU`s Alex Henery, who might just be the Huskers` most impressive weapon). Find players who know their special teams assignments.

Simply, find a way to fix the problems that can be fixed.

Yes, over the last couple of days, I stated that Hawkins deserved a fifth year. I still believe that. I honestly believe the Buffs aren`t that far away from being a competitive team.

But I also believe that now that CU`s administration has displayed its faith in him, it`s time for Hawkins to return the favor.

Address the problems that made the Buffs a 3-9 team instead of a 7-5 team this year. If that means revamping the coaching staff, do so. If that means a dramatic change in football philosophy, make the change. 

Whatever it takes, do it.

When Hawkins was hired four years ago, he was asked to address a multitude of issues, many of which had nothing to do with performance on the field. He`s done a solid job in correcting many of those areas.

Now, it`s time to repair the breakdowns on the field.

Simply, no more mulligans.