Ask yourself this:

When was the last time Colorado won a football game that mattered? I mean really, really mattered? One that turned heads around the nation, one that had even casual college football observers sitting up and taking notice as an important win and not just an aberration?

Here`s one vote for Dec. 1, 2001, when the Buffs beat third-ranked Texas, 39-37, in the Big 12 championship game, one week after a 62-36 victory over Nebraska. Colorado was back -- or so it seemed.

But since then it`s been a steady downhill slide for the Buffs. The Big 12 title game win over Texas was the zenith of Gary Barnett`s tenure, and while there have been some momentary bumps on the excitement meter since, the overall trend has been one that`s tested even the most ardent of Buff fans` patience.

After that win over Texas, Barnett`s teams never again made that kind of noise. Thanks in part to a variety of circumstances beyond his control, Barnett saw his teams slip to the point that his last three games as CU`s head coach saw the Buffs outscored 130-22.

That led to a change in coaches, but not in CU`s fortunes.

Enter Dan Hawkins, who debuted with a 2-10 season, followed by a 6-7 campaign (his best thus far) and a bowl game, a 5-7 finish and last year`s vastly disappointing 3-9 record.

That`s a 16-33 record in four seasons.

The last CU head coach to have that kind of record after four seasons? Some guy named McCartney, who entered his fifth season with a career mark of 14-30-1 and one bowl game to his credit.


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Now comes Hawkins` fifth year, and the accompanying descriptions that will be obligatory whenever his name is mentioned:

Under fire. Hot seat. Under pressure. Do-or-die season.

Take your pick, they all apply -- and nobody knows it better than the man in charge. Hawkins is well aware of what`s ahead.

Certainly there are plenty of questions as the seasonapproaches. The Buffs finished a minus-6 in turnover margin last year, drew 107 penalty flags (almost nine per game) and gave up 12 plays of 45 yards or longer. Repeat those numbers, and the chances of repeating the most important numbers from last year -- 3 and 9 -- are good.

Whether the Buffs can fix those problems remains to be seen. It`s what fall camp is for.

But one thing we already know about the 2010 Buffs is this:

There is more talent, depth and experience on this team than any previous Hawkins squad. There`s not a position on the team where the Buffs won`t have a veteran in place, and there are more quality players -- NFL-quality players -- than CU has seen in a half-dozen years.

Which means the season comes down to a very simple question:

Can Hawkins and his staff convert that talent, depth and experience into a winning season?

More than any other year in the Hawkins era, the program`s success is on his shoulders.

Not that the buck doesn`t always stop at the coach`s front door. But in years past, there have been a variety of reasons -- excuses? -- for the Buffs` stumbles.

New coaching staff. Youth. Injuries. A change in culture. Healing past wounds.

But this year, every player on the team is on campus because he was enticed to Boulder by Hawkins. Every player on the team -- aside from a handful of transfers -- knows only Hawkins` system.

These are his players, this is his team and the future of Colorado football is squarely in his hands.

Remember that McCartney fellow who had a 14-30-1 record after four years?

While he did have a winning record in his fourth year, the game many folks remember as the defining moment in CU`s turnaround -- the moment that made folks around the nation sit up and take notice -- was a 20-10 win over No. 3 Nebraska in his fifth season.

That`s the same season that Mac opened with four straight losses: Colorado State, Oregon, Ohio State and Arizona. Much of the good will that he`d built via the previous season was in danger of disappearing.

But he stopped the bleeding by beating Missouri and Iowa State, and then put up his first-ever win over a ranked team when the Buffs beat the Huskers.

That win, part of a five-game winning streak, sent a message that the Buffs were serious. Years later, you could point to that win as the decisive moment that McCartney`s program had indeed turned the corner.

Hawkins needs to deliver a similar message this year.

To his credit, Hawkins already has three wins over ranked teams, one in each of the last three seasons (Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kansas). But in each of those seasons, the Buffs have also stumbled against teams they should have beaten.

That equation has to change. This is the season Colorado must again win games that matter. Games that make a difference, games that turn a program back in the right direction.

Simply, games that people remember years from now as the cornerstone of a turnaround.approaches. The Buffs finished a minus-6 in turnover margin last year, drew 107 penalty flags (almost nine per game) and gave up 12 plays of 45 yards or longer. Repeat those numbers, and the chances of repeating the most important numbers from last year -- 3 and 9 -- are good.

Whether the Buffs can fix those problems remains to be seen. It`s what fall camp is for.

But one thing we already know about the 2010 Buffs is this:

There is more talent, depth and experience on this team than any previous Hawkins squad. There`s not a position on the team where the Buffs won`t have a veteran in place, and there are more quality players -- NFL-quality players -- than CU has seen in a half-dozen years.

It means the season comes down to a very simple question:

Can Hawkins and his staff convert that talent, depth and experience into a winning season?

More than any other year in the Hawkins era, the program`s success is on his shoulders.

Not that the buck doesn`t always stop at the coach`s front door. But in years past, there have been a variety of reasons -- some say excuses -- for the Buffs` stumbles.

New coaching staff. Youth. Injuries. A change in culture. Healing past wounds.

But this year, every player on the team is on campus because he was enticed to Boulder by Hawkins. Every player on the team -- aside from a handful of transfers -- knows only Hawkins` system.

These are his players, this is his team and the future of Colorado football is squarely in his hands.

Remember that McCartney fellow who had a 14-30-1 record after four years?

While he did have a winning record in his fourth year, the game many folks remember as the defining moment in CU`s turnaround -- the moment that made folks around the nation sit up and take notice -- was a 20-10 win over No. 3 Nebraska in his fifth season.

That`s the same season that Mac opened with four straight losses: Colorado State, Oregon, Ohio State and Arizona. Much of the good will that he`d built via the previous season was in danger of disappearing.

But he stopped the bleeding by beating Missouri and Iowa State, and then put up his first-ever win over a ranked team when the Buffs beat the Huskers.

That win, part of a five-game winning streak, sent a message that the Buffs were serious. Years later, you could point to that win as the definitive moment that McCartney`s program had indeed turned the corner.

Hawkins needs to deliver a similar message this year.

To his credit, Hawkins already has three wins over ranked teams, one in each of the last three seasons (Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kansas). But in each of those seasons, the Buffs have also stumbled against teams they should have beaten.

That equation has to change. This is the season Colorado must again win games that matter. Games that make a difference, games that turn a program back in the right direction.

Simply, games that people remember years from now as the cornerstone of a turnaround.