Neill Woelk
Neill Woelk
To a man, the Colorado Buffaloes say they`re tired of losing.

No surprise there. There`s not a player on the roster who has finished a season in Boulder with more victories than losses. Live through that kind of stretch, and any competitive athlete worth his salt is bound to be just a little fed up with the whole thing.

But it`s one thing to say you`re tired of losing and something totally different to actually do something about it.

You`d better have the players to back it up and the mentality to match. It may sound counter-intuitive, but if you want to cure a long stretch of losing, you need a little swagger to your step to go with that chip on your shoulder.

The players on Dan Hawkins` fifth CU team believe they have that combination.

"We`re tired of losing -- sick and tired of losing," said Buff cornerback Jimmy Smith at Saturday morning`s CU media day. "All the work we`ve put in, everything we`ve done -- we`ve done too much to go through the same thing again. It`s going to pay off."

Again, easy to say. You wouldn`t expect Smith to say anything else.But the look in Smith`s eye suggests there`s something different with this year`s team. The young man who is quick to flash a smile shows no sign of even the slightest grin when discussing what`s ahead for the Buffs.

Smith -- one of the best players on CU`s team and one of the best players in the Big 12 -- is very, very serious about his fifth and final season in Boulder.

He`s done his best to make sure his teammates view it the same way.

"This is the first time since I`ve been here that there`s a little swagger," Smith said. "We have some confidence. You can look around and know that we have good players everywhere.

"Last year people said we were supposed to be improved and we maybe just thought it would happen. This year ... this year we`re working to make sure it happens. Anyone who saw our 7-on-7s this summer, anyone who saw us out there competing knows we have the players."

Already, Hawkins has noticed the difference in this year`s team. It`s nothing he can quantify, but what Hawkins calls "a little extra juice" is no doubt present.

"It`s a good thing," Hawkins said. "You look at the older guys we`ve got out there and they`ve gone through a lot, personally and as a team. Injuries, close losses -- all those things.

"To accomplish anything great, I think there has to be a little extra juice, that motivation that drives you. I do think our team is there. I think everything these guys have been through has provided a little bit of that chip on their shoulders."

Certainly last season`s 3-9 record provided plenty of ammunition in that department. From the opening loss to Colorado State to the season-ending defeat to Nebraska -- both at Folsom Field -- 2009 proved to be a long, long season for the Buffs.

"This team definitely has that chip on our shoulders," said quarterback Tyler Hansen. "You know that thing that Hawk keeps saying about being 'this close?`

"People don`t realize how true it is. We`ve sat and looked at film, looked at the things that cost us games. Little things here, little things there. Dumb mistakes. It`s so frustrating.

"Now we`re fed up with losing. Sick of it. And this year, we`ve got players everywhere to make a difference. We`ve got the guys to do something special."

The Buffs do indeed have the players to make a difference. As the Buffs gathered for lunch on Saturday, one CU football staffer looked around the room and noted that "there are more NFL-caliber guys in here than we`ve had in a long time."

But translating talent into wins won`t come easily. At CU, nothing ever comes easily.

Back to Smith. Asked why this year will be different than any of the other past four, the Buff cornerback leaned in and said with conviction:

"Because it`s going to be. You can just feel it. We have the players, guys believe and guys are willing to work. It`s not going to be the same."

Honestly? I`ve heard it before. From lots of players on lots of teams over the last 30-plus years.

But there`s something about the way Smith and his teammates are saying it that makes it seem just a little different. 

Different enough, anyway, to think that the swagger in their step and the chip on their shoulders might actually lead to something good for the 2010 Buffs.