T here is one question from readers you get in this job more than any other, but it only comes in the offseason.
"How are the Buffs going to be next fall?" or some variation of that basic inquiry about the Colorado football team comes my way dozens of times between the end of one season -- late November in recent years -- and when September rolls around.
My response so far this year has been that I expect the Buffs will be a little better than most of my colleagues around the nation believe.
Coach Jon Embree will have a very young team, likely with a greenhorn quarterback. I think 6-6 and a bowl game is probably the very best this program could do in 2012 considering it starts with three winnable games in non-conference play against Colorado State in Denver, at home against Sacramento State and on the road at Fresno State. Considering the youth of the roster, it might be a little optimistic, but I do see the program winning more than the three games it won last year.
There are only eight seniors now on the roster and only six of them can be counted on for significant contributions. When the roster is dominated so much by youth and inexperience, it's imperative for coaches to be on top of their game and making smart decisions about how to put their players in the best position to succeed.
Embree and his staff could do a lot along those lines this fall starting by speeding things up on offense and making opposing defenses stop a no-huddle attack at altitude.
I've often wondered why CU coaches -- Embree and his predecessors -- haven't tried to use the altitude and lack of oxygen to their advantage in the past. Dan Hawkins gave it a try, sort of, for part of one season but what I'm suggesting is putting the pedal to the metal all the time, or at least until you have a big lead.
What better way to neutralize some of the speed on rosters around the league than taking their breath away?
Tad Boyle has used this approach with the CU basketball program. The Buffs used to walk the ball up the court under former coach Jeff Bzdelik absolutely wasting a clear home-court advantage. Now the Buffs run opponents out of the gym and have a dominating record at the Coors Events Center under Boyle.
I'm not alone. Season-ticket holder John Sommerrock emailed this week wondering the same thing. Has Embree considered playing no-huddle football in Boulder?
"With the altitude it seems it's something we should (have) used a long time ago," Sommerrock wrote.
We've seen programs have a lot of success playing no-huddle in recent years in the college game. Oregon, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma all come to mind as teams that have used it against CU with great success. Some of those teams simply operate their offenses without a huddle, but they're not necessarily in a hurry to run plays and pressure the defense. In fact, they often pause and look to the sideline waiting for coaches to read the initial defensive look for the players and then decide what play to run.
Oregon, for example, pressures defenses by wasting as little time as possible between plays, often unhinging the defense and making substitutions hard to come by.
Imagine trying to defend the Ducks at altitude. Break out the oxygen tanks.
CU defenders got a taste of that last year in a 45-2 Oregon romp at Folsom Field. The Buffs were badly outgunned to start that day because of injuries and five years of Hawkins' recruiting, but then asking that overwhelmed team to try to keep pace with the Ducks was just folly.
Embree and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy are attached to their pro-style offense and wanting to develop a power running game here, circa 2001 and 2002. There is no reason they can't do that in a no-huddle, hurry-up mode.
If we've learned anything over the past six years of watching the Buffs lose more often than they win it's that this program has to score more points. In six consecutive losing seasons, the Buffs have averaged more than 25 points a game just once. That came in 2007 when they scored 27 points a game, finished 6-6 in the regular season and lost to Alabama in the Independence Bowl.
Speeding up the offense would lead to more plays being run and more opportunities to score.
In the middle of last season, I asked Embree if he believed he might have to get a little more creative offensively to keep up with the innovative schemes the Buffs defend each week in the Pac-12 Conference. At that point, just before the Buffs played Oregon in October, Embree had only seen about half the league. It's also important to note that the league has likely become even trickier for defensive coordinators in the offseason with the addition of coaches Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez to the conference.
Embree said he wasn't interested in trying something different for short-term success at the expense of his long-term vision. He also said that he didn't believe CU had the personnel to make something else work last year but he could see himself exploring more approaches as he continued to add talent and depth to the program.
"No, I am not tempted at all," Embree said. "I don't know if stubborn is the word, but I believe in what we are trying to do and we are recruiting to that. I believe that what we are doing and how we are doing it, will give us a chance to be successful in this conference. It is unfortunate that it is not happening sooner than later, but one of the things I told the team when I first got hired is, 'What we are going to ask from you is going to be hard, but it will be worth it.' "
You have to respect a coach for believing in his system and his way, and I believe Embree has enough determination and love for his alma mater to eventually turn the program around. I'm simply suggesting he could speed up that process by trying to speed up his offense, especially in home games.