Colorado football players have a bounce in their step and an aura of confidence that has been absent from the Dal Ward Center locker room for a long time.
There still is a long way to go before we will know if what has happened on the practice fields this spring translates to significant improvement in actual games and the Pac-12 Conference standings next fall.
Let's be straight, if the Oregon Ducks were coming to town next week, the Buffs wouldn't be thinking of a possible upset, but they would definitely believe in their ability to move the ball for a change. That's at least a measure of progress for a program coming off the worst season in the modern era.
Credit first-year coach Mike MacIntyre and offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren for bringing the Buffs into the new era of college football by installing a multiple offense that includes plenty of The Pistol formation and keeping things simple this spring to help build that confidence.
The Buffs will showcase what they have learned from their new coaches in the annual spring game Saturday morning (10:30 a.m., Pac-12 Network) at Folsom Field. It's no surprise to one of the men who will be working the game as a television analyst that the Buffs are beginning to feel good about themselves again on offense.
Former CU, Washington and UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said he discovered The Pistol offense midway through his tenure at UCLA (2008-11) while searching for answers for a struggling running game and wishes he would have switched to that approach earlier. He believes he might still be coaching the Bruins had he done so.
Neuheisel said it's spooky how similar the rebuilding project MacIntyre took over in December is to what he inherited from Karl Dorrell. He believes MacIntyre's decision to use the offense he used at San Jose State will help the Buffs this fall.
"When you're trying to catch up personnel-wise to guys who are bigger, stronger, at least for the time being, it's a great offense because it equalizes things," Neuheisel said of The Pistol "People have to stand still and see where the ball is and so forth. I'd do it again if I went back to coaching, especially if I had a dynamic quarterback."
The Pistol features the quarterback in a short shotgun formation with the running back aligned behind him. It gives the offense the ability to run the ball in any direction and doesn't provide the pre-snap cues defenders are accustomed to looking for that help them decipher what's coming more quickly.
"We've been pretty much on fire the past two weeks since we came back from spring break," junior quarterback Connor Wood said. "I've been very encouraged. The linemen are really picking up a lot of different stuff, blitzes and all the different nuances of the protection. I'm proud of our receivers for adapting to all the different things. I'm confident about where we are."
Both Wood and fellow junior Nick Hirschman said it has been years since they felt as comfortable running an offense as they do today entering the spring game. Hirschman said he loves the new offense because it he is seeing things better and feels more at ease making checks and throws.
"The Pistol is an awesome dynamic," Hirschman said. "I love running the ball. I love the contact and getting physical in there. I always make the joke that we're not football players, we're quarterbacks, but it's fun to go in there and be a football player again."
Hirschman and Wood are on different teams and were talking a little trash to each other after Thursday's practice. They are perceived to be the leading candidates to earn the starting role heading into the summer, with redshirt freshman Shane Dillon right behind.
The 2013 spring game will be played like a normal game, which hasn't often been the case in previous spring games at CU. MacIntyre and the seniors chose sides Thursday and will compete with normal scoring rules and even live special teams plays.
MacIntyre is trying to get the best possible evaluation of players in game-like situations to help his assistants establish a depth chart next week that will be the base from which the team begins to build once again when fall camp starts in August.
Hirschman and Wood combined to make the CU defense look like it was playing Oregon or some other Pac-12 power in the most recent scrimmage last week. They threw seven touchdown passes and Wood ran for an eighth.
MacIntyre said he is hoping the defense puts up a better fight today.
Colorado's defense has had its share of success this spring in scrimmage situations, but it is generally hampered somewhat by not being able to hit the quarterback. The quarterbacks will be off limits once again today, a fact to keep in mind if Hirschman and Wood get hot once again.
Neuheisel said the only downside of running The Pistol can be exposing quarterbacks to injuries because they are asked to carry the ball more often. Neuheisel said that becomes less of a problem when you recruit the right player to the system. He believes he did that at UCLA when he landed Brett Hundley, who redshirted during Neuheisel's final season with the Bruins.
"If you've got the right guy, you can recruit a guy that doesn't get hit very often," Neuheisel said. "You end up running around people and when you run around people and get to the sideline, you can get out of bounds before anybody gets a real good shot at you."
Just the facts
KICKOFF: 10:36 a.m. Folsom Field, admission is free
TELEVISION: Pac-12 Network with Mike Yam, Rick Neuheisel and Curtis Conway.
RADIO: KOA (850 AM) will broadcast the game with Mark Johnson (play-by-play), Larry Zimmer (color commentary).
TEAMS: Coach Mike MacIntyre divided his roster into two teams. The Gold team is led by quarterback Connor Wood and the Black team is led by quarterback Nick Hirschman.
GARAGE SALE: CU is conducting a garage sale in Balch Fieldhouse starting at 9 a.m., and running through the end of the game. The sale offers unused athletic equipment inventory, some of which features the official logo. There is also a limited number of game-used jerseys and gold helmets available.
SOMETHING NEW: CU painted the end zones for the spring game this year and it chose social media related messages. One end zone features the athletic department's official Twitter handle @CUBuffs and the other end zone features the official hashtag #GOBuffs
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleRingo