The process of proving those statements true or false begins today when players report to campus for physicals and the first meetings of fall camp. The fun officially kicks off Thursday evening with the first of 36 scheduled practices or walkthroughs leading up to the Sept. 4 season opener against Colorado State in Denver.
Not much is expected from the Buffs around the nation. Preseason media polls and college football magazines have them pegged to finish in the bottom half of the Big 12 North Division in what is likely the final year for the program in the conference before it joins the Pac-12.
But Hawkins and his players believe there is finally a better blend of talent, experience and depth throughout the roster and the program could be poised to surprise just as it is parting ways with most of its long-time rivals. In order for that to happen, coaches must find answers for problems that led to a 3-9 finish last season and other issues that have been troublesome throughout Hawkins` tenure.
The need to rev up an offense that has been ranked at or near the bottom of the Big 12 in most major statistical categories was a problem at this time last year and the year before. A long-awaited turnaround starts with fixing these issues:
The Buffs were among the most penalized teams in the nation last fall being flagged 107 times for 907 yards.
CU also allowed 44 sacks for 369 yards in losses.
CU quarterbacks completed only 53 percent of their passes.
The team also struggled to run the ball consistently, averaging just 2.8 yards per carry (113th nationally).
It finished minus-6 in turnover margin, giving the ball away 31 times and taking it away 25 times.
The Buffs finished in the bottom third of major college football in rushing defense and scoring defense, allowing 161 yards per game on the ground and 29 points per opponent.Hawkins has pointed to those issues and others as priorities that must be fixed in 2010. There is plenty of work to do in the coming month with dozens of stories ready to unfold. Here is a look at some of what we know is coming.
Burning questions:Can Tyler Hansen hold off Cody Hawkins? Wide receiver Scotty McKnight says Hansen has been impressive this summer and appears to have taken firm control over the quarterback position. Coach Dan Hawkins doesn’t see it that way, but in fairness to coaches, they haven’t seen players on the field since April. It will be interesting to see how deep into camp we go before coaches name a starter.
Can Toney Clemons live up to the hype? The transfer from Michigan is eligible after sitting out a year and was named the Big 12 Conference Newcomer of the Year last month. He is expected to be the big-play receiver Colorado has missed for years now and with Scotty McKnight, Travon Patterson and others on the field, defenses shouldn’t be able to focus too much attention on him. But Clemons didn’t catch a lot of balls at Michigan, leaving some doubt until he proves it on the field.
Five starters return on the offensive line, but will all five keep their jobs? Two of those players — tackle Nate Solder and guard Ryan Miller — figure to be written in ink atop the depth chart. Center Keenan Stevens, guard Ethan Adkins and tackle Bryce Givens all face tough competition for their jobs. Players such as Mike Iltis, Ryan Dannewitz, Jack Harris, Eric Richter and Max Tuioti-Mariner could supplant them. It’s nice to have 17 guys on scholarship here.
Can this be a big-play defense? The defense dominated much of spring ball and seemed to be getting its hands on the ball more often, but can it continue to do so in fall camp and when it matters most? There is a solid rotation of seven defensive linemen with experience this year. That frees up talented and experienced linebackers and defensive backs to make more plays.
Who will handle the place-kicking? The struggles in the program over the past two years are well documented and senior Aric Goodman is coming off offseason hip surgery. Coaches say he is healthy heading into camp, but what about his confidence and accuracy? True freshman Justin Castor has the leg to earn the job if he proves he can be counted on. Junior Marcus Kirkwood, a lefty, looked good on kickoffs in the spring.
Keep an eye on
Four freshman running backs: Rodney Stewart and Brian Lockridge are the only running backs returning with significant game experience, meaning at least one and maybe two freshmen could earn playing time. Don’t forget about redshirt freshman walk-on Quetin Hildreth, who stood out in the spring. The four freshmen fighting to distinguish themselves are Cordary Allen, Tony Jones, Trea Jones and J.T. Torres. Allen and Torres are bigger than the other two and might have an edge because the program needs some size in the backfield, but the player who is most ready physically and mentally will play.
Nick Kasa: Did we ever see the real Nick Kasa during his injury and illness plagued freshman season at defensive end? Probably not, and that makes it exciting to see what he can do with a year under his belt with added weight and strength. Remember, this is a guy who had signed to play for the Florida Gators. He has big time talent.
Evan Harrington: Coaches generally don’t sign junior college transfers unless they believe the player can help right away. That adage might be even more significant at CU where it is difficult to get JC transfers into school. By all accounts, Harrington, an inside linebacker, has been solid this summer in workouts with teammates. Now he needs to impress coaches to take playing time away from Jon Major or Michael Sipili, two solid veterans.
Tight ends: There is really only one player here who has been through the fire on game day. Junior Ryan Deehan will be the starter and will catch his share of balls, but there is some explosive talent behind him. DaVaughn Thornton, a 6-foot-5 athlete with some speed, had fans excited in spring ball. Throw in Clark Evans and freshmen Harold Mobley, Henley Griffon and Kyle Slavin and there are some nice pieces to work with going forward. Don’t forget about sixth-year senior Luke Walters.