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Karl Dorrell confident CU Buffs can exceed expectations

Colorado projected for fifth-place finish in Pac-12 South

Tight end Brady Russell and the Buffaloes have been projected for a fifth-place finish in the Pac-12 South.
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Tight end Brady Russell and the Buffaloes have been projected for a fifth-place finish in the Pac-12 South.

In nine years of being a member of the Pac-12 Conference, the Colorado Buffaloes have been through four head coaches and a whole lot of losing.

History suggests that even in a shortened season, CU will struggle to find the win column, and because of that, it was no surprise that the Buffaloes were projected by media to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South division.

The preseason media poll, released Wednesday, projects Oregon to win the North division and the Pac-12 title game. Southern California was projected to win the South division.

First-year head coach Karl Dorrell knows how outsiders feel about his new team, but with the Buffs’ season opener a month away, he’s filled with optimism.

“We’re trying to get ourselves in that championship seat,” Dorrell said Wednesday during the Pac-12’s virtual media day with coaches. “I know people are probably scoffing at that on the on this call, but that’s our goal.”

CU (5-7, 3-6 Pac-12 in 2019) has finished in the bottom two of the South division eight times in nine years, the only outlier being the stunning surge to the division title in 2016. The Buffs, projected last that year, went 8-1 in the conference. The other eight years combined: 12-60.

Despite the challenges associated with the coronavirus pandemic, almost no experience at quarterback and Dorrell having yet to conduct a full practice with his team, he likes the team he’s been hired to lead.

“I still have great aspirations for this team,” Dorrell said. “I know we haven’t had a lot of time together (on the field). … But, we’ve done enough work off the field. We’ve had a lot of time from that aspect, in terms of the information being taught. Now we’re just at that point where we have to put it together.”

As long as the Buffs get clearance from Boulder County Public Health, they’ll open preseason practice on Friday. Then, they’ll have 25 practices to get ready for a seven-game schedule that begins with a Nov. 7 home date against UCLA.

“We’re going to have to get it tuned up and ready to go to create a great product when we line up and go on Nov. 7,” he said. “I think we can do it, I really do, just because of how quickly our guys have digested the information. They know it, so it’s just a matter of getting some practice time and some reps for us to perform at a high level.”

Dorrell is pleased with the mental part of the Buffs’ game.

“That gives us a chance,” he said. “I know their mindset is in the right place.”

Dorrell was hired Feb. 23 and the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports less than three weeks later. He never got a chance to go through the 15 spring practices that part of the normal calendar, and the summer workouts have been altered and limited, as well.

He’s not making excuses, however.

“One thing I told this team, we’re not concerned about missing spring practice and things like that,” he said. “I would normally be concerned, but I think there’s a lot of programs in our conference, let alone across the country, that had short time because of this pandemic.”

When the Pac-12 announced Aug. 11 that it would postpone fall sports until at least January, Dorrell gave his team some time off. He maintained hope, however, that the conferences that were playing would have success and help the Pac-12 get back sooner.

Despite hiccups around the country – several games have been postponed – many teams have played three or four games at this point. The Pac-12’s introduction of daily, rapid-results COVID-19 testing played a significant role in getting the conference back, as well.

Having the opportunity to play back on the table, Dorrell said he won’t take it for granted.

“I’m just very excited that our conference did reconsider and give us the opportunity to play this fall,” he said. “As for us here at CU, the players are really excited to go. We can’t take this for granted. It’s a blessing to play; it’s a blessing to play at a high level.”

Overall, it’s not a typical or ideal situation, but given the circumstances, Dorrell will take it and make the most of it. And, he’s confident the Buffs’ players will, as well.

“Will we be perfect? No, but I think we’ll show a great promise early on and I think we’ll build and get better each week,” he said.

“I know the expectations probably aren’t there on the outside of this building, but … we feel we can be a pretty good program that might surprise some people.”

The preseason poll:

South Division (first place votes in parentheses)

1. USC (32) – 220

2. Arizona State (2) – 181

3. Utah (4) – 168

4. UCLA – 109

5. Colorado – 63

6. Arizona – 57

North Division

1. Oregon (35) – 222

2. California (3) – 176

3. Washington – 161

4. Stanford – 105

5. Oregon State – 76

6. Washington State – 58

Title game winner: Oregon (21 votes), USC (15), ASU (1), Utah (1)

Colorado’s yearly projections:

2019 – Sixth place (Actual: 5th)

2018 – Fifth place (6th)

2017 – Fourth place (6th)

2016 – Sixth place (1st)

2015 – Sixth place (6th)

2014 – Sixth place (6th)

2013 – Sixth place (6th)

2012 – Sixth place (6th)

2011 – Sixth place (T-5th)