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Rooney: Karl Dorrell debut season with CU Buffs a live dress rehearsal for 2021

Difficult to see Buffs topping 1-6 in shortened season

BOULDER, CO – October 13, 2020:  Head coach Karl Dorrell during Colorado football practice. (Courtesy photo/University of Colorado)
CU Athletics
BOULDER, CO – October 13, 2020: Head coach Karl Dorrell during Colorado football practice. (Courtesy photo/University of Colorado)

Perhaps Colorado’s choice at quarterback at the outset of the season fits in line with the overall strangeness of 2020.

Think about it. A little more than a year ago, Sam Noyer entered preseason camp penciled at the No. 2 spot on the Buffaloes’ depth chart, expecting to battle Tyler Lytle and Blake Stenstrom for the coveted backup job behind Steven Montez.

For Noyer, the competition didn’t last long. Now-former coach Mel Tucker opted to move Noyer to safety and Noyer, in turn, later decided to enter the transfer portal, hoping for one last chance to play quarterback as a graduate transfer somewhere else.

As it turned out, Tucker’s tenure at CU didn’t last much longer than Noyer’s participation in the 2019 quarterback derby, and after Tucker bolted for Michigan State, new coach Karl Dorrell helped convince Noyer he still had a home at CU. And a spot in the quarterback competition.

Next week, when the Buffs finally kick off the delayed 2020 season against UCLA, Noyer will be under center, given the first chance to lead an offense the Buffs hope will surprise folks during the truncated campaign.

Noyer hasn’t started a game since his senior year of high school. If he struggles, it will be understandable. Yet whether he does or doesn’t, Noyer will not be the reason the Buffs struggle this season. And it might be best for Buffs fans to consider 2020 as a sort of live, dress rehearsal for 2021.

Given the unique circumstances completely out of the Buffs’ control, from Tucker’s abrupt February departure to the coronavirus pandemic that cost the Buffs the entirety of their spring drills and made a mess of summer and fall workouts, it is difficult to see the Buffs topping the 1-6 mark this season.

For my two cents, I think CU’s best opportunity to get ahead of that curve will be in the very first game, when a UCLA team that also has dealt with an abundance of local health restrictions, and which hasn’t yet proven a thing under Chip Kelly, visits Folsom Field for what very well could be a win-it-ugly type battle.

Win or lose, however, and things get difficult for the Buffs from there. I’m chalking up at Stanford, home against Arizona State, and at USC into the loss column. Give the Buffs the edge at Arizona on Dec. 5, though CU’s track record on the road is more than enough to give pause on that decision, before returning home to finish the scheduled portion of the slate against always-tough Utah.

That leaves the Buffs at 1-5 going into their undetermined seventh game against the parallel finisher from the North Division. Certainly it’s a caveat not knowing exactly who the Buffs will play — Washington State? Oregon State? — but if CU is on the road in late December, I don’t like their chances.

Noyer’s success, or lack thereof, at the game’s most important position will not ultimately define whether the Buffs are better off with Dorrell than they might have been with Tucker. In announcing his decision, Dorrell was clear that Lytle will see time as well. And given the eligibility relief granted by the NCAA has turned the 2020 season into a sort of live redshirt year for young players, I’d expect to see freshman Brendon Lewis at some point along the way.

Yet the quarterback choice will offer some early insight into the decision-making processes of each staff. Tucker and former quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator Jay Johnson, who followed Tucker to Michigan State, didn’t believe Noyer had a future at quarterback. Dorrell and first-year quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf gave Noyer the starting nod for their CU debut.

Still, it’s been said before in this corner that assessing Dorrell’s first season might be less about wins and losses than setting the program up for the future, particularly during the upheaval of the routine since the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March. Tucker, for all the angst he left behind, was able to do that last year.

Two months from now, we’ll see if Dorrell was able to do the same.

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