All things considered, the Colorado football team had a successful first season with Karl Dorrell as head coach.
Dorrell isn’t celebrating that success, however.
“I’m not happy with how we ended,” Dorrell said Wednesday on “McChesney Unchained,” a podcast with former CU star and NFL veteran Matt McChesney. “The last two games of the year, we didn’t win, so that’s the taste I have in my mouth. It’s not the taste that, ‘Oh Karl, you had a great year.’ That is far from where I feel right now. We ended the season losing games, so that’s what I’m looking at as I go into ’21.”
CU (4-2, 3-1 Pac-12) opened the season with four consecutive wins, but lost to Utah, 38-21, in the regular season finale on Dec. 12. Then, the Buffs were hammered by Texas, 55-23, in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29 in San Antonio.
Dorrell said he told the team after the Texas game, “This is the last time we will look this poorly again, as I’m being the head coach. This is not going to happen. We’re going to be more competitive.”
Because of injuries, COVID-19 issues and a couple player opt-outs, the Buffs had just 49 scholarship players against Texas, but Dorrell said, “I’m not an excuse maker. Whatever we put on the field, I’m expecting we have chances to win with and we just didn’t play at that level at the end of the year.
“There were some steps of progress, yes. No question. Did it end the way it should have ended? No, not at all. I’m not happy. We have work to do and our team knows that.”
Dorrell, who was named Pac-12 coach of the year, is expecting several key players back on defense to continue the work.
Linebacker Nate Landman, who ruptured his right Achilles’ tendon against Utah, announced this week he will return for his fifth season – although it’s unknown when he’ll be ready to play.
Dorrell also mentioned defensive linemen Mustafa Johnson and Terrance Lang and outside linebacker Carson Wells and said, “All those guys, they’re all back next year.”
Lang and Wells were both juniors this season, while Johnson and Landman were seniors. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to all players. Johnson has not publicly stated he will return.
“I’m very impressed with them, about them buying into the direction we’re going and the message we’re presenting to our team right now,” Dorrell said of the top defenders coming back. “They feel that we have a chance to really do some damage, if we all come back, if we all have a great offseason and develop as a football team and build our depth and continue to get better at our systems.”
It’s unknown if Dorrell has had discussions with all the players about their futures. After the Alamo Bowl, players and coaches went on break and have not returned.
Dorrell said senior quarterback Sam Noyer, who started all six games and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors, had surgery on his shoulder, fixing an injury that bothered him all season. Dorrell did not say whether Noyer will return for a sixth season, but said there will be competition at quarterback.
True freshman Brendon Lewis made his debut in the Alamo Bowl and led the Buffs to three touchdowns. Incoming freshman Drew Carter will look to compete, as well, along with JT Shrout, a transfer from Tennessee who played in eight games with the Vols.
“(Noyer) knows he needs an offseason of work and digesting information and getting better for him to play at a level that he thinks he’s capable of playing and we expect him to play,” Dorrell said. “We have some good, young quarterbacks. We do feel good about that, but I’m going to continually remind them about how we ended the year.”
Whether at quarterback or other positions, Dorrell said competition will fuel the Buffs at every spot.
Dorrell said he told the team after the Texas game that they made strides and established a foundation, but what they did in 2020 has nothing to do with 2021.
“In other words, it is open competition at every position,” Dorrell said. “Literally every position on this football team is going to be competitive. There is no incumbent. You’re going to have to come in there and show why, if you were the starter in ’20, why you should be there in ’21. You’re going to have to prove yourself every time.”
Dorrell is confident the Buffs will do that after posting their first winning season since 2016.
“We have as good a chance as anybody to win this conference,” he said. “They now have touched it and they know where they made some positive steps and they know there’s some ground that needs to be gained, too. They feel it. They know they can be in the thick of this thing.”