HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – Almost from the moment the 2020 season came to a close, Colorado head football coach Karl Dorrell has said that year had nothing to do with this year.
It did, however, provide some confidence for the Buffaloes as they aim to exceed outside expectations again this year.
“It was a positive step forward,” Dorrell said Tuesday at Pac-12 media day at the W Hollywood Hotel. “I really felt like we accomplished a good deal of things in such a short period of time. That helped catapult us to having a good momentum going into this off-season. We expect to take that another step forward again going into this season in 2021.”
After being the Pac-12’s surprise team last year, however, media that covers the conference is projecting a slide for the Buffs (4-2, 3-1 Pac-12 in 2020).
Media predicted CU to finish fifth in the South division, the same spot they were projected to place last year. The fifth-place projection didn’t seem to bother the Buffs.
“I mean, the work is going to be the same, right?” senior linebacker Nate Landman said. “We prep for the season the same way, just like the other teams are prepping for the season. On paper, we’re put in fifth but nothing’s final until the games are played.
“For sure some guys can use that as motivation and some teams will use that as motivation. Some teams could get complacent with being ranked first. It can go both ways. As for us, we don’t care about what the pre-rankings are. We’re just gonna get out there and play football.”
Receiver Dimitri Stanley echoed Landman’s comments and said the Buffs simply have to prove themselves on the field.
“We’ve still got the same chip on our shoulder,” Stanley said. “We’ve been ranked bottom of the Pac since I’ve been watching Colorado football. We’ve really just got to prove some people wrong at this point. It’s not really anything we can put into words. It’s just going to be action at this point.”
Southern California is projected to win the South division for the second consecutive season, with Oregon picked to win the North. Oregon was the overwhelming favorite to win the Pac-12 title game, as well.
Whether the Buffs can contend for the title remains to be seen, but Dorrell is pleased with what the players have done since he was hired on Feb. 23, 2020.
“I have to really take my hat off to our players and how they responded to me (last year),” Dorrell said.
Upon being hired, Dorrell met with each player for about 10 minutes to get to know them. That established a foundation of trust. How Dorrell and the staff handled the team during the COVID-19 restrictions solidified that trust even more.
By the time the delayed season began, the players and coaches were connected, worked well together then got off to a 4-0 start that set them up for a spot in the Alamo Bowl.
“Our guys did a great job of just going through that process, coaches and players, of getting ourselves a chance to compete and be successful,” Dorrell said. “I’d say it ended up going pretty well for us.”
CU’s hope is that the success of 2020 can be a springboard into more success this season – while also taking lessons from a humbling 55-23 loss to Texas in the Alamo Bowl
“We know that was just a step in the right direction,” Dorrell said of the 2020 season. “We didn’t like the ending of our season. I think that’s the other part that motivated us in the off-season with how that looks to make sure we don’t look like that again. These young men have done a great job, they really have. But I do think they have given me the benefit of the doubt. That’s all I can ask for as a head coach.”
Entering his second season with CU, but his first “normal” season, Dorrell said the Buffs are on the right track, even if the preseason projects don’t reflect that.
“Colorado is making those steps of progress that are allowing for us to be competitive,” he said. “At some point in time, we want to be relevant and be in the championship discussion. Those are the things we work on on a daily basis. It’s not going to take overnight success, it’s going to take a gradual process to build those things. We’re well on our way in going down that road.”
Pac-12 preseason media poll:
1. USC (27) – 223 points
2. Utah (6) – 183
3. Arizona State (6) – 170
4. UCLA (1) – 135
5. Colorado – 88
6. Arizona – 41
1. Oregon (38) – 238
2. Washington (2) – 189
3. California – 140
4. Stanford – 137
5. Oregon State – 71
6. Washington State – 65
Championship game winner: Oregon (27 votes), USC (10), Utah (3)