COLORADO BUFFALOES Head coach: Dan Hawkins Last season: 6-7, 4-4 in Big 12; lost 30-24 to Alabama in Independence Bowl. Spring practice: March 17-April 19.
If Colorado football were on the NYSE, now would be the time to buy. They showed significant improvement in coach Dan Hawkins' second season, improving by four victories over 2-10 debacle of 2006, a slew of starters return and a top-15 recruiting class is coming in. There are some concerns, though. All-American linebacker Jordan Dizon, All-Big 12 cornerback Terrence Wheatley and leading rusher Hugh Charles are gone, and replacing them, as well as strengthening the offensive line will be of utmost importance this spring. Should the Buffs make progress in those areas, their stock should continue to rise. Here's a look at Colorado as it opens spring practice:
Quarterback Cody Hawkins is back but the offense has a lot of holes this spring.
Hypolite posted 11 tackles for loss and Nicolas will be a third-year starter this fall at defensive tackle. The Buffaloes have a lot of young talent at wide receiver; their top two last season were freshmen.
HELP IS NEEDED
Charles, who led the Buffs with 1,058 rushing yards, has completed his eligibility and no other tailback rushed for more than 335 yards. That sets ups an interesting competition this spring with Demetrius Sumler and Brian Lockridge, and it will become more interesting later when heralded recruits Darrell Scott and Ray Polk arrive. Replacing Wheatley is difficult enough, but offseason surgeries put Burney's availability in question at cornerback. The Buffaloes need some newcomers – perhaps sophomore Jimmy Smith – to emerge as reliable starters. At linebacker, Dizon and his 160 tackles must be replaced. Michael Sipili, who was suspended last season, is the likely successor.
KEEP AN EYE ON
QB Matt Ballenger: Even though Cody Hawkins returns as the starting quarterback, Ballenger, a redshirt freshman, figures to make the competition there interesting.
WR Markques Simas: Simas, a redshirt freshman, was a four-star prospect out of high school in California. Don't be surprised if he quickly distinguishes himself.
DE Conrad Obi: One of the starting defensive end positions is vacant and Obi, a scout-team beast in '07, will challenge to fill it.
HIS TIME IS NOW
Lucas was a starter last season, but he managed just three sacks in his career. Although he has been slowed by injuries. The feeling in Boulder is he has all-conference potential. He needs to show some of that with an influx on talent coming in at defensive end.
Last season, six offensive linemen were redshirted and some of those need to show they're capable of bolstering the line. Potential new starters at cornerback must demonstrate the ability to play at a high level. If the Buffaloes sufficiently address those issues, they could go into the summer feeling like contenders in the Big 12 North.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.