We've reached the top 50 teams in the Rivals.com 1-120 countdown, and from here on out, each team gets the daily spotlight to itself.
It's fitting, then, that the first team in the final 50 is Colorado, which has struggled mightily under fifth-year coach Dan Hawkins and is one of the nation's biggest mystery teams this season. Hawkins looked like a great fit when he was hired away from Boise State to replace Gary Barnett, but while Boise State has climbed even higher under Chris Petersen, Colorado is scrabbling to regain a foothold.
The Buffs represented the Big 12 North in the league championship game in 2001, '02, '04 and '05, but they've been to just one bowl under Hawkins and have finished under .500 each season.
There are some who are surprised that Hawkins is back for another go-round, so that adds some intrigue to this season. So, too, does Colorado's recent announcement that it is bolting for the Pac-10; the Buffs could be playing a Pac-10 schedule next fall.
This fall, the focus will be on the quarterback. Hawkins and the Buffs have had problems at the position since he arrived. His son, Cody, remains in the mix to be the starter, but Cody seems likely to lose out to Tyler Hansen. Whoever gets the job has some talent to work with on offense. Defensively, stopping the run will be the emphasis this fall.
If the defense struggles again, Hawkins isn't going to be the coach next season, whether the Buffs are in the Pac-10 or not. As it is, we're picking the Buffs to finish third in the Big 12 North.
Here's a closer look at Colorado.
THE SCHEME: Coordinator Eric Kiesau is heading into his second season in that role. He's a former receivers coach, but the Buffs' passing attack has been lacking. The base set is a three-receiver package with a tight end, which is supposed to open up some running lanes. But the Buffs have run the ball worse in each season of Hawkins' tenure, going from 173 yards per game in 2006 to 144 to 125 to 88 last season.
STAR POWER: T Nate Solder is one of the best in the nation at his position, and can play himself into the first round with a big senior season. He is huge (6 feet 9) and looks lean despite weighing 300 pounds. He was recruited as a tight end and has good footwork. He needs to get better as a run blocker, but the sky's the limit for this guy.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Junior WR Toney Clemons, a transfer from Michigan, should add some much-needed talent at the position. His production becomes vital after the dismissal of the talented yet troubled Markques Simas, who had 43 catches last season. Clemons wasn't a good fit in Rich Rodriguez's spread offense, and the Buffs' more basic passing game fits his skill set. He and Scotty McKnight - a team-high 895 receiving yards and six touchdowns last season - could form a nice duo.
STRONGEST AREA: The running game has potential. Junior TB Rodney Stewart is a little guy (5 feet 6/175 pounds), but he runs hard and is effective between the tackles. He hasn't proven to be a breakaway threat, though. It would help his cause if the line were more physical. Solder and G Ryan Miller lead the way for a unit that returns all five starters.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: While the line returns all five starters, there are some issues; they allowed 44 sacks and didn't get all that much push in the running game last season. Still, the biggest concern is at quarterback. The Buffs have been mediocre, at best, at the position since Hawkins' arrival. Junior Tyler Hansen and senior Cody Hawkins - Dan's son - will vie for the job in fall practice; neither has shown much, though Hawkins is the school's career leader in TD passes (49). The Buffs won't legitimately challenge for a postseason bid unless the quarterback play improves.
THE SCHEME: The Buffs' base set is a 4-3, but they used a lot of nickel last season, going to a 3-3-5. Expect a lot of nickel this season, too, considering how much talent resides in the secondary. The Buffs will blitz on occasion and ranked 41st in the nation in sacks last season. Still, coordinator Ron Collins wouldn't mind his front seven - his front four, really - becoming much stouter against the run.
STAR POWER: Senior CB Jimmy Smith (6-2/210) has all the physical tools and could be an all-league guy with a little more consistency. Smith had two picks and seven pass breakups last season, when he also added 52 tackles. Smith has good speed and isn't afraid to hit someone in run support. He and fellow senior Jalil Brown give the Buffs a nice cornerback duo.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: FS Parker Orms is one of three redshirt freshmen expected to play important backup roles in the secondary. Orms was a three-sport standout in high school, starring in football, basketball and baseball at Wheat Ridge (Colo.) High. He stood out in spring practice with big plays and big hits. Expect him to see time on special teams and behind starter Ray Polk. CBs Deji Olatoye and Paul Vigo are other redshirt freshmen who should make a mark. Vigo signed in 2008 but was a grayshirt that season and redshirted last season. Both have good size - Olatoye is 6-1 and 195; Vigo 6-2 and 185 - and can lay the lumber.
STRONGEST AREA: The secondary could be quite good. The Brown-Smith cornerback duo should make things tough on opposing quarterbacks, and there also are some talented young backups at the position. The safeties should be solid. SS Anthony Perkins was the starter at free safety last season, but now is playing his more natural position. He is good in run support and is a big hitter. Polk has good size and athleticism, and should be effective at free safety.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: The front seven, while it has some potential, really hasn't done that much. The run defense has been shaky the past two seasons, and the interior of the line must toughen up. The linebackers can run, but - at least so far - that really hasn't helped them make many plays. Until the Buffs improve their rush defense, they are going to struggle.
K Aric Goodman is back after going just 10-of-18 on field goal attempts last season; he was only 3-of-10 on attempts of at least 40 yards. Goodman - who was injured during the spring - likely will be pushed by redshirt freshman Zach Grossnickle during fall drills. Grossnickle is the favorite to replace the graduated Matt DiLallo at punter. True freshman Justin Castor also could get in the mix at both spots once he arrives on campus this summer. Backup TB Brian Lockridge will return kickoffs; he averaged 23.3 yards and took one back for a score last season. Backup WR Jason Espinoza was poor in his role as punt returner last season (3.1-yard average on 22 returns), and Clemons could win the job in fall drills. The Buffs' punt coverage was - well, it was horrendous last season. They allowed a national-high four returns for TDs and almost 11 yards per return. The kickoff coverage was solid, though the Buffs did allow one kickoff to be taken back for a score.
The Big 12 North should be rather mediocre again, so that's a plus for the Buffs. Texas and Texas A&M aren't on the schedule, which is another plus. But that's about it for the pluses. Colorado opens with Colorado State, which beat the Buffs last season and in 2006. Game 2 is at California and Game 4 is against Georgia, so if CU falls to Colorado State, a 1-3 - or even 0-4 - start beckons. The Buffs are going to struggle on the road. Aside from the trip to future Pac-10 foe Cal, the Buffs also travel to Missouri, Oklahoma and Nebraska, as well as Kansas. That means back-to-back home games in mid-October against Baylor and Texas Tech are going to be huge in terms of whether the Buffs go bowling.
The Buffs played well at times last season. They had a shot to win at West Virginia, edged an explosive Texas A&M team, narrowly lost at Oklahoma State and could've beaten Nebraska. Still, three of those four were losses - which have become all too prevalent in Boulder. The Buffs could squeeze their way into a bowl if they take care of business at home, beat Colorado State in the opener in Denver and maybe steal one on the road (against Kansas?). But to do most of that, the quarterback play has to greatly improve. Forget the run defense and the special teams questions; if the quarterback play is consistently competent, this team will go bowling.