Coach:Dan Hawkins (8-17 in two seasons; 100-40-1 overall in 12 seasons). | Staff In 2007:6-7 overall, 4-4 in the Big 12 (third in Big 12 North).
Returning starters: Offense: 4. Defense: 8. Special teams: 1 | Depth Chart Key losses: Offense—T/G Edwin Harrison, G Kai Maiava, T Tyler Polumbus. Defense— E Alonzo Barrett, LB Jordon Dizon, CB Terrence Wheatley. Special teams— K Kevin Eberhart.
Final 2007 Rivals.com ranking: 56th. | Complete Final 2007 Rankings
THE SCHEME: Colorado calls its version of the spread the "Game Plan Offense" and features different packages using fullbacks and tight ends. In the spring, a no-huddle package was added.
STAR POWER: Though centers don't often rate as stars, senior Daniel Sanders certainly warrants such status. Sanders, a Rimington Award candidate, was credited with 88.5 knockdown blocks last season and had five blocks that directly led to touchdowns. He also did not allow any sacks and was called for just two penalties.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: The prize of the Buffaloes' 2008 recruiting class is five-star prospect Darrell Scott, the top-ranked running back in the country. Scott, a California native who chose Colorado over Texas, rushed for more than 7,000 yards and scored 99 touchdowns in high school.
IT'S HIS TIME: In three previous seasons, Patrick Williams has shown flashes of developing into an effective receiver. But he has never had a breakout season and has managed only 74 catches in his career. He appears determined to make the most of his last chance. This spring, Williams was given CU's work ethic award and could be the go-to receiver the Buffs need.
STRONGEST AREA: Admittedly, it seems odd listing a line that lost three starters. But Sanders is an anchor at center, and massive sophomore Ryan Miller is primed to distinguish himself among the Big 12's best tackles. Converted tight end Nate Solder has moved to tackle and will start opposite Miller. The starting guards will come from a group that includes Devin Head, who started six times last season; Erick Faatagi, who has had injury problems; and redshirt freshmen Matthew Bahr and Shawn Daniels.
BIGGEST PROBLEM:Riar Geer, the leading receiver among tight ends with 14 catches last season, faces second-degree assault charges and did not participate in spring football. His status is uncertain. That likely thrusts little-used junior Patrick Devenny into the starting lineup. Three incoming freshmen are expected to provide help.
That's the number of games started by true or redshirt freshmen for the Buffs last season – the highest total in school history. In all, 20 freshmen played.
OVERVIEW: The Buffs made dramatic offensive improvement last season, increasing their yards-per-game average by 87 yards and their scoring average by 11 points per game. Sophomore quarterback Cody Hawkins had a good debut year with more than 3,000 yards passing and 22 touchdowns, though he did throw 17 interceptions. But he improved as the season progressed and ended the year with 70 consecutive attempts without an interception. There is more depth on the line, and that figures to benefit the running game - which should get a huge boost with Scott's arrival. Questions at tight end could pose a problem and Hawkins has acknowledged a serious need to improve the vertical passing game, though sophomore wide receiver Josh Smith did average 19.6 yards on 23 catches last season. Buffs wide receivers combined for just six TD catches last season.
THE SCHEME: The Buffaloes have lined up in a 4-3 base the past four seasons, but they've been tinkering with the 3-4 because of depth issues on the line. Even though All-America linebacker Jordon Dizon is gone, the feeling is the linebackers will be sound.
STAR POWER: Though definitely not the biggest tackle at 6 feet 1 and 285 pounds, George Hypolite certainly is among the quickest. He used that ability to post 34 solo tackles, 11 tackles for loss and six sacks last season. He should contend for All-America honors this season.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: The Buffs could use some immediate help at linebacker, and junior college transfer Shaun Mohler could provide it. Mohler, ranked the nation's No. 17 junior college prospect, was Colorado's only junior college signee.
IT'S HIS TIME: Three seasons ago, end Maurice Lucas was honored as the team's most outstanding freshman. But he really hasn't made significant improvement, perhaps because of tendinitis problems in his knees. Lucas has only 64 tackles and six sacks in three seasons and needs to fulfill the promise he showed as a freshman.
STRONGEST AREA: No doubt, Dizon was a tremendous player for the Buffs, but there also is no doubt that he benefited from having tackles Hypolite and Brandon Nicolas in front of him. Nicolas, who began his career at Notre Dame, tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with 11. He and Hypolite form one of the best tackle tandems in the Big 12.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: Cornerback is a concern. All-American Terrence Wheatley is gone to the NFL, and injuries will force Ben Burney, who started on the other side, to sit out as a redshirt this season. Gardner McKay - who has been solid on special teams - likely will vie for a starting job with 5-7 junior Cha'pelle Brown and sophomore Jimmy Smith, who has potential and great size (6-2/195) but tends to give up big plays. Brown started eight games last season because the Buffs often opened in their nickel package.
OVERVIEW: The doubts and inexperience at cornerback underscore a need for a strong pass rush. Hypolite and Nicolas combined for nine of the 12 sacks posted by Colorado defensive lineman, so getting more pressure off the edge is a priority. Colorado struggled against the pass and allowed 27 touchdown passes last season. Without help from an improved pass rush, that futility could continue. The Buffs are sound at safety, though, with returning starters Ryan Walters and Daniel Dykes. Walters missed spring practice recovering from shoulder surgery, but is expected to be ready by August. Neither Marcus Burton (academics) nor Michael Sipili (suspension) played last season, but their return will help ease the loss of Dizon.
Colorado is typically strong in the kicking game, but whether that trend can continue is in question. Punter Matt DiLallo last season appeared to take a step back from his freshman All-American season in 2006, averaging 3.5 fewer yards per punt. But he did drop 22 inside the opponents' 20. The Buffs will look to Aric Goodman (a transfer from Wyoming) or Jameson Davis (who just completed a two-year Mormon mission) to replace kicker Kevin Eberhart. Colorado must also replace its return specialists from last season. Smith and Jason Espinoza worked on returns during the spring, and the incoming recruiting class will offer more candidates for those jobs.
Dan Hawkins certainly isn't dull. From his offensive approach to his emotion ("It's the Big 12, baby!) to his hobbies (sky diving), Hawkins is a colorful character who breaks the mold of the stereotypical stoic college coach. His personality has made football in Boulder interesting again. And he has added stability to what was an unstable program. In fact, this offseason, the Colorado coaching staff remained intact for the first time since the 1987 and '88 seasons. Offensive coordinator/quarterback coach Mark Helfrich has an impressive résumé, which includes five seasons at Arizona State. Perhaps the most effective coach on the staff has been Jeff Pittman, the director of strength and conditioning. Colorado's strength numbers have spiked considerably under Pittman's supervision.
Colorado State (Denver)
at Florida State (Jacksonville)
at Texas A&M
The schedule Colorado is facing is like chewing on a tough steak sandwich – it's reasonably soft at the top and bottom but darn tough in the middle. Overall, the Buffs' Division I-A opponents were 82-58 last season, and five won bowl games. The real grind begins Sept. 18, when Colorado starts a four-game stretch that figures to be among the most difficult the nation. In that stretch they host West Virginia, play Florida State in Jacksonville, Fla., then travel to Texas and Kansas. That quartet was a combined 40-12 last season. Then, after a home game against Kansas State, they Buffs travel to Missouri. While the final month should be much easier, by then the Buffs might be battling just to become bowl eligible.
Colorado improved from two wins in 2006 to six victories in 2007. If that pace continues, the Buffs will challenge for the Big 12 championship. But slow down. The holes on defense and the rugged schedule indicate that merely attaining bowl eligibility would be a definite sign of progress. The maturation of Cody Hawkins and the arrival of Scott may invoke feelings that a championship is possible. Still, the starting lineup likely will have at least eight sophomores and freshmen, so at least four or five losses should be anticipated - but 2009 looks good.