Coach:Dan Hawkins (13-24 in three seasons; 66-35 overall in eight seasons). | Staff In 2008: 5-7 overall, 2-6 in Big 12 (tied for fourth in Big 12 North).
Returning starters: Offense: 6. Defense: 3. Special teams: 2. | Depth Chart Final 2008 Rivals.com ranking: 68th. | Complete Final 2008 Rankings Past four Rivals.com national recruiting rankings: 48th in 2009, 15th in '08, 32nd in '07, 48th in '06
THE SCHEME: The Buffaloes use multiple formations. They make good use of a fullback, and also use two-tight end and three-wide receiver sets. This season, the formation usages will be all about getting the running game in gear.
STAR POWER: The potential exists for sophomore RBs Darrell Scott and Rodney Stewart to become big-timers this fall, but neither is there yet. The same goes for junior T Nate Solder, who is a giant (6 feet 9/300 pounds) and has a ton of potential.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Redshirt freshman Bryce Givens beat out returning starter Matthew Bahr for the starting right tackle spot in spring ball. Givens has all the physical tools and plays with great technique and intensity; his only problem will be maintaining his weight. He'll go into fall drills at around 275 pounds, but he has the frame to carry as much as 30 more pounds. It won't be a surprise to see him on some freshman all-conference teams at the end of the season. Another newcomer to watch is WR Andre Simmons, a junior college transfer – assuming he qualifies. He plays a position of need and easily could be a starter.
WATCH FOR HIM TO EMERGE: Sophomore G Ryan Miller began last season as a starting tackle but was injured early and missed the final eight games. His move to the interior gives the Buffs a potential road-grader inside. He was the state of Colorado's most highly rated recruit in the 2007 class, and his signature should start to pay off for the Buffs this season.
STRONGEST AREA: Colorado is deep at tailback. Scott was one of the nation's most high-profile recruits when he signed with the Buffaloes, but he struggled some with conditioning as a true freshman last season. That created an opportunity for Stewart, who capitalized with a 622-yard season as a true freshman. There's also Demetrius Sumler, a tough inside runner who actually started the most games at running back last season, and shifty Brian Lockridge, who also could be used as a slot receiver in some formations. Those guys will run behind a line that should be solid. The Buffs are extremely deep at tight end, so look for some two-tight end sets for even more run-blocking help.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: The Buffs have to get better play from their quarterback. Cody Hawkins, the coach's son, has been Colorado's starter the past two seasons, but the job is hardly his entering fall camp. Hawkins – who threw for 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a sophomore last season – is being challenged by sophomore Tyler Hansen, who saw action in five games last season. Hawkins had a slight edge out of spring practice, but only because of experience. Hansen is the better athlete and a better runner, and you might see the Buffs rotating quarterbacks this fall. The wide receiver corps bears watching, too, because of the transfer of Josh Smith, who was a big-play threat. The Buffs need Simmons, the junior college transfer, to produce immediately.
THE SCHEME: Colorado lists itself as 4-3 team, but the Buffs actually may use more 3-4 sets this season because of a plethora of talented linebackers and some questions on the line. In addition, they played a lot of nickel sets last season because of all the talented quarterbacks in the Big 12, and that's likely to continue.
STAR POWER: This is as non-descript a unit in terms of standout players as there is in the Big 12. There are some players who could emerge as stars this season, but no one can be considered a star heading into the season.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Touted true freshman E Nick Kasa – who committed to Florida before reneging and signing with the home-state Buffs – will get an opportunity to contribute immediately. Kasa (6-7/250) is surprisingly quick off the edge and has a big wingspan. He needs to add bulk to hold up against the run, but he could make a mark as a pass rusher in his first season.
WATCH FOR HIM TO EMERGE: Junior CB Jimmy Smith has great size for a corner (6-2/200) and can run, but he hasn't always bought in to what coaches have asked. In the spring, though, things changed, and Smith has the look of a potential all-conference player. Colorado is breaking in two new starting safeties, but Smith's "rebirth," the grittiness of 5-7 Cha'pelle Brown and the return from injury of Benjamin Burney give the Buffs a solid cornerback trio.
STRONGEST AREA: The Buffs are deep at linebacker, so deep that one of last season's starters – senior Shaun Mohler – seems destined to be a backup this season. It's hoped that Marcus Burton, a 260-pounder, can be a run-stopping force at middle linebacker. Jeff Smart is the leading returning tackler; he's a heady player – hey, what else do you expect from a guy named Smart? – who is solid in pass coverage. Burton and his backup, Michael Sipili, have some issues in pass coverage, but the Buffs have numerous other linebackers who can play effectively on passing downs. B.J. Beatty has the potential to be a big-time pass rusher from his outside 'backer position.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: The line has to be rebuilt; all three full-time starters are gone. Kasa will have an opportunity to play right away, but the Buffs need some veterans to step up. T Curtis Cunningham saw a lot of time as a true freshman last season and eventually could develop into a star. Sophomore E Conrad Obi has the physical skills to be effective, but he must develop some consistency. Junior E Marquez Herrod started three games last season and coaches expect him to be a steadying influence this season. Last season's line was a strength; the key for the linemen this season is to not be a liability.
This area is a huge mystery. The Buffs truly will miss Smith as a return man. K Aric Goodman returns, but he was just 5-for-14 on field-goal attempts last season, including a woeful 3-for-11 from 30 yards and beyond. Kickoff specialist Jameson Davis could challenge him in fall camp. P Matt DiLallo also is back after averaging 40.5 yards per attempt. True freshman Zach Grossnickle will be in the mix at kicker and punter. The return jobs won't be decided until August, if then. The coverage teams were lousy last season and must be upgraded.
Dan Hawkins goes into his fourth season feeling the heat. The Buffs haven't had a winning record in his tenure and have made just one bowl appearance; a bowl appearance may be necessary for him to keep his job this season. The Buffs have been snake-bit by injuries, but that excuse only holds water for so long. There is a new offensive coordinator, as wide receiver coach Eric Kiesau was promoted to oversee the unit; Kiesau's wide receiver duties will be handled by Hawkins this fall. The one new coach on the staff is Denver Johnson, who will oversee the offensive line; he had been head coach at Illinois State, and he has some talent to work with here. The defensive staff takes somewhat of a by-committee approach to coordinating the unit.
Four of the first seven games are on the road, but two of the first three are at home against Mountain West opponents. Game 2 is on the road against Toledo, and for Colorado to get to eight wins – a definite possibility, given the talent on hand – the Buffs need to start 3-0, which seems likely. There are three tough road games (West Virginia and Texas back-to-back in early October, then a late-season trip to Oklahoma State), but Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska – the teams the Buffs will be competing with for the Big 12 North title – have to travel to Boulder. Colorado also must travel to Iowa State and Kansas State, but those two are projected to be the weakest teams in the division.
Colorado appears equipped to finish in the upper half of the North Division. The biggest key is the rushing attack; if the Buffs can run effectively, it takes a ton of pressure off the quarterbacks, who – truth be told – don't engender that much confidence. If opposing defenses know Colorado must pass, the Buffs will be in trouble. But if the running game gets cranked up and the Buffs can use a lot of play-action, the offense will be fine. When Hawkins arrived from Boise State, much was made about his powerful offenses. Those powerful offenses haven't been seen in Boulder and this offense won't be all that powerful, either. But it definitely can be effective, and an effective offense gets the Buffs to seven or eight wins and into a bowl.