March 8, 2010

Hawkins, Buffs have plenty of work to do

Not long ago, Colorado represented the North Division in the Big 12 championship game four times in five seasons. Now, the Buffaloes are just hoping to salvage one winning record in five seasons.

A streak of four straight losing seasons has taken its toll, and once-popular coach Dan Hawkins knows his job will on the line this fall. That makes this the most important spring of his tenure in Boulder.

There is no shortage of problems for the Buffaloes to address, but upgrading the Big 12's most anemic offense has to be the top priority. That all starts with making progress with a line that has grossly underachieved.

Here is a look at the Buffs as they prepare for spring drills.

COLORADO AT-A-GLANCE
Dan Hawkins, who has had four consecutive losing seasons at Colorado, will likely be coaching for his job this fall.
THE BASICS
Coach: Dan Hawkins
Last season: 3-9 overall, 2-6 in the Big 12
Spring dates: March 8-April 10
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (8): G Ethan Adkins, T Bryce Givens, QB Tyler Hansen, WR Scotty McKnight, T/G Ryan Miller, WR Markques Simas, T Nate Solder, C Keenan Stevens.
Defense (7): LB B.J. Beatty, CB Jalil Brown, T Curtis Cunningham, E Marquez Herrod, NT Will Pericak, FS Anthony Perkins, CB Jimmy Smith.
Special teams (1): K Aric Goodman.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

Uh, those aren't easy to find on a team that managed three wins and lost to Toledo last season. The receivers are OK with Scotty McKnight and Markques Simas, who combined for 119 catches and nine touchdowns. But Simas is indefinitely suspended. If he isn't allowed to play this season, the Buffs' strongest area will be weakened. They're set at running back with Rodney Stewart, who rushed for more than 800 yards last season. But he has had injury issues and depth is questionable. The situation at cornerback is good. Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown are proven starters, and last season each was credited with at least 10 pass breakups.

HELP IS NEEDED

The Buffs are struggling at tight end, offensive line and on special teams. The top two tight ends from '09 have moved on. The Buffs might prefer their tight end be an effective blocker more than a receiver. Last season, Colorado ranked 113th nationally in rushing and 117th in sacks allowed (44). Injuries were a problem in the offensive line, but injuries can't explain everything. K Aric Goodman has been shaky.

THREE GUYS TO WATCH

WR Toney Clemons: A transfer from Michigan, he made three starts in two seasons for the Wolverines and averaged 9.2 yards on 11 catches in '08. He was named Colorado's scout team MVP while sitting out last season.

TE Ryan Deehan: He is the only returning tight end who played in '09. Deehan had 10 catches but should get more opportunities this fall if he shows he deserves them this spring.

S Ray Polk: Although he arrived in '08 as a celebrated running back prospect, Polk has made a successful transition to safety. A backup at free safety in '09, he'll have a great shot at landing the starting job at strong safety this spring.

THE PRESSURE IS ON

K Aric Goodman: A good kicking game can provide a struggling team a huge boost. Unfortunately, the Buffaloes haven't gotten that boost. Over the past two seasons, Goodman has converted just 15 of 32 field-goal attempts (47.9 percent). That's bad anywhere, but especially at Colorado, which had been good in the kicking game in recent season. Colorado brought in freshman Justin Castor to push Goodman. If Goodman doesn't demonstrate improved accuracy this spring, Castor may push him out of the way this fall.

THE BUZZ

Usually, quarterback play dominates spring discussion. At Colorado, it's a secondary issue, and not just because Tyler Hansen apparently is established as the starter over Cody Hawkins. It probably won't matter who is under center if the Buffaloes' offensive line play doesn't dramatically improve. The entire line, including All-Big 12 T Nate Solder and former five-star prospect Ryan Miller, is back. But it's time for that unit to mature and stop underachieving. That will be the first, and perhaps most important, step in Colorado's quest to end a streak of four consecutive losing seasons.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.


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