I continue my worst to first breakdown of the Big 12. Today it's Colorado. (The other previews can be found in Chip's Corner/The Wire.)
South 1. 2. 3. Texas A&M 4. Texas Tech 5. Oklahoma State 6. Baylor
North 1. 2. 3.Colorado 4. Kansas 5. Iowa State 6. Kansas State
Wild rumors are flying around Boulder, Colorado. The latest is that Bill McCartney, who won a national title at CU in 1990, is ready to come back and lead the program at the first hint of one more eye-gouging season under Dan Hawkins.
McCartney, who may have more religious followers than Joel Osteen after heading the Promise Keepers and starting the Road To Jerusalem ministry, turns 70 on Aug. 22. (Apparently, Job decided bailing out the CU program was even too much for him.)
When the coaches who've won big who also only eat soft foods are on call for your job, it usually means only one thing: Your program is so utterly jacked up, rudderless and lost that the old money at your school now only trusts the last old fogie they can remember winning big. (See 70-year-old Bill Snyder at K-State.)
This is the mystifying thing about Hawkins and Colorado: Hawkins couldn't stop winning at Boise State. The guy went 53-11 in five years at the school that gave us the Smurf Turf, including 37-3 over a stretch that included four straight WAC titles. His 31-game winning streak in the WAC is still a conference record.
Are we really to believe ALL of Hawkins' success at Boise was because of then-offensive coordinator Chris Petersen, who took over Boise when Hawkins left?
Rick Neuheisel had two winning seasons in three years in Boulder when he wasn't being accused of recruiting violations.
Gary Barnett won three Big 12 North titles and a Big 12 championship in 2001 before pissing off the entire female population by calling former CU kicker Katie Hnida, who accused one of her Buffs' teammates of raping her in 2000, an "awful kicker."
Even though Hnida's allegations were never proven, that didn't end well - not to mention that 70-3 poleaxing Mack Brown gave him in the 2005 Big 12 title game. (There was a little extra mustard on that one just to see if UT could possibly erase 2001 at Texas Stadium from its memory.)
So heading into Year 5 at CU, Hawkins has a record of 16-33 with the Buffaloes, proving that maybe there is a curse on the program that only McCartney, like one of those magical Disney plot lines, can lift.
Until then, Hawkins only carries the pressure of having to prove CU even deserves to go to the Pac-10.
(The same CU that chose not to buy out Hawkins' $3 million contract after last year's 3-9 season now has to come up with between $15 million to $20 million to buy its way out of the Big 12. Have we mentioned the word cluster oh never mind.)
Hawkins has trotted out his own kid (Cody Hawkins) at quarterback, only to yank him back to the bench in favor of the more mobile Tyler Hansen.
(I always thought if Hawkins could get his son to settle in at QB it would have been the perfect situation because the Hawkins' family could totally skirt the 20-hour rule. Instead of coach and son having extra time working on football together, it could be classified as a family dinner. But that didn't even work.)
After going 3-9 in 2009, Hawkins finds himself with one of the best offensive lines in the conference. He has a couple veteran QBs in his son and Hansen. He has a sneaky good WR in Scotty McKnight and a sneaky good RB in Rodney Stewart. (Darrell Scott is now sitting out a year at South Florida after transferring from CU.)
Hawkins has seven starters back on defense, including three on the line and talented CBs in Jalil Brown and Jimmy Smith. So I'm stepping out on a very fragile limb and saying Colorado will finish 6-6, good enough for third place in the Big 12 North (but not good enough for Hawkins to keep his job).
2009 Record (Big 12 finish): 3-9 overall, 2-6 Big 12
Projected record in 2010: 6-6 overall, 4-4 Big 12
Projected finish in the Big 12 South: 3rd
Returning starters on offense: 10
Returning starters on defense: 7
Franchise player: RB Rodney Stewart ran for 804 yards (4.1 ypc) and 9 TDs in 2009 and is the only thing that gives defenses pause from just bum-rushing CU's quarterbacks (which they did most of last season).
Reasons to fear the Buffaloes: QBs Hansen and Hawkins have seen a lot of game action and should be surprised by anything at this point. McKnight at receiver and Stewart at RB give CU some weapons behind a veteran O-line. CU is 5-4 when Stewart carries 20 or more times in a game. The defense had to grow up fast last season after playing so many young players. CBs Jalil Brown and Jimmy Smith would start at most other Big 12 schools. CU is athletic on defense, led up front by DE Marquez Herrod (6 sacks in 2009).
Reasons not to fear the Buffaloes: QBs Hansen and Hawkins have been horrible up to this point. The RB situation is paper thin behind Stewart. The O-line gave up 44 sacks last season and helped the team rush for just 2.8 yards per carry in 2009. Gulp. CU was dead last in the Big 12 last year in net punting and punt returns. K Aric Goodman connected on just 10 of 18 field goals last season. Facing Texas: Since 2001 and the Nervous Breakdown at Texas Stadium, CU has posed no resistance to the Longhorns, although it did take Texas until the third quarter last season to dispose of the Hawkinator (because Mack was hell bent on rushing the ball into a nine-man front to no avail).
Best chance for an upset: At California on Sept. 11 is probably too much to ask for, even with the Bears having lost RB Jahvid Best. So how about a homecoming game takedown of Tommy Tuberville and Texas Tech on Oct. 23? The Red Raiders could be caught looking ahead to Oct. 30 and a game at Texas A&M.
Final analysis: The Big 12 North just sucks. So if not for steep non-conference games at Cal and home against Georgia, I would almost guarantee a 6-6 record and likely bowl game. But CU has more proven experience on its lines than a school like Tech. So I'm going to take a flying leap and say Hawkins gets to .500 before getting canned.
Sept. 4 Colorado State in Denver (W) Sept. 11 at California (L) Sept. 18 Hawaii (W) Oct. 2 Georgia (L) Oct. 9 at Missouri (L) Oct. 16 Baylor (W) Oct. 23 Texas Tech (L) Oct. 30 at Oklahoma (L) Nov. 6 at Kansas (W) Nov. 13 Iowa State (W) Nov. 20 Kansas St. (W) Nov. 26 at Nebraska (L)