Monday, June 19, 2006
A REASONABLY ANTICIPATORY ASSESSMENT OF: COLORADO
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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered but not too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
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Barnett=Craggy, crooked, average; Hawkins=Clean! Cuddly! But better than average?
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 39-26 (27-17 Big XII) - 2005: 7-6 (5-4 Big XII, North Champions)
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 10 (5 Offense, 5 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: Gary Barnett: gone after quietly taking team to four division titles in five years - though just the one conference title, back in his only real crowning season here, 2001 - and maybe a strip joint or two en route to very loudly allowing a locker room best defined by superclean Promise-Keeper Bill McCartney turn into a Rocky Mountain version of The Gold Club so scandalous even Rick Neuheisel could be justifiably appalled.
So, CU's doing the fresh-faced thing again, this time with a guy who - unlike smarmy, faux hippie Neuheisel, who's totally cool till he gets drunk and wrecks your car, then gets his district attorney dad to dump it on you while copping to community service and keeping his scholarship - actually looks like he never asked his parents or Sunday school teacher what a prostitute was, much less hired one to seduce a heavy-squatting 18-year-old to town. Coming from Boise, this could be true - he's got wind of white supremacy, maybe, but not prostitution.
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Dan Hawkins brings a different perspective on the fairer sex to his new charges
Hawkins does know offense, though, and creative, balanced ways to put points on the board, an area where Colorado - 32 total points over its season-ending, four-game losing streak last season, with a season average just barely half that of Hawkins' BSU squad - could stand an injection.
WHAT'S THE SAME: His Broncos teams were known for throwing it around, but they were also always as balanced as any team in the country, and Hawkins will be best served, with a new quarterback, keeping the focus on a running game that was not at all spectacular (97th nationally) but does return a very solid Hugh Charles running behind an experienced, if not overpowering, left side (eight letters among three returning starters, including center Mark Fenton).
Also: the linebacking duo of Thaddeus Washington (91 total tackles in '05) and Jordan Dizon has been a very good one, if quiet the past two years, and was a big reason the run defense finished 11th in the country.
...AND YET: The guys in front of the linebackers also had a lot to do with finishing up there, and three of 'em is gone. Most notably, the inside tandem of Vaka Manupuna and James Garee, who were not massive in relative terms (290 and 275, respectively) but did outweigh their replacements, George Hypolite (265) and Brandon Nicolas (265), which is not a promising trend with a pair of 240-pound ends. The new guys need to be more productive: former starting end Alex Ligon, for example, now a backup listed at 265, played 383 snaps last year and wound up with 14 total tackles and no sacks. As long as the free safety, J.J. Billingsley, has to continue creep up for support to the point he finishes second on the team in tackles, as he did last year, the defense will be susceptible one way or another - it was through the air in '05 (pass D ranked 87th) and one projected starter at corner has already been booted.
MMM, DICHOTOMY: Whither the fate of the already middling offense without quarterback Joel Klatt, a three-year starter who was usually good despite, er, limited athleticism? Hawkins' answer behind center will come from the stereotypically dichotomous combo of Bernard Jackson and Brian White. Let's see, Jackson is described as the "speedy," "very fast" and "explosive" of the two, though "not even close to being the most accurate passer," and "impossible to keep off the field." White's a big (6-5, 225) white guy, appropriately, which gives him "a rocket arm" and "fearlessness" but also - equilibrium! - a "lack of mobility." White's the more experienced, having taken a few snaps against Texas Tech and in the Champs Sports Bowl, whereas Jackson was practicing at running back and receiver before the Spring, and has an inside track apparently so narrow entering the fall it's barely worth mentioning.
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: "If you can't get the ball in the end zone," reasoned an obviously frustrated Hawkins in the Spring, "you have to give the fans something." To that end, he put all-American kicker Mason Crosby at Dempsey/Elam distances for the crowd, in an effort to familiarize themselves with a destined-to-be-frequent sight this season:
Couldn't hit a 70-yarder? Oh, the wind! Damn wind! Only impediment to a feat never before accomplished by anyone!
SMQ has said before and will repeat: it's never good when a kicker - even one like Crosby, who's 47-60 career on field goals, 9-9 in the final eight minutes of games, has longs of 60 and 58 the last two seasons, and will apparently replace fellow all-American punter John Torp without much trouble - is the best player on your team. When he actually has to come out for ludicrous field goal attempts in an exhibition just to give the crowd something, anything, to cheer about, you're in some trouble.
REASON FOR HOPE: Hawkins' enthusiasm, past success (guy's the winningest active D-I coach, at 82.8 percent in five years at BSU) and potentially rejuvenative offensive prowess; the Buffs are defending champs of the North, which they've dominated this decade, for what it's worth
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: Quarterback; the Big XII is no WAC: Hawkins' Bronco teams faced one, maybe two ranked teams per season, and not very highly ranked, but he inherits a team that in five games against ranked teams - including two against eventual No. 1 Texas - was outscored by an average of 30 points. This does not include a devastating two-TD loss to Iowa State (nor, for fairness, wins over bowl-bound Colorado State, Kansas and Missouri).
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, LITERARY, POLITICAL OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... The kids in the 1992 redemption flick Dangerous Minds: disparaged, looked down upon, in legal trouble, abandoned by a former leader who had eventually turned a blind eye to their misbehavior and milked his departure for all it was worth, just waiting for the unorthodox approach of the right leader to tap their natural talent. Dan Hawkins looks more like a Care Bear than he does Michele Phifer, but these things can only go so far.
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He's an educated fool with money on his mind
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING... Seven-game winner. Off-field problems aside, this was never a bad team under Barnett, but the early projections (TSN, for example, which picks CU fifth in the division, behind Missouri and Kansas) don't seem to share SMQ's confidence in a quick, if only short-term, turnaround with the new captain on board. Whatever, the Hawkins Effect, if there's going to be one, is likely to take hold sooner rather than later, so we ought to know how good they're going to be pretty quickly against the inevitable brutal opening month fare is lined up this year.
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PREVIOUS REASONABLY ANTICIPATORY ASSESSMENTS:
June 3: Boston College...June 4: Arkansas State...June 6: Hawaii...June 8: Virginia...June 10: Rice...April 11: Boise State...April 14: Tulane...June 18: Oregon
ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENTS:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: BYU...April 5: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 16: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 21: N.C. State...April 23: Arizona...April 24: Memphis...April 25: Louisiana Tech...April 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo...May 2: Ohio State...May 3: Mississippi State...May 5: Southern Miss...May 7: Louisiana-Lafayette...May 11: Akron...May 12: North Carolina...Michigan State...May 15: Air Force...May 17: Stanford...May 18: Georgia Tech...May 21: Connecticut...May 23: Purdue...May 24: Navy...May 27: UCLA...May 28: New Mexico State...May 29: Tennessee
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although i'm more inclined to side with TSN's prediction of a bottom of the conference season, i won't hold your claim of another 7+ season against you because of your claim to have not look at their bash-your-head-against-a-cement-wall kind of schedule.