Crucial spring awaits Colorado

By John Hillman  |   Monday, March 16, 2009  |  Comments( 4 )

Colorado Buffaloes
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During the frigid Colorado winter, the hot seat earns a warm welcome. But with 2009 spring practice approaching, Buffaloes head football coach Dan Hawkins would prefer to escape its clutches.

Next season looms as the most crucial in Hawkins’ short tenure in Boulder. In his previous three seasons, Colorado has posted a 13-24 record with one bowl appearance. Last year proved particularly disappointing as the Buffs started 3-0, including a nationally televised overtime upset of West Virginia, but proceeded to lose seven of their remaining nine games.

Prospects for Colorado’s improvement in 2009 appear mixed. The Buffaloes, who begin spring practice March 31, must deal with serious issues at quarterback, defensive line and kicker.

Doubt even clouds their 2009 schedule. Colorado currently lists Miami of Ohio as its opponent for Sept. 12, but ESPN reported last week the Redhawks would play Northwestern on that date to accommodate a game with Kentucky at Paul Brown Stadium on Sept. 5.

Colorado athletic officials now await word from the Mid-American Conference about next fall’s opponent. Because Colorado agreed to the home-and-home series with Miami of Ohio for television purposes, the school plans to hold ESPN to its promised network appearance on that date.

Although the quarterback position generates the most conversation, it might be the least of Hawkins’ worries. Three veteran signal-callers -- including two-year starter Cody Hawkins, the head coach’s son -- return. Sophomores Tyler Hansen and Matt Ballenger also enter into the mix for the starter’s role.

But the younger Hawkins experienced a sophomore slump last season and split time with Hansen, a true freshman, in three games. However, Hansen failed to capitalize on his opportunity, and Hawkins remained the starter at season’s end.

Size and arm strength plague Hawkins in game situations. The Colorado media guide generously lists him at 5-foot-11, limiting his ability as a drop-back passer.

Interceptions also pose a problem. Over the past two years, Hawkins has thrown 25 picks, 11 of them passes batted into the air at the line of scrimmage.

The most glaring example took place in last season’s finale against Nebraska. Alex Henery’s 57-yard field had given the Huskers a 33-31 lead late in the fourth quarter.

With a bowl bid on the line, Hawkins attempted to generate a game-winning drive. But defensive end Zach Potter deflected his pass, and Potter’s teammate Ndamkong Suh rambled 30 yards for a touchdown to clinch the Huskers’ 40-31 win.

In truth, the 15 limited spring practices allowed by the NCAA probably won’t establish a quarterback who stands far above the rest. The Colorado coaching staff will wait to make that decision until the conclusion of August drills.

With the position up for grabs, they will no doubt also give a long look to true freshman Clark Evans -- a native of Los Alamitos, Calif., who stands 6-5 -- who signed with the Buffs in February.

But Hawkins can rise to the occasion this spring and demonstrate his ability to lead the team. That quality might prove the most important factor in turning Colorado’s football fortunes around and moving his head coach and father away from the hot seat.
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About John Hillman

John Hillman graduated from Baylor University in 1974 with a BBA in accounting and earned an MBA from Baylor in 1987. He worked for accounting firms until 1982 when he became the chief financial officer for an independent insurance claims adjusting service, a position he still holds today....
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