Hankwitz Optimistic Despite Recent Setbacks

ORLANDO – With the majority of Clemson fans expecting at least a two-touchdown win Tuesday in the Champs Sports Bowl, they might be a little surprised to know this doesn't appear to be the same Colorado team that lost its last three games by a combined score of 130-22.

Buffaloes defensive coordinator and interim head coach Mike Hankwitz has seen firsthand a team rejuvenated and resembling the team that started the season 7-2.

"I've sensed a difference," Hankwitz said Monday morning. "I think just the fact that some of the things have cleared up. There's not so much uncertainty and questions. Then getting down here and being able to enjoy the attractions of Orlando and getting somewhat of an award for winning the Big 12 North. The focus now has moved toward the game more, so I do sense a difference."

Coming off a 70-3 waxing by Texas on Dec. 3, any change would be positive. And with Colorado (7-5), there's been plenty recently.

Following the debacle to the Longhorns, controversial head coach Gary Barnett was fired. His firing was the topping of what had been an ugly month for the football program.

"Obviously we've got coaches that don't know what the future holds, but we're trying work day-by-day and do the right thing by the players and teach them what the right thing to do is," Hankwitz said. "You can choose to be just bitter or you can choose to take in stride and just accept that as another challenge in life and that's what we're trying to do."

Then on Dec. 16, Boise State's Dan Hawkins was named the 23rd head coach in Colorado history. Just the naming of a new coach seemed to calm a lot of the tensions on the Boulder, Co., campus.

"Some of it has resolved itself," Hankwitz said. "They know who the head coach is going to be. He had a chance to meet the team and that has helped immensely."

However, another situation cropped up for the Buffaloes, and that was whether starting quarterback Joel Klatt would be healthy enough to play in the bowl game. Klatt, a senior who holds 44 school records, sustained a brutal hit to the head and face that has left him with a concussion.

As of Monday morning, he had yet to be cleared to play. And even if he is cleared, red-shirt junior James Cox will be the starter.

"He's more mobile than Joel and he's very smart," Hankwitz said. "We're confident that he can do the job. We just have to rally around him."

But the bleakness of the situation has seemed to sway in the other direction. The players are more upbeat. Getting out of their hometown was the best medicine for all concerned.

"We've had a good week of practice, getting down here in the weather really helped," Hankwitz said. "We had cold conditions when we practiced up there. We played in the Big 12 Championship game then we had finals, so we had to give them time to take care of that. … Obviously the weather conditions down here are ideal for practice and for their spirits I think just getting down here in a nice, bright and sunny climate. …

"They went through a lot of emotions at the end of the year, but when we started practicing and had a chance to focus on one thing … then you kind of push that other stuff aside. … We're not focusing in on one thing. We're not dealing with a lot of what ifs or what's going to happen. They can put some of the disappoint behind him them and now focus on one thing and that's finishing the season the right way."

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