With an abundance of questions marks, the Colorado Buffaloes could stress out any fortune-teller trying to predict the future of what the 2003 football season has in store.
Coaching changes, players entering the NFL draft early and the loss of 13 starters would affect most college football teams. But when it comes to the CU Buffs the past few seasons, expect the unexpected.
While Colorado will try and become the first team to three-peat, as Big 12 North Division champions, Head Coach Gary Barnett and his staff will have their work cut out for them.
As usual, CU will have no time to ease their way into the season. While other Big 12 teams are opening up with teams like Troy State, Northern Iowa and North Texas, CU begins a brutal four game stretch with inter-state rival Colorado State. With a 1-3 record against the Rams since Gary Barnett returned to Colorado, Buff fans will find it very hard to deal with another loss to the boys from Ft. Collins. As if there weren't enough story lines going into to this one, you can add another one. After transferring from CU to CSU, former Buff Marcus Houston was given approval from the NCAA to play this season for the Rams.
There will be a few large buffaloes ready to welcome him back.
Colorado then plays three teams in a row that other Big 12 schools (can you say Kansas State) wouldn't play in three years. UCLA and Washington State come to Folsom and then the Buffs head south for their first ever meeting with Florida State.
As always, the Big 12 conference schedule will not be easy either. Highlights or low-lights include a trip to Manhattan to take on Kansas State followed by a homecoming game in Boulder against Oklahoma. After losing twice to the Sooners last season, including in the Big 12 Championship game, the Buffs will be looking for some revenge. CU will end the season at home against rival Nebraska and will try to beat the Big Red for the third straight year. The Buffs have only accomplished that feat once in their history when CU beat the Cornhuskers from 1956 to 1958.
Colorado's 14-2 conference record in its last 16 games is the best in the league. "We're proud of the fact we've won 14 out of our last 16 conference games", said Head Coach Gary Barnett. "That will be a source we can draw from once we hit league play in October".
The schedule would pose a challenge to a returning National Champion, much less a team that has as many question marks as Colorado. Entering into the 2003 season, there is probably no bigger question mark than who is going to play quarterback for CU.
WHO ARE THESE GUYS PLAYING QB?
One fact that could make any Buff fan panic is the fact the total number of snaps taken by all the quarterbacks on the roster is 10. Then again, who would have thought Bobby Pesavento or Robert Hodge could have led CU to back-to-back division championships?
Although there was no clear-cut winner of the job in spring ball, listed number-one on the depth chart is sophomore walk-on Joel Klatt. After spending two years in the San Diego Padres farm system, Klatt joined the Buffs last fall. He took eight snaps in 2002 and went 0-3 in passing attempts.
Although his numbers are nothing to write home about, both Head Coach Gary Barnett and CU quarterback coach Shawn Watson liked what they saw in Klatt during spring ball. "I think we accomplished a lot in the spring", said Barnett, "although we didn't name a starter after spring ball, we're definitely more comfortable there than we were going in".
Klatt enters the fall as the Buffs number one man and the coaching staff is willing to put an end to any quarterback controversy if Klatt can establish himself as the leader.
Challenging Klatt for the QB position is sophomore Erik Greenberg and red-shirt freshman James Cox. Greenberg returns to CU after a two-year absence for his Mormon mission. Although it is taking him some time to get back into football shape, Greenberg showed some signs of being a player. Cox meanwhile is a strong and athletic kid that could bring a different element to CU's attack. Cox is a threat running with the ball as he is throwing it and could definitely see some playing time in the fall.
"We'll look at the freshmen in the fall, as we will have to separate out of a couple of quarterbacks", Gary Barnett said, "but the main things is we've got to figure out who four of our five offensive linemen are going to be".
And with that set-up here is question mark number two is the offensive line.
HOLES ON THE OFFENSIVE LINE:
The Buffs must replace four out of five starters on the o-line, with Senior Marwan Hage being the only lineman returning. Not the ideal situation for a new quarterback to come into.
Losing team leaders Justin Bates, Ryan Gray and Wayne Lucier leaves some big holes at the position known for creating big holes. Much of CU's success at running the ball can be credited to an offensive line that has been one of the most consistent in college football. Out of Colorado's 26 total games in 2001 and 2002, there had been only one starting lineup change among the hogs up front. But there is a price to pay for that much consistency; when one goes, they all go. Potential starters listed on the post-spring depth chart are Clint O'Neal (6-6 290 lbs SO) at split-tackle, veteran Karl Allis (6-5 310 lbs Sr) at split-guard, red-shirt freshman Mark Fenton (6-4 290 lbs) at center and big Gary Moore (6-7 330 SO) at tight-tackle. Hage will anchor the line at tight-guard.
The Buffs have had one of the best offensive lines in the nation the past two seasons, but offensive line coach Dave Borbely will have his hands full with trying to gel together a line made up of new faces. It's a lot of pressure on a guy who is in only his second year as CU's o-line coach. But with an outstanding resume that includes coaching at Tulane, Stanford and Notre Dame, Borbely should be up for the task. In his first year at Colorado in 2002, the Buffs finished sixth in the NCAA in rushing. Which brings us to the Buffaloes running back position.
BUFFS LOSE A FEW HORSES FROM THE STABLE:
There has not been a stronger rushing team in the nation the past few years than Colorado. In 2002, CU finished sixth in the nation with All-American Chris Brown leading the way with 1,744 yards. But Brown decided to leave school early for the NFL, a choice that paid off when the Tennessee Titans picked him in the third round of the draft.
With the departure of Brown, Senior Bobby Purify will get his chance to shine. After rushing for 739 yards and in 2002 and 916 yards in 2001, Purify is looking for his first 1000-yard season of his career, as he will be the featured CU tailback. He has been the second leading rusher on the team the past two years and is currently ranked 18th in all-time rushing yards at Colorado. Not only is Purify a solid runner, but he is also a threat catching the ball. Last season he was CU's second leading receiver with 21 receptions for 224 yards.
If you have watched the Colorado Buffaloes the past few seasons you will know that one good tailback is never enough. That's why in 2003 you will see sophomore Brian Calhoun sharing time with Purify . When you're behind the likes of Brown, Houston and Purify, you have to make the best of your chances. Calhoun did just that. Against Kansas State, Calhoun showed why his 4-3 speed helped make him the Gator-aide player of the year for the state of Wisconsin as a high school senior. Calhoun exploded for a key 71-yard touchdown reception and gained the attention of Buff fans. When injuries slowed both Brown and Purify, Calhoun picked up the slack and ran for back-to-back 100 plus yard games against Nebraska and Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game. There is no better way to get into the hearts of Buffs fans than to have a huge game against Nebraska, and Calhoun did just that by gaining 137 yards on 20 carries in the Colorado victory. He personally took the game over in the third quarter when he rushed for 96 yards on 10 carries.
The other stallions waiting to run include red-shirt freshman Brandon Caesar and Emery Mueller, sophomore Bryan Turner and new recruits Daniel Jolly from San Antonio, Texas and Terry Washington from St. Louis.
One of the strangest stories of the off-season has to be the departure of running back Marcus Houston to Colorado State. While his transfer wasn't a huge surprise, the fact that the NCAA is allowing him to play in 2003 and not sit out a year is. Although injuries limited him most of his career at CU, Houston's time in Boulder will be remembered as a disappointment. Houston was one of the Buffs biggest recruits in history, but he never fit in or got along with his coaches and teammates. While some CU fans did not want to see him go, many Buff players are not upset with his departure and will surely have a special hello waiting for him when the two teams face each other at Invesco Field at Mile High August 30th.
Another player the Buffs will miss in 2003 is fullback Brandon Drumm. Probably the most-underrated player on the team the past few seasons the "Alaskan Assassin" helped create holes and touchdowns for the running backs and never received any of the glory. Trying to fill his big shoes will be Jr. JP diZerega and sophomore Lawrence Vickers. Vickers rushed for only 26 yards last season but will be asked to plow the way for the backs.
Another new face on the Colorado sideline will be the guy coaching the running backs. Shawn Simms joins the Colorado football staff after coaching the running backs at the University of Pittsburgh the past two seasons. Simms replaces former Buff Eric Bieniemy who left CU to coach at UCLA.
New Receiver Coach Has Plenty To Work With:
Ted Gilmore comes to Boulder to coach Colorado's wide receivers after spending the past two seasons at Purdue University. He will have plenty of talent to work with. Two of the three returning starters on offense are at the wide receiver position, a position that should be one of the Buffs strongest and deepest.
Seniors Derek McCoy and John Donahoe are back and coming off very solid seasons. McCoy was the Buffs leading receiver and finished with 643 yards and 7 touchdowns, including a 75-yard TD reception against San Diego State. Donahoe added 160 yards and 13 catches, but will be fighting for playing time with Senior DJ Hackett. After making the transition to division 1-A football and playing through injuries, Hackett came on strong late in the season. He caught 15 passes for 181 yards and two TDs, including a big one against Wisconsin in the Alamo Bowl. If he stays healthy, Hackett could have a huge season.
Then there's the most exciting player in college football, Sophomore Jeremy Bloom. Bloom's decision to forgo lucrative endorsement deals and put his skiing career on hold to play football for the Buffs could be the biggest key to CU's offensive attack. Although he only caught two passes last season, one of them was for 94 yards and a touchdown against Kansas State, a CU record. He was also a threat every time he touched the ball. As a punt returner, his 16.8-yard average was 5th best in the nation. He returned two punts for touchdowns, including an 80-yarder against Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game.
But after concentrating on his World Cup skiing and winning four races during the spring, he was unsure if he would be back next season. After a lot of thought, the Loveland, Colorado native decided playing football was what really made him happy. "I've been to so many places in my life and met so many people_ a lot of them ridiculously rich- and I know one first hand that money is the last thing that brings happiness", said Bloom. "Doing what you love to do and getting an education and playing college football-that's what I love to do. And that's what makes me happy."
The return of Bloom will instantly make the CU offense a bigger threat and Head Coach Gary Barnett couldn't be happier. "This is a testimony to Jeremy's love of the game, his love of his teammates, his love for the University of Colorado and his unselfishness," Barnett said. "In so many ways, he epitomizes what a student-athlete should be all about."
Now the Buffs just need somebody to throw him the ball. Look for freshman red shirts Tyler Littlehales and Blake Mackey to see plenty of action as well.