2001/2005, A Comparison

The Buffs are 3-1 heading into this Saturday's game in Boulder with Texas A&M. While it's still very early in the season, Colorado's performance on the field so far has begun to create a buzz. How good can the 2005 team be? That's yet to be determined. But inside, we take a look back at the 2001 Buffaloes – the best, most accomplished squad so far under Gary Barnett — side-by-side with this year's team.

2001 The Narrative: Colorado was coming off an embarrassing 3-8 season. While quarterback Craig Ochs put an end to any quarterback controversy midway through that 2000 fall campaign, CU came out of the 2001 spring practices without a clear identity.

That began to change in August camp with the arrival of a running back transfer named Chris Brown. While most expected a healthy Marcus Houston to emerge as the No. 1 back, Brown was bruising his teammates in practice and catching the eyes of his coaches.

CU blew its opener vs. Fresno State, led by future first-round NFL pick quarterback David Carr, on a late Ochs interception. The loss was devastating, but served to galvanize the team.

The Buffs bounced back and buried Colorado State and San Jose State the next two weeks, and played well enough to beat Kansas at home in the conference opener.

CU passed its first huge test of the Big 12 season when it went to Manhattan unranked and beat No. 12 Kansas State 16-6. It was the first win at KSU since 1995, and the 2001 CU defense — playing without linebacker Jashon Sykes who was lost for the season with a neck injury — had its best performance of the year.

A big play by linebackers Kory Mossoni and Joey Johnson helped preserve a win over No. 25 A&M the next week. Colorado then went on the road and lost 41-7 at Austin the next week in a game that wasn't as lopsided as the score. Still, UT's Cedric Benson ran all over CU.

A fiery halftime speech by a handful of players helped spur the Buffs to victory in Stillwater the following Saturday, and CU then beat Missouri and Iowa State to set up a showdown with Nebraska for the North crown.

The Cornhuskers came to Boulder unbeaten and ranked No. 2. Frankly, their program hasn't been the same since Nebraska left Boulder that night losers of a 62-36 beat down. The game remains the crown jewel of Barnett's time at CU.

Gary Barnett met a preseason prediction of getting to the Big 12 championship, but the Buffs were heavy underdogs in the rematch with Texas. Colorado made big plays on defense and Brown rushed for 182 yards, as CU held on for a wild 39-37 victory, claiming the program's first and only Big 12 title.

Remarkably, CU was just .05 percentage points from earning a berth in the BCS national championship game. Instead, Nebraska, the team Colorado had demolished the day after Thanksgiving, a team that hadn't even finished atop its division, played Miami for the title.

As Big 12 champs, Colorado played in the Fiesta Bowl, matching up with Oregon. But CU had a poor showing, and the Ducks, led by quarterback Joey Harrington, easily beat Colorado 38-16. To add injury to insult, Barnett became infatuated with Oregon's 4-2-5 defense in the game, and CU made an ill-fated switch to the scheme for the next two seasons.

The Colorado coaches followed the 2001 campaign by signing arguably its best class to date in February 2002. That class included players who make up the nucleus of this year's team —J.J. Billingsley, Gerett Burl, Akarika Dawn, Mark Fenton, Tyrone Henderson, Brian Iwuh, Joe Klopfenstein, Alex Ligon, Jack Tipton, Lawrence Vickers and Thaddaeus Washington. It also included Brian Calhoun, Sammy Joseph and Chris Hollis. Calhoun is in the Heisman race after transferring to Wisconsin, while Joseph is playing at LSU. Hollis had to stop playing football due to a neck injury, but is still with the team.

2005 The Narrative: For the third season in a row, the Buffs beat instate rival Colorado State in dramatic fashion. This time, Mason Crosby kicked a 48-yard field goal with 4 seconds remaining to get the win.

The CU defense got its first shutout in the Hankwitz era Part II, with a 39-0 victory over New Mexico State team the next week. But Colorado commits 16 penalties the following game and is no match for Miami in the Orange Bowl.

Mike Hankwitz is in his second season in his second stint as defensive coordinator at CU. (BSN)

Saying they walked away from the Miami loss with confidence, CU earned its second shutout of the season on the road vs. Oklahoma State. It's the first time since 1992 the Buffs have had two shutouts in a season.

To be continued…

2001 Quarterback: CU's hometown golden boy Craig Ochs was a gunslinger. He had already proven himself a playmaker, leading CU to victory in College Station over Texas A&M the season before, and nearly bringing the Buffs back to a win at Nebraska as well. Only a sophomore, Ochs had the chance to be the best CU quarterback since Koy Detmer. But an ankle injury knocked him out of Game 6. He was replaced by the steady Bobby Pesavento, who lead the team the rest of the way, even after Ochs healed.

Pesavento ended the year a solid, if not spectacular, 85-of 139 for 1,234 yards, four interceptions and eight touchdowns.

Ochs eventually transferred to Division I-AA Montana State and lead them to the national title game in 2004. He signed as a free agent with the San Diego Chargers but was cut in preseason. Pesavento had a stint in two Arena leagues.

2005 Quarterback: Third year starter Joel Klatt is the quintessential coach on the field, and knows offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's offense better than any who've come before him. Critics wonder if that's necessarily a good thing, as Klatt is more game manager than playmaker. Through three games, he's thrown three picks and three touchdowns.

Still, there's no arguing the fact he's a strong team leader. And he's on the verge of breaking Kordell Stewart's CU career passing yards mark.

Fourth-year junior James Cox is No. 2, with sophomore Brian White behind Cox. Spring sensation Bernard Jackson is moved to running back/returner.

2001 Running Backs: Colorado developed a reputation it would hold for two seasons as a tough, physical running team. Brown and Bobby Purify rushed for over 900 yards each, and senior Cortlen Johnson added 567 yards. Houston was injured early in the year and never regained his form.

Fullback Brandon Drumm became a key component to the Colorado run game, blowing up linebackers throughout the Big 12.

Brown currently plays for the Tennessee Titans and Purify is on Green Bay's practice squad.

2005 Running Backs: Sophomore Hugh Charles is developing quickly into an explosive ball carrier. He took the first play from scrimmage 74 yards vs. Oklahoma State. Classmate Byron Ellis is also developing as a solid backup who offers a different style than Charles.

Senior V-back Lawrence Vickers is the heart and soul of the offense. Good things happen when he's got the ball in his hands. However, the game plan doesn't always put it in his hands. Former walk-on Brendan Schaub had a great camp and snags a scholarship, playing in a backup fullback role.

2001 Offensive Line: The best Colorado offensive line during Barnett's tenure to date featured Justin Bates, Marwan Hage, Wayne Lucier, Andre Gurode and Victor Rogers as starters. What they did to Nebraska that year is legendary. Gurode and Lucier started as rookies in the NFL. Both are still playing in The League, as is Rogers.

2005 Offensive Line: Perhaps the story of the offense so far is the play of the offensive line, especially considering several players have been banged up in what was a unit without a lot of depth. Senior Clint O'Neal is having his best season, as his classmate Gary Moore, a big surprise. Junior Jack Tipton has come on, and center Mark Fenton has developed into a solid Big 12 player. Tyler Polumbus and Edwin Harrison continue to improve. Brian Daniels is back from injury, and Daniel Sanders has been a pleasant surprise as a redshirt-freshman as well. The line has controlled the line of scrimmage in three of the team's first four games.

2001 Tight End: Daniel Graham won the Mackey Award and was CU's main threat in the passing game (51 receptions), and a force as a blocker in the run game. Graham also became a big-time playmaker in 2001. Beau Williams and a young kid named Quinn Sypniewski served as backups. Both backups made two starts in a double tight-end set that season, and served as blocking ends.

2005 Tight End: Colorado features two solid senior tight ends in senior Joe Klopfenstein and an old guy named Quinn Sypniewski. Both can stretch the middle of the field in catching situations and are strong and experienced blockers in the run game. Junior Paul Creighton is a solid backup.

2001 Wide Receivers: Sophomore Derek McCoy began to emerge as a big-play receiver, averaging 17.1 yards per catch on 30 receptions. Matt Brunson was the next leading receiver from the wide out position with 13 catches, but some of those are big plays as his three touchdowns and 18.9 yards per reception shows.

John Minardi was expected to be featured at receiver, but had a season-ending injury in Game 4. Cedric Cormier and Roman Hollowell round out the regular receiver rotation. Minardi played for a spell in the NFL, and McCoy bounced around the NFL for a season and is currently playing for NFL Europe.

2005 Wide Receivers: The Buffs received a blow when speedster Blake Mackey was lost for the season in August with an ACL tear. Steady veteran Evan Judge starts alongside steady sophomore Dusty Sprague, while coaches hope backups Alvin Barnett and Patrick Williams will turn into playmakers in the receiving rotation at some point in the season. Converted corner Vance Washington is being used occasionally to stretch the field.

2001 Defensive Line: Three of the four regular starters in the '01 line — Justin Bannan, Tyler Brayton and Marques Harris, are playing in the NFL currently. Brandon Dabdoub and DeAndre Fluellen also split starting duties on the inside that season and Matt McChesney filled out the rotation.

Bobby Pesavento, left, and Justin Bannan were key players on the 2001 squad. (Getty)

2005 Defensive Line: The middle of the defense is anchored by veterans Vaka Manupuna and James Garee, with fellow senior John Guydon and true freshman George Hypolite coming off the bench. Abraham Wright, Alex Ligon and Alonzo Barrett have taken most of the snaps at defensive end, with Walter Boye-Doe also seeing significant action.

2001 Linebackers: Inside backers Sean Tufts and Jashon Sykes, along with outside linebacker Drew Wahlroos started the first four games, until Sykes was lost for the season. In his place, undersized Joey Johnson saw a lot of playing time and came through as a playmaker. Kory Mossoni and Aaron Killion provided backup. Sykes was the defensive leader coming into the season, but the Buffs made do in his absence. Wahlroos and Johnson were third and fourth on the team in tackles with 72 and 68, respectively. Sykes played for the Denver Broncos until being released in August. Tufts is with Carolina, while Wahlroos is playing for St. Louis.

2005 Linebackers: This year's group has the chance to be the best group of linebackers at Colorado in some time. Inside linebacker Thaddaeus Washington leads CU in tackles through four games, while Jordon Dizon has improved in pass defense. Akarika Dawn is having a solid senior season, and fellow senior Brian Iwuh has three quarterback pressures from the outside. Redshirt-freshman Brad Jones has played in all four games, but the surprise has been true frosh Marcus Burton, whose raw instincts have gotten him onto the field for 40 plays this fall.

2001 Secondary: Michael Lewis was a force at safety, leading the 2001 team with 112 tackles, while Robbie Robinson was solid at the other safety. Donald Strickland held down one corner, and Rod Sneed and Phil Jackson rotated at the other. Medford Moorer started a handful of games at safety. Lewis is currently a force for the Philadelphia Eagles, and The Sporting News recently named Lewis one of the top 100 players in the NFL. Strickland plays for Indianapolis.

2005 Secondary: This bunch is the most improved group on the CU team this fall. Gerett Burl and Lorenzo Sims are no longer giving up big plays (minus Sims' miscue at Miami) like CU corners were in the habit of doing in years past. J.J. Billingsley is back after a year lost to injury and Tyrone Henderson may be the biggest surprise at the other safety. Junior Terry Washington is providing depth at cornerback with freshmen Gardner McKay and Ben Burney waiting in the wings. Tom Hubbard, Ryan Walters and Lionel Harris are also seeing time at safety.

2001 Special Teams: Jeremy Flores' field goal provided the margin of victory in the Big 12 title win. He was named first-team All-Big 12 in 2001, as was Roman Hollowell, who averaged 20.5 yards on kick returns, but really did damage as a punt returner. He averaged 18 yards a return and took two to the house. Punter Mark Mariscal was a year away from winning the Ray Guy Award, but turned in a solid year, averaging 44.5 yards per punt. He's been in some NFL camps, but hasn't hung on so far.

2005 Special Teams: Placekicker Mason Crosby and punter John Torp provide probably the best kicking tandem in the country. Stephone Robinson is sure-handed and has been close to breaking some big returns in the punt return game. Terry Washington, and now, Bernard Jackson, have potential for big plays in kickoff return. CU is also playing well in punt block situations.

The Staffs
2001
Head coach: Gary Barnett
Offensive coordinator/Quarterback: Shawn Watson
Running backs: Eric Bieniemy (now at UCLA)
Wide receivers: Jon Embree (now at UCLA)
Tight End: John Wristen
Offensive Line: Steve Marshall (now at Houston Texans)
Co-Defensive coordinator/OLB: Vince Okruch (now at Louisiana-Monroe)
Co-Defensive coordinator/Secondary: Tom McMahon (deceased)
Inside Linebackers/Assistant Head Coach: Brian Cabral
Defensive Line: Chris Wilson (now at Oklahoma)
Coordinator of Football Operations/Recruiting Coordinator: Brian McNeely (through Jan. 2002)

2005
Head coach: Gary Barnett
Offensive coordinator/Quarterbacks/Receivers: Shawn Watson
Running backs: Shawn Simms
Tight End/Recruiting Coordinator: John Wristen
Offensive Line: Dave Borbely
Offensive Assistant Coach: Darian Hagan
Defensive coordinator/OLB: Mike Hankwitz
Secondary: Craig Bray
Inside Linebackers/Assistant Head Coach: Brian Cabral
Defensive Line: Bill Inge
Director of Football Operations: David Hansburg


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