Possibilities abound as season arrives

The top two questions asked of BuffaloSportsNews from fans over the past month of preseason practices are, will the Buffs get to a bowl game this season? And, will Dan Hawkins keep his job? Get inside for some answers.

I predicted late last November that the Buffs would rebound from a 3-9 season in 2009 to get to the postseason in 2010. Back then I thought six wins was possible in the regular season with a seventh coming in a bowl game.

Now I'm thinking the Buffs could win seven or eight games before December.

I'm no Nostradamus. So what makes me optimistic about a program that is 16-33 in the past four years and looked downright bad at times last year?

There is more talent and depth across the roster than at any time since 2002 and 2003. The Buffs have improved team speed as well with players such as Toney Clemons and Travon Patterson available. There is more experience almost everywhere, and having an agile, improving quarterback like Tyler Hansen is another plus.

Punter is one exception, reserve defensive backs and right tackle are others areas where there could be growing pains, at least for the season opener.

The Buffs appear to be better prepared to compete in the Big 12 and against a tough nonconference schedule because of the improvements in athleticism and maturity.

The schedule also sets up in the Buffs' favor with most of the winnable games coming at home where they have almost always played well under Hawkins, aside from contests against Missouri of course.

Hawaii, Baylor, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas State are all very winnable games in the friendly confines of Folsom Field. The Buffs have a history of upsets against ranked and favored opponents at home as well. Oklahoma, West Virgina and Kansas have all fallen in Boulder in recent years and the Buffs nearly knocked off Florida State at home a few years ago, too.

Those are reasons to think a win over Georgia on Oct. 2 is at least within the realm of possibility.

The Buffs can beat Colorado State in Denver, but can they win a true road game for the first time since October 2007? It might be a tall order to expect wins at Cal, Missouri, Oklahoma or Nebraska, but Kansas is certainly beatable. The Buffs have been close there before in Hawkins' tenure.

Breakout players

There are numerous guys on this team who could emerge to become big contributors. My best guess for three or four candidates other than Hansen, Clemons and Patterson are running back Brian Lockridge, wide receiver Paul Richardson, tight end DaVaughn Thornton, linebackers Tyler Ahles and Jon Major and defensive linemen Nick Kasa and Chidera Uzo-Diribe.

Concerns

There are some issues Buffs fans have ample reason to be concerned about at this point.

Put much of the kicking game at the top of the list. Place-kicker Aric Goodman's struggles are well documented, though I do believe if he is inconsistent and inaccurate again, he will be replaced.

CU is also breaking in a new punter in Zach Grossnickle, new longsnappers and a new punt return man in Patterson.

It's also fair to wonder about the coaching

All the talent in the world won't always overcome bad coaching decisions. Will Hawkins and his assistants pull the right strings on game days? Will they take the right approach to game plans? They have been hit-and-miss to this point? How will Ashley Ambrose and Robert Prince impact things?

When it comes down to it, the handcuffs are off. Many of the obstacles to success in the past have been overcome or are, at least, not as imposing as they used to be. Coaching decisions will make or break this season, and with their jobs on the line, that's probably how it should be.

Buffs go 7-5 and face Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 30. Who's staying after to watch the ball drop?


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