2006 Season Preview (Game Four): Colorado

I have already covered the Bulldogs' opening outings against Western Kentucky, South Carolina, and U.A.B. We now turn our attention to Georgia's intriguing intersectional matchup with an unfamiliar opponent from a B.C.S. conference.

(Photograph from Fan Hut.)

The Game

Georgia v. Colorado
Sanford Stadium
Saturday, September 23

The Opponent

The gradual (and long overdue) restoration of Georgia's longstanding tradition of national scheduling continues as the Bulldogs and the Buffaloes square off between the hedges.

Georgia's last meeting with a current Big 12 school came against Texas Tech in 1996 and the Classic City Canines have not played a regular season game against a former Big Eight squad since taking on Oklahoma State (then known as Oklahoma A&M) in Stillwater in 1947.

This will be the first series meeting between Colorado, which has appeared in four of the last five Big 12 championship games, and Georgia, which has appeared in three of the last four S.E.C. championship games.

A Brief History of the University of Colorado

When the first territorial legislature convened in 1861, boosters from Boulder campaigned for their town to be made the site of the college using the pithy slogan, "Give Boulder the State University and the rest of Colorado may take all other state institutions."

At that initial legislative session, an act was passed to establish the state university at Boulder, although the institution's doors would not open until 1877---the year after Colorado was admitted as a state---due to such intervening events as "a mining slump" and the War Between the States.

Yeah, I really hate it for Colorado that the War postponed the opening of their new university. That must have been really rough on them.

The University of Colorado has an enrollment of almost 30,000 students, two-thirds of whom hail from the Centennial State. I can't help noting, by the way, that, whereas the University of Georgia is located in a city named for the seat of classical learning and the fountainhead of Western civilization, the University of Colorado is located in a city named for a rock.

A Brief History of Buffalo Football

Colorado fielded its first football team in 1890 but the Buffs would not play a game outside of the borders of the Centennial State until they faced Nebraska in Lincoln on October 24, 1903.

In the interim, Colorado hosted Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, and Wyoming and otherwise played schedules consisting entirely of alumni, Boulder High School, Colorado College, Colorado Mines, Colorado State, Denver, the Denver Athletic Club, Denver High School, Denver Manual High School, the Denver Wheel Club, East Denver High School, the Littleton Athletic Club, North Denver High School, Northern Colorado, the State Prep School, and West Denver High School.

The Buffaloes would not win an out-of-state road game against a current B.C.S. conference team on the opponent's home field until claiming victory at Missouri to open the 1930 season. In other words, I don't want to hear it from anybody about Georgia's unwillingness to travel to take on tough competition.

All of a sudden, I feel a whole lot less embarrassed about playing Western Kentucky.

Frederick Folsom, who won 77 games in 15 seasons at Colorado, is the namesake of the Buffaloes' home field and future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White won distinction on the gridiron in Boulder in the 1930s, but it was not until Bill McCartney's tenure as the Buffs' coach that the team began to win national recognition.

Coach McCartney led Colorado to the verge of a national title in 1989 and carried his team to the Promised Land (so to speak) in 1990. His successors, Rick Neuheisel and Gary Barnett, were not of Bill McCartney's caliber, either as coaches or as men, and the program faltered. Since playing in January bowl games five times in seven years between 1989 and 1995, the Buffaloes have lost five or more games in seven of the last nine seasons.

Returning Starters

Five starters return on offense, including three offensive linemen but not quarterback Joel Klatt, the school's career passing leader. Eight defenders from last year's starting lineup are back, among them both defensive ends, a pair of linebackers, and the entire secondary.

Placekicker Mason Crosby continues to suit up for the Buffs, as well, and he enters 2006 needing 24 more points to surpass Eric Bieniemy as the school's all-time leading scorer.

Coaching

Gary Barnett, whose last trip to the Classic City may or may not have been to interview for the Georgia head coaching job in 1995, is gone. In his place is Dan Hawkins, whose last visit to Sanford Stadium was quite memorable, as well.

Let's hope we're in for a repeat performance. (Photograph from Sports Illustrated.)

Dan Hawkins achieved great things at Boise State and his style should prove to be an interesting fit in Boulder, although it may take some time before the Hawk's approach meshes with the Buffalo way.

This has nothing to do with anything, really, but Coach Hawkins is responsible for one of the strangest postgame quotations in recent college football history. In 2003, his Broncos had a 20-14 lead on Tulsa late in the game and, instead of running out the clock, B.S.U. went for another score. After Boise State ended up winning by a 27-20 margin, Coach Hawkins told the media:

If we had knelt on the ball at the end of the game, wouldn't that have been the end of the game? Yeah, it would have been. But Gandhi didn't take a knee. Martin Luther King didn't take a knee. Thomas Edison didn't take a knee, and I sure as hell am not going to take a knee.

I don't want to get political or anything, but, if you were on a "$64,000 Pyramid"-style game show and the only clues you could use to aid your partner in guessing the correct answer were sports analogies and "nonviolent social change" came up on the screen, wouldn't "taking a knee" be just about the best example you could come up with under the circumstances? It's just a bizarre, bizarre statement and I encourage you not to think about it too much or it'll make your head hurt.

Offense

There are gaping holes to fill in the offensive backfield and the situation may become so grim that Coach Hawkins is forced to put his son Cody, a freshman, under center.

Klatt's departure left a void that no scholarship quarterback has yet stepped forward to fill. James Cox, Bernard Jackson, and Brian White have not distinguished themselves as signal-callers and the memorable C.U. running backs of the first five years of the new century are gone, leaving only the underwhelming Hugh Charles, who does not appear to have regained his early season form from 2005.

"Purify" may be a good word to use when describing what needs to be done to the Colorado program in the wake of smarmball Gary Barnett's departure, but it does not refer to any of the Buffaloes' tailbacks. (Photograph from The Daily Camera.)

The Buffaloes' offensive woes are compounded by concerns along the offensive line. Although center Mark Fenton, guard Brian Daniels, and tackle Edwin Harrison should anchor the left side of the line, the right side remains unsettled. Neither of last year's tight ends is back, nor is leading receiver Evan Judge. Blake Mackey, the best of the Buffs' returning receivers, is coming back from a torn A.C.L.

It will be interesting to see how Coach Hawkins's wide-open offensive approach translates to a team in transition whose players were recruited to run a very different sort of attack.

Defense

Although a Buffalo offense ranked ninth in the Big 12 in scoring (23.5 points per game) may struggle to equal last year's output, a Colorado D ranked seventh in the league in scoring defense (23.6 points per game allowed) should improve.

With any luck, defensive end Maurice Lucas will be in for a sophomore slump after starting six games last year as a true freshman. The middle of the defensive line must be replaced, as nose tackle Vaka Manupuna and defensive tackles James Garee and John Guydon are gone, but nose tackle Brandon Nicolas transferred over from Notre Dame and middle linebacker Thaddaeus Washington is returning for his senior season, so Colorado's run defense should remain stout.

The defensive backfield features seven players with starting experience from a 2005 unit that improved despite a couple of key injuries. C.U. collapsed down the stretch last season, giving up 149 points in the squad's last four games, so perhaps it is open to debate how valuable the experience of last year's lettermen will be. The real question is how all that returning talent will respond to the coaching change.

Special Teams

The Bulldogs seldom get adequate credit for the quality of their special teams play, but I generally go into every game hoping that, if it's competitive, the outcome will come down to the kicking game . . . because Georgia usually has the edge in that department.

Colorado is one of the few opponents the 'Dawgs face that can stand toe to toe (so to speak) with the Red and Black. Crosby was the Buffs' leading scorer (94 points) in 2005, connecting on 100 per cent of his extra point tries (31 for 31) and on three-fourths of his field goal attempts (21 for 28). The C.U. placekicker hit 13 of 18 three-pointers from beyond 40 yards, including a 58-yarder.

Colorado should continue to field solid special teams in 2006, thanks largely to Crosby's return, although the kicking game will suffer without Stills, Nash, and Young.

Because punter John Torp will have to be replaced, Crosby may draw double duty as the Buffaloes' punter, as well.

Dawg Food

Duh!

What Worries Me Most

Oddly enough, I have very little uneasiness regarding this game. Don't get me wrong . . . I'm not taking the Buffaloes lightly, by any means; I'm just not sweating this one, at least not yet.

Aside from S.E.C. opponents and traditional rivals like Clemson and Georgia Tech, Colorado represents the team with the most storied tradition to have visited Athens since . . . when? T.C.U. in 1988? U.C.L.A. in 1983? B.Y.U. in 1982? Texas A&M in 1980? Would you have to go all the way back to the Bulldogs' season opener against Pitt in 1975 to find a program from outside the Southeast with a more distinguished pedigree to have visited Sanford Stadium?

Before some smart aleck cracks a joke at Georgia's expense, yes, we've scheduled an interregional opponent of Colorado's caliber more recently than the 1929 Yale game.

Nevertheless, I am not losing sleep over this one. Come game time, I'm sure I'll be fretting up a storm, but, in the meantime, I take solace from the fact that, last year, the Buffaloes' seven wins came against teams with a combined record of 34-47, while their six losses came against teams that went a cumulative 45-16.

There is also the fact that Colorado is 2-7-1 against S.E.C. squads all-time, including a 1-3 ledger in road games against the league. The Buffs have not beaten a Southeastern Conference squad since 1971.

Could Colorado beat Georgia? Absolutely. Do I take the squad from Boulder seriously? Certainly. Am I worried? Not at the moment, no.

What Will Happen on Saturday

The Buffaloes open their season with two games at Folsom Field in Boulder (against Montana State and Arizona State) and one game at Invesco Field in Denver (against Colorado State). Georgia represents not just the third straight tough opponent C.U. will face, but also the first squad Colorado will take on outside of the borders of the Centennial State.

Could the heat and humidity of the Classic City in September be a factor? Quite possibly; the last two times the Buffs played an early-season non-conference road game against a Southern team immediately before beginning league competition---against Florida State in 2003 and Miami in 2005---the results were not favorable for the visiting team, as Colorado lost those two contests by an average margin of 35-5.

Most probably, both offenses will be struggling to gel and both defenses will be playing well when this contest comes up on the schedule. Heat, humidity, home field advantage, and the fact that the Georgia players will not be adapting to new coaches' new approaches should give the 'Dawgs the edge and I like the Red and Black to win a low-scoring slugfest between the hedges.

Coming soon: Ole Miss.

Go 'Dawgs!

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