The least you should know about the 2011 Buffaloes. Part of Pac-12 Week.
• Grab a shovel. There's no easy way out of the hole Colorado dug for itself in five futile years under ousted head coach Dan Hawkins, but at least the leader of the recovery team is a familiar face: Jon Embree, a former Buff tight end and assistant who was plucked from the NFL last December to head up a mini reunion of the golden-era teams of the late eighties and early nineties — outfits that put together eight straight top-20 seasons with a pair of Big 8 championships and a national championship under coach Bill McCartney.
Embree's staff is conspicuously "Colorado to the core": Five new assistants either played or coached under McCartney, including both coordinators, Eric Bieniemy (an All-American running back on the 1990 national title team, later a CU assistant alongside Embree in 2001-02) and Greg Brown (CU secondary coach from 1991-93). Two other staffers, Steve Marshall and Jashon Sykes, were part of the program under Gary Barnett. Even Embree's sons, Taylor and Connor, are both playing for former Colorado coaches at UCLA and UNLV, respectively. If they got any more Colorado, they'd have to hire Eric Cartman to do the play-by-play. (Who has the official endorsement of Dr. Saturday for the job, by the way.)
• Now: What if we tie your other arm behind your back... Under most circumstances, the secondary would be filed into the "Can't Get Any Worse" column after finishing dead last in the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense, and not far from the bottom nationally. In this case, though, the Buffs managed to hit rock bottom despite the presence of not one but two senior cornerbacks, Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown, who were both picked in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft in April. If it was that bad before, what's it going to look like without a pair of future pros on hand?
The answer should have a lot more to do with what Greg Brown draws up Xs-and-Os-wise than the specific talents of the handful of guys jockeying to replace Smith and Brown, none of whom are projected as early-round draft picks. But quite literally, there is nowhere to go but up.
• Hanging tough. One of the few major victories of the Hawkins era was a the successful recruitment of running back Darrell Scott, the most celebrated recruit in school history, who took the fast track to leaving as the biggest bust in school history before the end of his sophomore year. But there's still a chance for the only other five-star signee under Hawkins, offensive lineman Ryan Miller, who's bounced back from a season-ending knee injury in 2008 to start 24 straight games over the last two years. As a fifth-year senior, all-conference recognition and a ticket for the top half of the draft remain well within reach.
Even with Miller and All-American/first-rounder Nate Solder up front last year, though, Colorado still finished just behind Kansas in the race for the worst rushing offense in the conference. Diminutive tailback Rodney Stewart gutted out a little over 1,600 yards on 27 touches per game — a huge load for anyone, much less a 5-foot-6, 175-pounder — but he's a plugger, not a big-play guy, a postition that's remained vacant here for the better part of the decade.
• "Aloha" means "Take what you can get." I'm sure the season-opening trip to Hawaii will be strictly business, but it's probably as close as Colorado is going to get to a bowl game against this schedule. Not only does the "extra" game in the islands force the Buffs to win seven games to qualify for the postseason instead of the usual six; with road dates at Hawaii and Ohio State and Cal coming to Boulder for the second half of a home-and-home (which won't count against either team's Pac-12 record), there are no breaks. They could already have three losses before they even hit the conference slate in October, and it's certainly not out of the question for Colorado State to make it a clean 0-4 sweep in the first month, either. No wonder they want to tone things down a bit over the next few years.
Considering that CU also a) Has no bye weeks, and b) Has to go on the road for almost all of the winnable Pac-12 games (at Washington, at Arizona State, at UCLA, at Utah), and c) Has lost 18 straight games outside of Boulder, players are advised to soak up as much of the island sun as they can while they have the chance.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.