When Dan Hawkins signed on to the Colorado Buffaloes program in December 2005, he inherited a program in desperate need of change following the controversial regime of Gary Barnett. Hawkins, at the time, represented the kind of fresh air Colorado needed to rejuvenate the football team and once again compete with the elite in the Big 12. Hawkins success at Willamette and Boise State gave Buffaloes fans a lot to hope for in the coming years. He was a combined 92-33-1 as a head coach. However, the last three seasons at Colorado have been anything but pride-worthy as Hawkins has managed a 13-24 record, one bowl appearance (a loss to Alabama in the Independence Bowl), and a dismal 8-16 conference record.
At this point, Dan Hawkins is best known for the “Go play intramurals” rant as anything on the field of play. His point was valid – Colorado’s players need a change of attitude about what it takes to produce winning football. Recruiting has gone relatively well for Hawkins as he has landed Top 5 classes in the Big 12 twice during his tenure. Colorado has a history of some top notch NFL talent in the past and even a National Championship (albeit a shared one with Georgia Tech) in the past 20 years. However, since 1996, the Buffaloes claim only one conference title and three division titles, the last of which was in 2005.
The Big 12 North is a division in flux more often than the counterpart in the South. Five of the six teams in the North have represented the division in the Big 12 Championship game in its thirteen year history as opposed to the three teams who have been to the conference championship game from the South. The North is ripe for a team to exert its dominance the way Oklahoma has in the South. Nebraska (a team that has been on rocky roads for some time now) has the best pedigree of any team in the North, Kansas State was built by Bill Snyder to be a contender before dropping off recently, and Colorado could and should be in that mix as well.
With all respect to Kansas and Iowa State, Hawkins’ Colorado staff should best these teams in recruiting each year. Colorado has a football tradition Kansas does not have in spite of recent success for the Jayhawks. Iowa State was on the verge of canning Gene Chizik until Auburn did them a favor and hired him to run that program. As far as Kansas State goes, who knows what will become of the second Bill Snyder reign, but do not expect that to last a long time. Nebraska is still a long ways away from being anywhere near the football factory it once was and is guided by a coach who has already proved his worth in the head spot going 9-4 in his first full season at the helm. Missouri has become a respectable football team through the years and must be dealt with. Those are the big targets for Hawkins – the big red N and the black and gold M in the division. The neighbors of importance in the South are light years ahead and not worth worrying about at this point. No, for now Hawkins needs to get Colorado back on top in their own division and that starts with Nebraska and Missouri.
Hawkins has the kind of charisma and pedigree necessary for success in the Big 12. He’s an offensive innovator in a conference full of offense and it is high time for the Buffaloes to start putting some points on the scoreboard if he intends to get this program to that next level. In the Big 12, you have to score points in order to win these days and Colorado’s offense is currently in the cellar of the conference. That must change and in order for it to improve, Hawkins must recruit well (the class for 2009 ranked 48th nationally and ninth in the conference), hopefully getting some of the elite playmakers on offense many other teams already have in place.
If some drastic improvements do not happen for the Buffaloes sooner than later, Hawkins will find himself back on the coaching market looking for other opportunities. After all, it is the Big 12, it is Division I football.