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Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Second-half outlook: Colorado

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Colorado Buffaloes

Record: 2-4

Remaining schedule: at Kansas State, Missouri, Texas A&M, at Iowa State, at Oklahoma State, Nebraska.

Tyler Hansen’s move into the starting lineup has immediately boosted the Buffaloes’ offensive production. The Buffaloes featured a balanced offensive attack in an impressive 34-30 victory over Kansas that puts them only a half-game behind North Division leader Kansas State. And they get a chance to topple the Wildcats on Saturday. A key in Colorado's second half will be getting more production from the passing game and continuing the momentum through three difficult North Division road opponents. The defense needs to build on its recent strong play against Kansas, where it notched a season-best five sacks and produced three turnovers and finally started playing like many had hoped this season. Struggles in the first half have led the Buffaloes to rank last in the offense in scoring offense, total offense and pass efficiency, so the hope is that Hansen will continue his first-game success in turning things around. Running back Rodney Stewart will be important down the stretch and a return from heralded running back Darrell Scott could do wonders for Colorado’s flagging big-play ability.

Best-case scenario: The Buffaloes sneak a victory at Manhattan and ride the wave of that excitement to home victories over Missouri and Texas A&M to earn a share of the Big 12 lead. They then split their road games at Iowa State and Oklahoma State, leading to a showdown against Nebraska for the North title. Dan Hawkins’ season wasn’t pretty, but his team still got to the championship game one way or another.

Worst-case scenario: The Buffaloes lose on Saturday in Manhattan and struggle to beat only one of two teams when Missouri and Texas A&M visit Boulder. They are then beaten by Iowa State and Oklahoma State and Nebraska to finish at 3-9 -- far away from Hawkins’ lofty preseason prediction.

My prediction: No bowl. Colorado will win two of its remaining home games and lose its three games on the road. Hawkins will need a big performance against Nebraska, not only to keep the Cornhuskers out of the championship game but maybe to protect his job. The perception among many pundits is that Colorado can't afford the cost of a coaching change. If the Buffaloes bottom out in the second half, the program might not be able not to afford making that change.