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Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Next up in Colorado's gauntlet: Ohio State

By Ted Miller

Colorado flew 4,100 miles to Hawaii to fall to 0-1. It's flying 1,300 miles to play Ohio State on Saturday, where pundits believe the Buffaloes will fall to 1-3.

The Buffs will play 13 games in 2011. They will not have a week off. They will play a nine-game Pac-12 schedule after already having played a bonus matchup with California -- a heartbreaking 36-33 overtime loss -- that won't count in the conference standings.

Welcome back to college football, new coach Jon Embree, who inherited a roster with more than a few holes from fired former coach Dan Hawkins and a brutal schedule from his administration.

"It gets harder and harder each week," Embree said. "But that's OK. It is what it is. We can't change it."

But coaches know they often have to remake a poke in eye into a wonderful teachable moment. Here's how Embree spins what's probably the nation's toughest schedule.

"In a way as a coach, it kind of makes it a little bit easier," he said. "Because of the nature of our schedule, there's always something to be excited about from a players standpoint."

It's hard to know what to expect from Ohio State, which dropped out of the national polls this week for the first time since 2004. Ohio State is still Ohio State -- loaded with talent -- but it's looked bad in its last two games: a close win over Toledo and a 24-6 loss at Miami. It should be mad and motivated in front of a typically raucous crowd in the Horseshoe, but you never know. There's a lot of distractions in Columbus, and the Buckeyes might be buckling.

This could be a big opportunity for the Buffs to kick a Buckeye when it's down.

Further, Colorado seemed to find itself over the last six quarters. It came back from a 23-13 third-quarter deficit against California to force overtime and asserted itself on both sides of the ball against Colorado State. The Buffs ultimately dispatched the Rams with a hard-nosed, 16-play, 85-yard touchdown drive that ate up more than 10 minutes of the fourth quarter after the Rams had pulled within 21-14 on a trick play.

"That's three weeks now that we've improved," Embree said. "I'm very encouraged."

Embree expects both teams to try to run the football, even though the Buffs have struggled to do so. They rank 103rd in the nation with just 90 yards rushing per game, though Rodney Stewart did break through against the Rams with 98 yards rushing as well as 93 yards receiving.

Stewart likely wants as many touches as he can get. He's an Ohio native who wasn't recruited by the Buckeyes.

"It will probably be a fast game with both teams trying to run the football," Embree said.

Embree has seen a lot of improvement from his team since a disastrous first half at Hawaii. But the Buckeyes -- and the Horseshoe -- are an entirely different animal.

It's the next game on the schedule, yes, but it's also an elite program playing inside one of the sport's great venues.

"It will tell us where we are as a program and how far we need to go to reach the levels we want to reach around here," Embree said. "That's the No. 1 thing at playing at a school like Ohio State. It's a great measuring stick."

And then in two weeks there's Stanford. And a few weeks later Oregon. Etc, etc.