Everyone is optimistic in August. But if you remove the emotion, what’s in store for our local college football teams in 2011? Thankfully, we’re about to find out.
As we’ve mentioned before, for the first time anyone can remember, all four of our state’s college football programs are being coached by alums of the school. The “Dean” of the group is Air Force’s Troy Calhoun, who enters his fifth season with what’s being touted as his best team yet. That certainly bodes well for fans of the Falcons.
On the opposite end are first year coaches Jon Embree at Colorado and Ernest Collins at Northern Colorado. Both men played for their current schools before moving into coaching careers, and both are excited about a chance to return as the head man at their alma maters.
The guy who appears, on the surface anyway, to have the most pressure on him is Colorado State’s Steve Fairchild. National pundits believe Fairchild is on that proverbial coaching “Hot Seat.” Administrators in Fort Collins say otherwise, but there can be no question that the Rams need to at least break even this season to get Fairchild’s name off that list.
UNC has had a rough time since moving to Division I four years ago. Still, the improvements under former coach Scott Downing showed up everywhere except in the win column. Expect Collins to reap the benefits of those improvements and pull the Bears out of the Big Sky cellar and into the middle of the pack this season. The conference remains a very tough one, but it’s fair to expect the Bears to win in the neighborhood of five or six games after going 3-8 in Downing’s final season.
The Rams should also see improvement in the win-loss column. The main two reasons are experience and a relatively soft schedule. Gone are BYU and Utah, and while Boise State is better than both of those teams, that’s only one loss not two. The additional non-conference games are Utah State, San Jose State and UTEP. There are by most estimates at least eight “winnable” games on the Rams schedule. No reason they can’t win six of them and go bowling for the second time under Fairchild.
Very few knowledgeable people disputed the selection of Embree as CU’s head man. He’s the first CU alum since the days of the Kennedy Administration to take the reigns, and he appears to be just what the CU program has needed. After the failed experiment with Dan Hawkins and elements of the Spread offense, the Buffs will be getting back to the ground game this season. CU fans will delight in seeing some option football again, with fleet QB Tyler Hansen using his feet and his arm.
The problem for Buff fan is two fold: Hawkins didn’t leave a lot of talent on campus, and the schedule is brutal. One national publication rates CU’s slate as the toughest in America. The Buffs will be improved in most every phase of the game, but matching last season’s win total of five looks virtually impossible in their first year in the formidable Pac 12 conference. Consider it a great first season for Embree and his staff if CU wins three games this season. Better days are ahead, but the Pac 12 is never going to be easy.
As for Calhoun’s bunch in Colorado Springs? This could be the best Air Force team in two decades. Experience returns across the board, and Calhoun has already shown what an excellent coach he is. Can they crack through the glass ceiling that has been the very top of the Mountain West Conference? Utahis gone, replaced by Boise, meaning a third place finish behind perennial powers TCU and Boise is likely. But don’t be at all shocked when the Falcons knock off the Horned Frogs in Colorado Springs the second week of the season and even give Boise a run for the conference title. This appears – in August at least – to be their time.
Then again, everyone is optimistic in August.