College football countdown: No. 18 Colorado

Thursday, July 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Buffaloes longing for return to elite

No one has noticed the Colorado Buffaloes' absence from the national football elite more than the Buffaloes themselves.

Senior defensive end Brady McDonnell believes this season could signal a return to the team's past glory.

"The last two seasons we've had two bowl wins, but I still feel like we haven't won the big games yet, for one reason or another," said McDonnell, one of five remaining members from the 1996 team that went 10-2 and finished eighth in the country.

Since then, Colorado's fortunes have dropped, even though the Buffaloes finished the 1990s as the 10th most successful program of the decade.

If this team is to become more than a bottom-tier bowl contender, the change must come from the defense.

Colorado surrendered 311 points (25.9 per game) last season and still had a 7-5 record.

A repeat of such success is in doubt, however, for a team with a new starting quarterback - most likely junior college transfer Bobby Pesavento - and a new offensive coordinator in former quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson.

Add to that a schedule that will rank among the toughest in the country, and there's every reason to suspect this could be another up-and-down season in Boulder.

But tough schedules are nothing new for Colorado, which won the 1990 national championship despite playing what the NCAA rated the toughest list of opponents in the country.

"I'd rather have that any day than play a weak schedule," said McDonnell.

But with a new quarterback? Maybe.

Colorado's offensive numbers last year were achieved mostly with Mike Moschetti, though he was considered highly inconsistent.

With Pesavento's size (6-5, 230) and depth at running back - junior Cortlen Johnson and freshman Marcus Houston, one of the country's top recruits - the Buffaloes promise to score some points.

But playing Washington, Kansas State, Texas, Texas A&M, USC and Nebraska, defense will make the difference.

Nine of the defensive starters are juniors and seniors, but co-defensive coordinator Tom McMahon was diagnosed with lung cancer in July. He still plans to coach this season, despite undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.

"If complications are created, we'll make any needed adjustments at the proper time," coach Gary Barnett said.

Colorado Schedule- Sept. 2 Colorado State; Sept. 9 at Southern Cal; Sept. 16 Washington; Sept. 30 Kansas State; Oct 7 at Texas A&M; Oct. 14 Texas; Oct. 21 at Kansas; Oct. 28 Oklahoma State; Nov. 4 at Missouri; Nov. 11 Iowa State; Nov. 24 at Nebraska

Colorado Buffaloes Capsule

COACH: Gary Barnett (7-5 in one year at Colorado; 50-61-2 overall)

LAST YEAR: 7-5 (beat Boston College in Bowl)

OUT: Offensive coordinator Tom Cable, now head coach at Idaho after directing Buffaloes' high-powered game last year. Buffs averaged 44 points in last three games.

IN: Denver high school star Marcus Houston, a running back with obscene expectations, though he will likely start the season behind junior Cortlen Johnson, who gained 825 yards last year.

BIG PLUS: Barnett's military style has intensified what was a lackadaisical team.

BIG MINUS: The toughest schedule in the Big 12, and perhaps the country, could take the life out of the Buffaloes before they get started.

NATIONAL TITLE IF: Colorado gets off to a strong start. Victories over Washington and Kansas State, not to mention USC and Texas, would put the Buffaloes among the nation's elite.

BOTTOM LINE: This is a good team that simply plays too tough a schedule to finish among the upper echelon of the national rankings. Look for this team to arise in 2001.

Top 25 So Far

25. Clemson
24. Mississippi
23. So. Miss
21. Texas A&M
20. Penn State
19. Tennessee
18. Colorado