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25. Colorado

The Buffaloes play the nation's toughest schedule. Will they live to tell about it?

By Mark Beech

The Book
An opposing team's coach sizes up the Buffaloes

"They just don't have the weapons they used to, a Michael Westbrook or a Kordell Stewart. Johnson is a steady runner, but he doesn't hit it up in there real hard. And who's going to play quarterback?... I don't know if they're patient enough to just run the ball at you. The fans in Colorado get bored with that. They're used to slinging it around.... Their defense is raggedy, inconsistent. People can runthe football on them."

Sports IllustratedFrom its 41-14 season-opening loss to Colorado State to its 62-28 drubbing of Boston College in the Bowl on New Year's Eve, no team improved as much over the course of last season as Colorado did. The turning point came after Texas Tech whipped the Buffaloes 31-10 to drop their record to 3-3. Colorado won three of its last five regular-season games and were impressive in one of those losses, narrowly succumbing to No. 3 Nebraska in a 33-30 overtime grudge match.

Colorado Sykes, among the nation's top linebackers, had 134 tackles last fall.David Zalubowski/AP 
Integral to the turnaround was the team's adjustment from former coach Rick Neuheisel's one-back finesse attack to Gary Barnett's smashmouth approach. The result was a rejuvenation of the running game, led by sophomore tailback Cortlen Johnson's 835 yards.

This season Johnson and the rest of the offense should benefit from the addition of Parade All-America Marcus Houston, the nation's top high school running back. The 6'2", 205-pound Houston rushed for 1,743 yards and 23 touchdowns last year at Denver's Thomas Jefferson High, was an honor student and participated in more extracurricular activities than Max Fischer in Rushmore. This summer he delivered books and farm tools to villages in Ghana. He also has an imaginary friend, Chucky, against whom he competes in everything he does. Houston may find himself wishing Chucky could block for him because the Buffaloes lost three senior starters on the line.

The quarterback situation is also murky. Mike Moschetti, who had 2,693 passing yards last season, is gone. His successor will be either junior Bobby Pesavento, a 6'5", 230-pound junior college transfer, or 6'4", 215-pound Zac Colvin, a sophomore who played in six games last season. To Barnett's relief, both were impressive in spring ball, and they will be throwing to a bevy of talented wideouts, including all-conference senior Javon Green.

Colorado is loaded on the defense, led by junior linebacker Jashon Sykes, a Butkus Award candidate. The secondary lost three starters, so Barnett will look to hard-hitting junior safety Michael Lewis to provide leadership.

Despite their strong finish last year, the Buffaloes, who haven't beaten a Top 10 team since 1996, won't be able to let their guard down early -- they play the nation's toughest schedule, and their first six games are murder. "Fortunately," says Barnett, "we don't have to play all six at the same time."

Issue date: August 14, 2000

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