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6. Colorado

The surprising Big 12 champs will rely on a high-powered offense guided by Boulder-bred quarterback Craig Ochs

By Lars Anderson

 
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Brown, who rushed for 946 yards in '01, will team with Purify and Houston to form the nation's top backfield. Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Enemy Lines
An opposing coach's view of the Buffaloes

" Gary Barnett runs the most creative offense in the conference. He does a nice job with his formations, and his run game is always cutting-edge and extremely hard to defend.... That stable of running backs is something else, but the offensive standout this year might be quarterback Craig Ochs . His arm and athleticism might make him the top QB in the conference.... The defense is still developing, but it is extremely fast.... Cornerback Donald Strickland will be the man on defense. He's quick and tough."

Sports Illustrated The afternoon of Oct. 25, 1986, has an exalted place in Colorado football lore. On that breezy day in Boulder the Buffaloes snapped a streak of 18 straight losses to Nebraska with a 20-10 win that launched Colorado back onto the national stage. The game is also significant because in the Folsom Field stands that day was five-year-old Craig Ochs. A native of Boulder, Ochs was instantly hooked on the team. By nine he was traveling with his family to watch the Buffaloes play in bowl games. By 11 he was sneaking into Colorado practices. By 18 he was a blue-chip high school quarterback. Now 20, Ochs, a 6'2", 210-pound junior, is the Buffaloes' starting signal-caller and the key to Colorado's season.

"For us to have a shot at the Big 12 North title, Craig has to have a great year," says coach Gary Barnett of Ochs, who passed for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns in seven games before severely spraining his right ankle against Oklahoma State on Oct. 27.

Ochs will have plenty of help. Junior tailbacks Chris Brown and Bobby Purify and sophomore Marcus Houston form arguably the top backfield in the nation. Barnett will play the hottest of the three in the second half of games, a strategy that worked beautifully last year, when Colorado got more rushing yards out of its tailbacks (2,620) than any other team.

While the Buffaloes should be prolific on offense, their defense could keep them from making a run at the national title. Lost in the euphoria of last season's resurgence was that over Colorado's last three games (against Nebraska, Texas and Oregon) it gave up an average of 33.0 points and 504.6 total yards. Eight defensive starters return, but the unit's downfall could be its inability to stop the run.

Still, the Buffaloes have mile-high expectations. "We're trying to build off last season," says Ochs, dripping in sweat after taking a break from a mid-July workout. "We want to keep the momentum going."

Issue date: August 12, 2002

 


 
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