Colorado season review

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

A season of early promise unraveled as the injury-riddled Buffaloes lost seven of their last nine games after starting the season 3-0. It helped them miss a bowl game for the second time in coach Dan Hawkins' three seasons.

Those injuries put demands on an offense that could ill afford them, helping account for a lack of explosiveness where Colorado ranked no higher than 81st in any of the NCAA's major offensive team statistical categories.

The biggest concern throughout the season was the erratic play of quarterback Cody Hawkins, the son of the coach. His struggles midway through the season led Hawkins to unexpectedly strip the redshirt from freshman Tyler Hansen during the Kansas State game.

Hansen helped lead Colorado to a dramatic victory in that game, but eventually struggled, leading to a return for Hawkins by the end of the season that finished with a 5-7 record.

The quarterback struggles were symptomatic of the problems that bogged down the offense all season. The Buffaloes scored more than 17 points in Big 12 play only twice this season. In a league where offenses were so dominant, that was a handicap that the Buffaloes' game defense never could overcome during the disappointing finish.

Offensive player of the year: KR-WR Josh Smith. After missing much of his freshman season with injuries, Smith rebounded to become the Buffaloes' biggest offensive weapon. Smith finished the season with 1,987 all-purpose yards, second-most in school history behind only Rashaan Salaam's 2,349 yards during his Heisman Trophy season in 1994.

Defensive player of the year: CB Cha'pelle Brown. On an underrated defense that kept Colorado in most games, Brown was the most consistent defender. He saw action on a team-high 827 plays, leading the team in passes broken up (10), third-down stops (14) and tying for the team lead with two interceptions. His game-winning interception return for a touchdown provided the margin of victory against Eastern Washington.

Turning point: The Buffaloes could ill afford another injury when tailback Rodney Stewart was lost for the season with a fractured fibula against Texas A&M on Nov. 1. Not only did it cost them their leading ball carrier and a shot to win against the struggling Aggies, it also snatched away the Buffaloes' most consistent offensive weapon.

What's next: It would behoove the Buffaloes to spend a lot of time in conditioning during the offseason so the rash of injuries doesn't bite them against next season. And an interesting quarterback battle is brewing in the spring between Hawkins and Hansen.