Colorado season review

Dan Hawkins got a reprieve a day before his last game and was invited back for another season as head coach.

Hawkins told reporters he was “fortunate” to be coming back after the struggles of a 3-9 season. It marked the third time in four seasons the Buffaloes failed to make a bowl trip and dropped his career record there to 16-33.

After Hawkins brashly predicted -- or “strongly suggested” as he’s framed it after the fact -- that the Buffaloes could win 10 games with no excuses this season, Colorado fell off the track. Those hopes were effectively gone by the time conference play began after nonconference defeats to Colorado State, Toledo and West Virginia.

They rebounded to mount comeback victories over Kansas and Texas A&M during conference play, but struggled against the conference’s better teams.

The Buffaloes ranked among the bottom 10 teams nationally in rushing, sacks allowed, net punt and punt returns. They struggled with penalties all season long. And the offense seemed to turn the corner only after quarterback Tyler Hansen grew with his comfort operating the unit.

Markques Simas emerged as a potential playmaker at wide receiver late in the season. Combining him with Scotty McKnight could give the Buffaloes a strong combination at wide receiver.

Heralded tailback Darrell Scott left the program, but Rodney “Speedy” Stewart already had beaten him out for most of the carries by that point.

Hawkins has a collection of athletes, but will be challenged to work them together into a team. He likely won’t get another mulligan next season if his team struggles again.

Offensive MVP WR Scotty McKnight

McKnight emerged as Colorado’s top playmaker with 76 receptions for 893 yards. His reception total was good for the second-most in school history. He needs only three receptions to break Michael Westbrook’s school record. He produced at least seven receptions this season in six games including each of the last three games.

Defensive MVP CB Jimmy Smith

Smith produced 70 tackles, broke up 10 passes and tied for the team lead with two interceptions to serve as the Buffaloes’ top defender in the secondary and a key lockdown cornerback in their pass defense.

Turning point Sept. 11 at Toledo

Some of the sting of a season-opening loss to Colorado State could be blotted away because it’s a rivalry game. But the way the Buffaloes were torched defensively against Toledo was indicative of the defensive struggles they would face as the season unfolded. Toledo rushed and passed for more than 300 yards in the game as they gashed the Buffaloes for nine plays from scrimmage of at least 27 yards. The 54-38 loss helped foreshadow the struggles in Big 12 play when the Colorado athletes had trouble matching those from a Mid-American Conference opponent.

What’s next?

No bowl means the Buffaloes have all winter to refocus before starting spring practice. Hansen will have the starting job from the first day as most of his offensive weapons return with McKnight, Simas and Stewart back. The defense loses only four starters but two of them are key producers in cornerback Cha’pelle Brown and linebacker Jeff Smart. The Buffaloes desperately need to work on fundamentals. Hawkins’ job will be riding on it.