Hawkins tries to hold Buffaloes together

If he had it to do over again, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins told reporters earlier this week he would have toned down his personal hyperbole when he predicted 10 wins this season.

Hawkins was unusually pensive when he talked about the direction of his program heading into Friday’s regular-season finale against Nebraska in Boulder.

Much of the luster of this battle between bitter traditional North Division rivals has been stripped away. At 8-3, Nebraska wrapped up the Big 12 North title last week by beating Kansas State. At 3-8, Colorado will be playing for little more than pride after the Buffaloes' bowl hopes were snuffed out two weeks ago.

Those struggles have led to heavy speculation that Hawkins’ job is in jeopardy and that he could be let go after Friday’s game.

The major reason is because the Buffaloes have come nowhere close to Hawkins’ bold prediction of “10 wins and no excuses” made at a banquet after last season.

That bit of hubris has come back to bite him mightily as the Buffaloes will finish without a bowl trip for the third time in four seasons coached by Hawkins.

Because he is an avowed “pie-in-the-sky guy,” Hawkins said it was easy for him to jump to some premature conclusions about how good his team would be.

"I think probably some of that got into my vision," Hawkins said. "I think what I try to do is try to force them over the edge a little bit just by my force of will and my belief in them, which I really do."

Instead, the prediction has hung like an albatross around the Buffaloes this season.

Junior wide receiver Scotty McKnight told the Boulder Camera that he takes the continual losing as a personal affront.

“For me personally, I'm pretty embarrassed with the amount of games we've won," McKnight told the Camera. "I know that alumni and fans and all those people that live Colorado football, they're not happy about it either. That's part of our job is to make these people happy with the football program. So I'm going to do everything I can this offseason to make sure we're going in the right direction."

Whether that comes with a new coach next season remains to be seen.

The Buffaloes are coming off one of their better recent performances -- a 31-28 loss at Oklahoma State last week. It was their season in a microcosm: They played well at times, but were undone by key penalties and big plays. Colorado led by 11 points at halftime, but squandered the lead as OSU stormed back in the second half with long touchdowns of 45, 47 and 28 yards.

"The thing that has impressed me is that they continue to battle," said Hawkins. "The definitely showed up last week.

"They just didn't lay down. I know they'll put their best foot forward for every game."

The Buffaloes aren’t devoid of talent. Markques Simas has emerged as a productive receiver, setting a school record with at least seven catches in each of his last three games. Simas produced a career-best 11 receptions last week against OSU.

And quarterback Tyler Hansen battled back from a bruised right thumb to complete 23-of-36 passes for 169 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Buffaloes will be supremely challenged by a Nebraska defense that appears to be peaking with its championship game arriving next week. The Cornhuskers have allowed more than 17 points once all season. They lead the Big 12 and rank third nationally in scoring defense with an average of 10.3 points allowed per game.

Hansen said earning the upset would provide a positive ending to a season that has more pitfalls than he ever could have imagined for Hawkins and his team.

“This season has been tough, really tough,” Hansen said. “When there’s some turmoil around the program, it’s tough to deal with. But it is what it is. We need to go out and win for the seniors and preview what is to come in the program. And hopefully, we can save his job for him.”