BOULDER, Colo. -- The "Hawkins" questions have been popular for Colorado's players since Jon Embree was hired to replace Dan Hawkins as the Buffaloes coach. What went wrong under Hawkins? How does the new Embree administration compare to the one it replaced? Etc.
But quarterback Tyler Hansen has been getting double the Hawkins questions because his career in Boulder has been marked by two Hawkinses: The one who coached him and the one he competed against, quarterback Cody Hawkins.
Yes, Hansen admits, it was never comfortable trying to beat out the coach's son for the starting job.
"It was awkward at moments," Hansen said. "There were moments maybe when you'd do something good, and Coach Hawk wouldn't say anything but when Cody did it, he said something. Maybe there was a little nepotism there."
Hansen insists that it never became a problem between him and Cody. Said Hansen, "I think we handled it the way it was supposed to [be handled]. We were both positive with each other and we were friends on and off the field. But it was awkward at moments."
It was, however, often a problem for fans. And there were grumblings in the locker room at times. Both groups mostly favored Hansen. Still, Hansen ultimately triumphed. He took over the job in 2009 and only lost it in 2010 after seven games because of a ruptured spleen.
Hansen no longer has to worry about either Hawkins. Now he has to worry about Embree, who clearly doesn't want Hansen to feel like the starting job is his by default.
"Nick Hirschman is starting to figure some things out," Embree said. "The light is starting to go on. He still needs to be a little more decisive. I'd say the edge with Hansen right now is that Tyler just is a little more decisive with what to do and just the command in the huddle."
Hansen said he has no complaints about being challenged. The intensity of Embree's staff and the attention to detail as they install a pro-style offense, Hansen said, is making everyone better.
"They keep telling me, 'Keep competing,' whether that's with Nick or with myself," Hansen said.
You get the feeling that Hansen is of the mind that nothing could be worse than last season, and that's not entirely a slight on Dan Hawkins but on the uncomfortable situation. For one, a ruptured spleen hurts.
The woes, however, started well before his injury. The 2010 season started with the elder Hawkins decidedly on the hot seat -- the general feeling was he would have been fired after the 2009 season if not for a hefty buyout due to an ill-advised contract extension -- and those rumors floated into the locker room, which couldn't have been a positive for the team.
"I was a little unsure of what was going to happen," Hansen said. "It was a wild ride. With all those rumors flying around, it was difficult at times. Guys were a little negative sometimes."
That's changed, Hansen said, with the arrival of Embree, who has been demanding -- and often brutally honest -- while simultaneously attempting to bring the locker room together by acknowledging the program's traditions.
Hansen put up middling numbers last fall, completing 68 percent of his passes (good) while throwing six touchdowns and six interceptions (not as good). But he's flashed potential at times, and the new offense will showcase him as a passer more than a runner, which should keep him healthy.
Hansen and his teammates are aware that most project them toward the bottom of the Pac-12 South Division in 2011. Not surprisingly, Hansen and his teammates discount those projections and claim to be confident they will be immediately competitive.
"Within this program, I think there is [confidence]," he said. "Outside, I think we've got to prove ourselves to people early in the season."
The Buffaloes play a brutal schedule: 13 consecutive weeks with nonconference games with Hawaii, Colorado State, California (an already scheduled game that won't count in the conference standings) and Ohio State. But whatever happens, they won't be able to blame the results on Hawkins.
Either one of them.