Defensive coordinator Greg Brown thinks Colorado is in for an "eye-opening" experience when the Buffaloes begin Pac-12 play. Or he might be playing a little possum.
Brown, who's beginning his third stint in Boulder after spending the 2010 season as Arizona's co-defensive coordinator, said this when asked about the Buffaloes move into the new conference.
"It's going to be an eye-opener," he said. "Colorado had a small taste of it playing one team: Cal-Berkeley, up there [a 52-7 California win]. Everybody saw the final score from that one. The thing that was just striking going into the Pac-10 that I had no idea of, was just how good the league is. Two things hit you between the eyes in the Pac-10 as a defensive coach. No. 1 is how innovated the offensive coaches are, how innovative those schemes are. Coming from the Big 12, I thought in the Big 12 we had all those quarterbacks that one year, with great teams across the board. So I said, 'OK, what else can the Pac-10 show you that I haven't seen in the Big 12?' Believe me: It was a lot. It was an eye-opener because the schemes and the quarterbacks. The second part would be how fast it is. There is a lot of speed in that league."
For example, Brown said this about the Wildcats 48-29 loss at Oregon, which came after both teams had a bye week.
"They did more with their bye week and came up with more innovative schemes that we had not seen," he said. "My hat is off to Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich, their offensive coordinator. They put in things we hadn't seen. It was a hard go playing those guys up there."
This seems to be a common rhetorical path among the Colorado folks -- coaches and players -- by the way: Lots of praise for the new conference, sometimes at the expense of the old one. As linebacker Jon Major said, the Pac-12 has no "cupcakes." This may be tweaking the Big 12 on the way out or celebrating the Pac-12 on the way in. Perhaps a bit of both.
As for Brown's decision to bolt Tucson after only one season, his answer is fairly straight-forward.
This is is home. He was born in Denver and his father, Irv, a long-time Denver radio personality, is a a former baseball coach and football coach at Colorado. Being back in Boulder means his two young daughters get to see their grandparents regularly. He loves the town and knows new coach Jon Embree well.
"I knew what he would bring to the table as a head coach and I wanted to be a part of it," Brown said.
Oh, and there's no "co" at Colorado. This will be his defense. At Arizona, he not only shared the job with Tim Kish but he coached the secondary, which is coach Mike Stoops' specialty. And Stoops, you may know, is not a laid-back, hands-off head coach.
Considering Brown was the Buffaloes' secondary coach from 2006-09 under Dan Hawkins, he's fairly familiar with his talent. While he uses terms like "hungry" to describe his players, it's clear that there are some areas that concern him, starting with the departure of cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Jalil Brown, who will be early-round NFL draft picks.
"That's going to be tough to replace," Brown said. "There is nobody on the horizon that looks like they are going to be able to step into those shoes immediately. We've got young guys who need to develop. It's going to take some time to do that."
And Brown suspects his defense is going to have to take some chances to pressure opposing quarterbacks, which often means a high-risk, high-reward scheme.
"If you don't have the automatic four guys who can rush the passer without help, then you obviously need to be creative and bring some extra guys and pick and choose your poison," he said. "Because the more guys you bring, the more you're exposed out there. And as I just stated, we've got a lot of young guys back there feeling their way."
Or to be more succinct, Brown said: "Somebody's band is going to play, either their band or our band."
Still, don't see this as Brown fretting about his players ability to compete. While he acknowledges that Oregon and Stanford have separated from the conference a bit -- at least based on 2010 and the 2011 preseason perception -- he sees 10 other teams with legitimate hopes to move up the pecking order.
Said Brown, "After the those two, the rest of the league is so balanced. Anybody can beat anybody."