I've been accused, from time to time, of holding a pervasively pessimistic outlook on life. I would argue that I try to be realistic, but that's besides the point. In part to counter this spurious charge, and in part to pump myself up for the quickly approaching season, I present this list of my top 5 on-field reasons to be excited headed into the 2011 football season:
Click below for the list...
1) Rodney Stewart - The diminutive speedster from Ohio, seemingly forgotten on NLI day back in '08, has become a running fiend and a consistent offensive force for the Buffs over his 3 season in Boulder. While the rest of the offense was beset by inconsistency and drama, Speedy quietly carried the load. Bursting onto the national scene last year with a 1,318 yrd performance, he is now a widely respected back, garnering deserved attention from pundits and award voters alike.
The cherry on top this season for Speedy is his chase of Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy's 21yr old school rushing record. All he needs is a relatively modest 1,196 yards, or 92yds/game, to crack the record. Should he stay healthy, I'd be shocked if he doesn't reach that number.
(The good news for Bieniemy? Speedy is still 20 TD's shy of Coach's scoring record. If Speedy gets anywhere near that, we'll have quite a story on our hands.)
Speedy has turned out to be a great story, and I'm especially glad that he'll finally get to play in front of his Ohio-based friends and family at the Ohio St game (He missed the '09 Toledo game due to injury). Overall, I'm simply excited to watch Speedy take his place amongst Buff greats.
2) Tyler Hansen - The cloud of quarterback controversy has lifted from Boulder (and moved onto Denver) to clear the way for Tyler to finally take over as the undisputed leader of the CU offense. Tyler has been bitten by the bad luck bug throughout his CU career, having spent his previous 3 years violently oscillating between starting, backing-up, the injury list, and short-lived stints as a red-shirt. I'm surprised he doesn't have whiplash.
But he never put his head down, always played the brave Buffalo soldier for the media and fans, and stuck with the program that was seemingly reluctant to stick with him. Finally he's got the team all to himself; no one is more deserving. He's got the keys to the Ferrari, and I can't wait to see what he can do with a full year of playing time. I'm excited that the kid finally gets his chance to shine. Go get 'em, Tyler.
3) Paul Richardson - Once again, the magic of circumstance provides what highly-regarded recruiting classes cannot. Richardson, a highly regarded 4-star recruit out of high school, originally signed on to be a UCLA Bruin, but he never made it to the Bruin's fall camp as Coach Neuhisel booted him from the program after a burglary arrest in June 2010. Looking for new scenery and a chance to atone for his mistakes, Richardson headed to Boulder and jumped into the Buffs program days before camp started. Since then things have only looked up for the speedy youngster.
Last season he burst onto the scene by setting school records for receiving yards (514) and scores (6) by a freshman. Whats more, he did all that without much playing time in the first 6 games of last season. He's fast, intelligent, explosive, and primed for a breakout onto the national level with a full year of strong play under his belt. He has the potential to be the best pure wide-out since the Hackett/McCoy days of the early 2000's. I just love to watch him play, and I'm excited to see him develop as a Buff.
4) Freshman kickers - One of the best stories from fall camp was the emergence of Will Oliver and Darragh O'Neill as the starting kickers for the 2011 Buffs.
The O'Neill family is well known in the Boulder community due to the popularity of Connor O'Neills, and Darragh was a stand out basketball and soccer star at Boulder Fairview High. Even still, Darragh never played high school football, and he had never punted in his life before walking on during spring practices, so his emergence as the starting punter is quite a development.
Will Oliver was a late addition to the 2011 recruiting class who was meant to eventually shore up the kicking issues that had festered in the program since '08. Still, his emergence this fall as the starter in his first collegiate camp shocked quite a few. His biggest asset as a kicker is his consistency, and reports from camp routinely spoke of his accuracy from within 40 yards.
I'm excited to see these young kids take the opportunities presented them, and take the reins in their first tastes of the college game.
5) 3-4 linebackers - I may have joked about the move to the 3-4, but for a school formerly known as 'Linebacker-U' it just makes sense. What's even better is that this collection of 'backers are explosive enough to warrant the attention and pressure that come with the shift in defensive philosophy.
Josh Hartigan is a pass rushing beast, Doug Rippy has turned into a great inside backer, Derrick Webb has come along quicker than expected, and Jon Major is finally injury free and ready to build on a fantastic sophomore campaign that was cut short due to a torn MCL. All told, this is the most complete linebacking corps I've seen in Boulder for quite some time, and 3 of the 4 should be back next season.
I'm excited to see how they grow in the new defense this season.