Following Gary Barnett's ouster as Colorado coach on Dec. 8, athletic director Mike Bohn said he had a "home run" candidate in mind for the position. He wasn't kidding. Colorado, a scandal--plagued program in desperate need of an image makeover, could not have done better than picking Boise State coach Dan Hawkins, who was hired last Friday. The hard-nosed Barnett became a polarizing figure during seven volatile seasons in Boulder, but Hawkins, 45, a free-spirited type who often rides a mountain bike to work and reads books by Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu, should be a good fit in the ultraprogressive town.
Using an unconventional offense that combines power running with deep passes, trick plays and unusual formations, Hawkins (right) went 53-10 in five seasons at Boise. "We will not be afraid to go outside the box," says Hawkins, who last year rebuffed overtures by Notre Dame, Stanford and Washington.
Hawkins's biggest challenge will come in recruiting. The Buffs, who were national champions in 1990 under Bill McCartney, have lost five or more games the last four years. A series of stigmatizing headlines the past two years--Boulder's district attorney accused the program of using sex and alcohol to entice recruits, and nine women alleged they were sexually assaulted by players or recruits--hampered Colorado's ability to land topflight prospects. Under McCartney, Colorado developed a pipeline to California players; Hawkins, a former California high school and small-college coach, got nearly half his Boise roster from there.
Under Hawkins the Broncos dominated the WAC, going 37-3 and winning the last four league titles, but Boise State was 2-6 against BCS conference foes, leading some to question whether his system will work at the highest level. Those familiar with Hawkins have no such concerns. "He'll win big at Colorado," says Fresno State coach Pat Hill, who since 2001 has gone 9-8 against BCS schools but 1-4 against Hawkins. "There's no doubt in my mind."
THREE AND OUT
1 Mitch Mustain (below) of Sprindgale (Ark.) High, the nation's top-ranked quarterback prospect, has backed off his verbal commitment to Arkansas. The Razorbacks, who after Mustain's decommitment hired his high school coach, Gus Malzahn, as offensive coordinator, are still the favorites, but Notre Dame and Tennessee could have a chance.
2 Miami cornerback--return man Devin Hester would be wise to return for his senior year. His draft stock dropped because of an injury-plagued season, and Hurricanes coach Larry Coker is pledging to showcase Hester in a "Reggie Bush-type" offensive role in 2006.
3 Former Nebraska star Turner Gill faces a huge challenge as the new coach at Buffalo. Gill, a Huskers assistant for 13 years before joining the Packers this season, takes over a program that has won 10 games since moving up to Division I-A in 1999.
• More from Stewart Mandel at SI.com/collegefootball.