25 Colorado The Buffaloes play the nation's toughest schedule. Will they live to tell about it?

August 13, 2000

From its 41-14 season-opening loss to Colorado State to its 62-28
drubbing of Boston College in the Insight.com Bowl on New Year's
Eve, no team improved as much over the course of last season as
Colorado did. The turning point came after Texas Tech whipped the
Buffaloes 31-10 to drop their record to 3-3. Colorado won three
of its last five regular-season games and were impressive in one
of those losses, narrowly succumbing to No. 3 Nebraska in a 33-30
overtime grudge match.

Integral to the turnaround was the team's adjustment from former
coach Rick Neuheisel's one-back finesse attack to Gary Barnett's
smashmouth approach. The result was a rejuvenation of the running
game, led by sophomore tailback Cortlen Johnson's 835 yards.

This season Johnson and the rest of the offense should benefit
from the addition of Parade All-America Marcus Houston, the
nation's top high school running back. The 6'2", 205-pound
Houston rushed for 1,743 yards and 23 touchdowns last year at
Denver's Thomas Jefferson High, was an honor student and
participated in more extracurricular activities than Max Fischer
in Rushmore. This summer he delivered books and farm tools to
villages in Ghana. He also has an imaginary friend, Chucky,
against whom he competes in everything he does. Houston may find
himself wishing Chucky could block for him because the Buffaloes
lost three senior starters on the line.

The quarterback situation is also murky. Mike Moschetti, who had
2,693 passing yards last season, is gone. His successor will be
either junior Bobby Pesavento, a 6'5", 230-pound junior college
transfer, or 6'4", 215-pound Zac Colvin, a sophomore who played
in six games last season. To Barnett's relief, both were
impressive in spring ball, and they will be throwing to a bevy of
talented wideouts, including all-conference senior Javon Green.

Colorado is loaded on the defense, led by junior linebacker
Jashon Sykes, a Butkus Award candidate. The secondary lost three
starters, so Barnett will look to hard-hitting junior safety
Michael Lewis to provide leadership.

Despite their strong finish last year, the Buffaloes, who haven't
beaten a Top 10 team since 1996, won't be able to let their guard
down early--they play the nation's toughest schedule, and their
first six games are murder. "Fortunately," says Barnett, "we
don't have to play all six at the same time."

--Mark Beech

COLOR PHOTO: CLIFF GRASSMICK Sykes (7), among the nation's top linebackers, had 134 tackles last fall.

Fast Facts

1999 record: 7-5 (5-3, 3rd in Big 12 North)
Final ranking: not ranked

Telling Number

Consecutive bowl victories for the Buffaloes, the longest active
streak in Division 1-A.

The Book

An opposing team's coach sizes up The Buffaloes

"They just don't have the weapons they used to, a Michael
Westbrook or a Kordell Stewart. Johnson is a steady runner, but
he doesn't hit it up in there real hard. And who's going to play
quarterback?...I don't know if they're patient enough to just
run the ball at you. The fans in Colorado get bored with that.
They're used to slinging it around....Their defense is raggedy,
inconsistent. People can run the football on them."

Strength: 1st of 115

Sept. 2 vs. Colorado St.*
9 at Southern Cal

Oct. 7 at Texas A&M
21 at Kansas

Nov. 4 at Missouri
24 at Nebraska

*At Denver