To fully understand what qualify as "reasonable expectations" for this football season in Colorado, one first must consider the debacle of 2006.
Last year was a disaster, as far as the state's major-college programs and the Denver Broncos were concerned.
Yes, disaster. No other description fits unless you want to look for something even more negative.
Start with the Broncos. They were coming off a 2005 season in which they merely needed to win at home in the AFC Championship Game to make the Super Bowl. They came into last year confident of going all the way and wound up 9-7, out of the playoffs, after the coaches gave up on quarterback Jake Plummer for the stretch run.
Sure, 9-7 was a winning record. But compared to expectations, it was a huge disappointment.
Next, the colleges. Colorado welcomed new head coach Dan Hawkins, who worked wonders at Boise State, but the Buffaloes lost to Montana State and staggered to a 2-10 nightmare. Colorado State capsized, turning a 4-1 start into a 4-8 finish that made many wonder if 70-year-old coach Sonny Lubick might be over the hill.
Air Force closely mirrored CSU's fadeout, crashing from a 3-2 start (it could have been 5-0) to 4-8, after which Fisher DeBerry retired as head coach.
Take all that into consideration, and you should grasp the reasons why this batch of predictions for 2007 isn't overflowing with optimism. With that, here's an idea of what to expect this fall ...
Broncos (9-7): Most Denver fans are counting on Jay Cutler making a quantum leap in his first full season as a starting NFL quarterback, just as John Elway did. But Cutler doesn't have nearly as much defensive help at this point as Elway had in the 1980s. Even in a division with new coaches at San Diego and Oakland, plus quarterback issues at Kansas City and Oakland, it's hard to see Denver being able to capitalize.
The defensive front seven has far too many questions, combined with the slow adjustment to new coordinator Jim Bates' system. There's more hope up front, but the linebackers aren't anywhere close to playoff-caliber. On offense, the lack of depth at wide receiver and uncertainty both at running back and some line positions will prevent the Broncos from jelling as fast as needed.
End result: Same as last year, out of the playoffs again, but Denver should stay in the weak AFC West's division race until December. Next year, Denver in all probability will be a powerhouse.
Air Force (6-6): Repeatedly over the past month, word has come out of the academy and from other observers that the Falcons could be 3-2 at the end of September. That means beating two bowl teams from last year out of a gauntlet that includes Utah, TCU, Brigham Young and Navy. Sorry, but 3-2 with a new staff, new offense and mostly new line is putting too much pressure on head coach Troy Calhoun.
Seriously, this Air Force team could be considerably better and still start 1-4 with Notre Dame, Wyoming and CSU coming later. Even at 1-4, the Falcons could become a surprise bowl team (the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas, would love that).
End result: Good enough to be bowl-eligible. And hey, Fort Worth on New Year's Eve wouldn't be so bad.
Colorado (5-7): It's so hard to figure the Buffs after their free-fall last year. Obviously, they're hoping for a nice jump, but against a September schedule that includes Arizona State, Florida State and Oklahoma, it won't be easy to do.
CU's offense, surprisingly unproductive last year, will depend on new quarterback Cody Hawkins, the coach's son and a redshirt freshman. Senior runner Hugh Charles, despite a decent line, is only 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds.
Having Oklahoma, Missouri and Nebraska at home might give the Buffs a chance in the Big 12 North, but they'll have to win at least two of those to have a shot.
End result: A three-win improvement, but no better.
Colorado State (5-7): Granted, the Rams have 20 returning starters, but those 20 are working on a seven-game losing streak and they face a brutal stretch of California, at Houston and at TCU after the opener with Colorado.
CSU's chances for a break-even season, and perhaps Lubick's chances of staying on the job, might ride on the season finale on Nov. 23 (the day after Thanksgiving) against bitter rival Wyoming.
End result: Looks like another losing season, but blame the schedule, not Lubick.
Worth watching Saturday: Georgia Tech at Notre Dame, 1:30 p.m., NBC; Tennessee at California, 6 p.m., ABC; Monday: Florida State at Clemson, 6 p.m., ESPN.
See the headline? Denver legend John Elway is coaching quarterbacks at Cherry Creek. The starter? His son, Jack, a senior for the Bruins.
Rockies regret They could/should have made a trade at the end of July for a proven reliever, as bullpen failures have hurt them since.
Unpleasant thought Sports Illustrated projects six of Air Force's 12 opponents to play in bowl games.
Hot seats Single tickets for the 2008 Olympics opening ceremony at Beijing are priced at $256 in the rafters, $488 for decent locations, $773 in primo sections.
One personal tradition over the years has been to offer some college picks to watch, either upsets or against the spread. Why not do it again? Here goes:
Georgia Tech on the road at favored Notre Dame
Tennessee as a road underdog at California
Wyoming as a home underdog against Virginia
Against the spread
Houston (taking 14.5) at Oregon
Marshall (taking 21) at Miami
Mississippi State (taking 16.5) at home against LSU
Troy (taking 27.5) at Arkansas
Brigham Young (giving 5) at home against Arizona
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