One week into the new football season, Colorado's three major-college programs were feeling upbeat. Air Force had spanked Nicholls State, Colorado State had stunned Colorado, and CU felt determined (and, supposedly, fully able) to prove that its opening stumble was simply a fluke.
Then came Week 2.
Air Force marched into Minnesota's new stadium and followed its game plan well for three quarters, but then nosedived in the final 15 minutes of a 20-13 loss to the Gophers. Colorado somehow looked overmatched against Toledo — that's right, Toledo — en route to an embarrassing, if not debilitating, 54-38 loss before a national audience on ESPN.
Colorado State did make it to 2-0, but nobody inside the Rams' camp was celebrating after CSU escaped with a lucky 24-23 victory against Weber State.
So, much earlier than anyone might have expected, all three programs have reached a similar juncture in mid-September:
Nobody's as good as they thought.
Granted, Air Force's loss was totally respectable on the road against an inspired Big Ten opponent. And yes, CSU still won despite a predictable letdown and a short week after its opener at CU.
But the Buffaloes have no excuse whatsoever. Toledo had lost its first game to Purdue, 52-31, despite the Boilermakers breaking in a new head coach and coordinators. CU had scheduled the trip to Toledo as an "easy" game to build toward an anticipated big year, and head coach Dan Hawkins had tossed out the hopeful expectation of "10 wins ... no excuses" this fall.
Instead, Colorado collapsed. The offense lacked consistency, and soph quarterback Cody Hawkins couldn't finish drives. The defense suffered breakdown after breakdown, giving up 624 yards and making Toledo quarterback Aaron Opelt look like Tom Brady.
But something else was even more alarming. Throughout CU's implosion, Dan Hawkins stood there on the sideline with an expression that looked like a mixture of astonishment and denial. He should have been racing up and down the bench, exhorting players and assistants. Instead, he seemed totally confused, as if he had no idea why the Buffs were so aimless, porous and mistake-prone.
The outcome also heightened fans' concerns about the quarterback situation. Clearly, everyone inside the CU operation had lied before the Colorado State game, when they said the QB position was up for grabs between Cody Hawkins and Tyler Hansen. In fact, Hansen admitted later that he had known for three weeks he not only wouldn't be starting, but in fact would be redshirting — despite Colorado having nobody else with any experience as a credible backup.
That's not all. Just by watching other games, it's easy to see that the Buffs do not have the size, speed or aggressiveness to match up against any decent Big 12 team. They can't even be sure of beating Wyoming this Saturday at Boulder. And CU athletic director Mike Bohn already is hearing repeated questions about whether he might fire his head coach — not after the season, but at any moment.
Colorado State survived its serving of humility, as Weber State (coached by Ron McBride, who led Utah to much success between 1990 and 2002) turned out to be anything but a pushover. We'll learn much more about the Rams this week at home against Nevada, but they need to pile up the wins now in order to make it to a bowl.
The biggest uncertainty here has to be Air Force. After all the talk about soph quarterback Tim Jefferson showing so much offseason improvement, it's clear head coach Troy Calhoun and his offensive staff still don't have enough confidence in Jefferson's passing to come up with a wide-open game plan against a formidable defense. The offensive line is coming along but still needs time.
Perhaps the AFA offense can sparkle at times, as likely will happen Saturday at New Mexico, but the Falcons face much tougher hurdles ahead in October — Navy, TCU, Wyoming, Utah and CSU — when they'll need everything in the playbook. Not just to move the ball, but to keep the AFA defense off the field.
Air Force still looks promising enough to make some noise inside the Mountain West Conference. Just not enough, unless something changes soon, to knock off Brigham Young, TCU or Utah.