BOULDER - Just beyond the three pair of running shoes and socks, Greg Brown points to four piles of notes and diagrams stacked neatly on the floor of his office in Colorado's Dal Ward Athletic Center.
One stack is labeled Alabama. The next: Michigan State . . . then Utah State . . . then New Mexico.
Together the four stacks represent the most recent four schools where new Colorado State coach Jim McElwain and his offensive coordinator, Dave Baldwin, have worked.
Their four offenses - large chunks, small clumps, a play, a formation, a shift, a motion there or here - are what Brown is trying to sift through as he prepares his young CU defense for Saturday's season-opener in Denver.
"We don't know what they've taken from each (offense)," Brown said. "All the cards are up their sleeves. It's a hard deal . . . a hard opener. Where do you spend your most time? What style of offense will we see?"
The offensive resumes of McElwain and Baldwin are heavily weighted with yards, touchdowns and, of course, talented personnel. Alabama won the last BCS National Championship running McElwain's offense, while Baldwin was chosen the WAC's 2011 Offensive Coordinator of The Year (Rivals.com) at his last stop, Utah State.
Baldwin is a Denver native who spent the early part of a 33-year coaching career under the late Jack Elway at Cal State-Northridge, San Jose State and Stanford. And both McElwain and Baldwin are well-acquainted and of like minds, having coached together at Michigan State.
Said Brown: "You watch (McElwain's) stuff from Alabama, and the guy's a nightmare to prepare for. We'll get CSU's best shot - we always do - and this year it's coupled with some prolific schemes and ideas. Those two guys are well-proven coaches."
Brown doesn't like to be "schemed" - and it doesn't happen often. But there are times . . . . Take last season's opener at Hawai'i. On their first possession of the second quarter, the Warriors shocked Brown and his Buffs defense by throwing in the zone read option.
Quarterback Bryant Moniz, who had carried only six times for minus-five yards the previous season in Boulder, utilized the zone read nine times for 120 yards and two TDs - in the first half.
When the Buffs' long night in paradise was done, Moniz had accounted for 299 yards in total offense, two more TDs passing and had directed a 34-17 Warriors win. A day later, Brown grudgingly tipped his cap to the UH staff.
Here's why: In watching hours of tape and charting nearly 1,000 Hawai'i offensive snaps from 2010, he saw the Warriors run the zone read three times - with Moniz' backup running it twice. Surprise: it was still in the UH playbook and it came out at the most opportune time.
"We know we prepared for Hawai'i but probably not enough," junior defensive back Parker Orms said. "This year we've taken that to heart and are preparing as much as possible for the first game."
But where to start? And how much can be digested?
Calling preparing for an opener against a new staff "unique," CU coach Jon Embree said, "There's a lot you have to look at and filter through to figure out what it is exactly you think they might you do. It definitely limits what you're capable of doing . . . but at the same time you have to have enough in your package so if you need to make adjustments you have something you can go to."
Embree also noted that while players can become overstuffed with game preparation, that's not the case for coaches. "As much tape as there is, you're going to watch it," he said. "You want to feel like you haven't left any stone unturned . . . from a coaching standpoint, no, there's never enough film. But from what you filter out and try to give your players, yeah, we try to give them something to grasp and remember and understand. Give them too much and they won't understand any of it."
There are no Cliff Notes, so you work the basics, hope those are digested and then prepare to be flexible for the final three quarters.
CU linebacker Doug Rippy believes the Rams will mostly utilize two-tight end, one-back sets, featuring 216-pound running back Chris Nwoke. And Orms says the Buffs must be wary of quarterback Garrett Grayson, who might not be as nimble as Moniz but nonetheless is mobile enough to create problems for a defense caught off napping.
"We actually don't know what they're going to do, just based off of what Alabama did and then their offensive coordinator being at Michigan State and New Mexico," Rippy said, noting that in-game adjustments become essential after a defense sees about 15 plays.
"Then you might see six or seven of those plays throughout the game. We've just got to make adjustments to the different formations and shifts and stuff like that - especially in goal line, that's a big thing."
Added Orms, whose personal degree of difficulty has increased because he's preparing to play three positions (safety, nickel back, cornerback): "We know (Garrett) is a good player. We have to prepare for the run and the pass - really for everything. Coach Brown has us doing a lot of stuff."
Embree said while this opener presents a challenge, future openers won't be significantly different because of head coaching changes, individual assistant changes, schematic changes, etc. Essentially, all the comings and goings that transpire in college football during any off-season.
"You're always going to have those wrinkles you have to adapt to in the first game," he said.
For proof, look no further back than CU at Hawai'i on Sept. 3, 2011.
On Sept. 1, 2012, Brown & Co. have no desire to be "schemed" again. As the Buffs know, it's not a good way to start.