BOULDER - The 2010 Colorado Buffaloes have a starting quarterback - Tyler Hansen. The athletic junior from Murrieta, Calif., was informed of the coaches' decision early Friday afternoon by offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Eric Kiesau.
(Complete depth chart attached in PDF format; click at right.)
Shortly thereafter, Kiesau told senior Cody Hawkins - a three-year starter at the position - that he would be Hansen's backup when the Buffs open the season on Sept. 4 against Colorado State in Denver.
Kiesau also met with freshmen quarterbacks Nick Hirschman (No. 3) and Justin Gorman (No. 4). But only Hansen and Hawkins were told who the starter would be; the announcement was to be made to the rest of the team during Saturday morning meetings prior to the release of CU's pre-opener depth chart.
"I'm excited . . . it's something I've worked long and hard for," said Hansen, who started the final seven games of 2009 after supplanting Hawkins in early October. Hansen also emerged from spring practice with a slight edge over Hawkins and has directed the No. 1 offense through most of fall camp.
Still, with all those factors seeming to favor Hansen, the competition remained open through two fall camp scrimmages - the last of which was Thursday. The question of who would open against CSU became all-consuming for some CU fans, but Buffs coach Dan Hawkins held to the timeline he established when spring drills concluded in mid-April. At that time, Hawkins said he likely would name a starter two weeks before the opener, giving either Hansen or Cody Hawkins - both experienced players - significant practice time with the first offense.
"Tyler's been getting the majority of the 'reps' with the ones anyway," Dan Hawkins said. "I think people make too much of it; they don't really know what's going on or how it's organized or what's happening. It's not like you've got three quarterbacks and all are getting the same amount of 'reps.'"
Kiesau, about to begin his second season directing CU's offense, said the perceived delay in naming a starter was based on being fair to each player.
"We wanted to give both guys ample opportunity to show what they can do - see if one guy could pull away from the other," Kiesau said. "I think we did that through spring and obviously through fall camp. I've said all along if one guy jumps out over the other, we'll make the decision.
"We met as a staff and I met with Coach Hawkins and we thought this is the best decision for the team - right now, today, to let our team know who our starting quarterback is two weeks prior to the first game. We didn't want this to continue hanging over our heads."
Kiesau and Dan Hawkins said both quarterbacks posted similar statistics through fall camp practices and in the first two scrimmages.
"It was kind of like last year where Cody was ahead by a sliver, and right now Tyler is just ahead by a sliver . . . their numbers are so close (now) it's scary. But that's not everything by any means," Dan Hawkins said.
Said Kiesau: "Both were very efficient and distributed the ball in both of our scrimmages and all through camp."
But, Kiesau added, "I think Tyler gives us a little more of a edge when it comes to the things we can do on offense and being a little more creative. His athleticism, whether it's dropping back to pass and making something happen on his feet, or we can dial up some run plays for him as well. He's athletic and can run. He's going to make defenses defend 11-on-11."
At best, the announcement came as no more than a mild surprise to either player. Hansen had said after the first fall scrimmage he believed the starting job "was his to lose."
Also, his role in organizing summer 7-on-7 drills honed his leadership skills. "And getting the majority of 'reps' with the ones during spring ball and camp, I think kind of jump-started the thing a little bit and gave me a little more of an advantage," he added. "No, it (being named the starter) wasn't a huge surprise."
Nor was it a shock to Cody Hawkins, who conceded he had "kind of known for a while that was the situation. So I've had a little time to cope with it. You kind of settle into it . . . As a competitor you wish things would have gone in your favor. But just through charting and competing, I think it showed how efficient our offense is a whole and the talent and experience we do have at the quarterback position. We just have to settle in and go out there and play the way we do in practice."
He said he will "learn to accept my role, just as I did when I was a starter or when I was a redshirt. It's all about winning championships for the Buffaloes. I'm going to be ready if my number ever gets called, but until then I'm going to grind it out and try to get the Buffaloes some victories any way I can."
Even if a number of signs since April pointed in his direction, Hansen admitted the delay in making the announcement made him feel at times as if the No. 1 job was slipping away.
"There were some times when I was pressing a little," he said. "In early camp, I was playing really confident. Then maybe the last couple of days I was pressing, trying to be a little too fine. I just need to relax and play. But that's going to be natural when you're trying to win something you want so bad; you're going to press. But you just have to be confident and go play."
Kiesau also noticed "about a three- or four-day stretch where he did look a little tight and I had to talk and walk him through it," he said. "I told him to take a deep breath; you're going to make mistakes, but it's how you respond to those mistakes (that counts)."
As for game-day mistakes, both Dan Hawkins and Kiesau said Hansen need not fear operating on a "short leash."
"I don't think you want anybody playing with a noose hanging over their necks, you don't want anybody playing that way," Dan Hawkins said.
Added Kiesau: "That's a very uncomfortable way to play and I want Tyler to know that. We told Tyler to run with it. I told him, 'You're the starting quarterback; don't look over your shoulder. Don't play tight. Just go have fun and play. Don't look behind you . . . that's why we named you the starting quarterback.'"
When the Buffs begin on-field preparation for the Rams on Tuesday morning, Hansen will take about 75 percent of the snaps with the No. 1 offense to Cody Hawkins' 25 percent. In camp, said Kiesau, the breakdown has been about 60-40 in Hansen's favor.
"I do want to keep Cody sharp as we progress through the season," Kiesau said. "We'll need two guys."
Recalling his backup duty for the past two seasons, both of which began with him ticketed for a redshirt, Hansen agreed on the need for a pair of QBs. But he took it a step further: "You really have to have three guys . . . rarely do you go through a season with just one," he said. "But that's a benefit to our team; we have two guys with quality experience . . . that's good to have."
In Friday's post-practice huddle, Dan Hawkins asked every returning player who had missed a game due to injury to stand up.
After a large number of Buffs stood, Hawkins made his point: "If you're the fourth-team tailback, you've got to be ready to go. That's the whole concept. They have to buy into that. Cody is good with it; he knows there's going to come a time when his number is called. When the door opens for him or any of our players, they've got to be ready.
"The great thing on our team is we have tremendous competition at a lot of spots and there's a lot of guys who can play. We have to learn to deal with that; it's new for us."
Hansen believes he's more fully prepared now to direct the offense than he was last November against Nebraska or at the conclusion of spring drills. He also knows the improvement that is expected at his position as well as from an offense that sputtered for most of a 3-9 season.
"He's got to play quality, efficient football - and I think he's going to and that's why we named him the starter," Kiesau said. "If we didn't (think that), we'd have a gone a different direction. But he's proved he can do it and I can't wait to see it unleashed on Saturday afternoons."
THE INSIDE LOOK AT . . .
Coach: Eric Kiesau, fifth season.
Returning starters: Cody Hawkins, Sr.; Tyler Hansen, Jr.
Returnees: Players above.
Newcomers: Nick Hirschman, Fr.; Justin Gorman, Fr.
Key losses: None.
Stat line: Hawkins started the 2009 season, but Hansen finished it. Hawkins 50.6 percent of his passes for 1,277 yards (121-of-239) for 10 touchdowns. Hansen hit on 55.8 percent of his throws for 1,440 yards (129-of-231) for eight TDs. Hansen finished the season with an NCAA rating of 113.6, while Hawkins was at 100.1. But between them, they threw 18 interceptions (Hansen seven, Hawkins 11), and no matter if Hansen takes every snap in 2010 or Hawkins subs for him on occasion, that number must drop. Also, CU can't afford to even come close to Hansen's sack yardage (minus-278) from last season.
Bottom line: The Buffs went into 2009 knowing they must have more efficiency at the QB position, but they were inconsistent in getting it. A year later, the same goal holds; better efficiency in the offense is a must, and it must start at Hansen's position. Most indicators are good: The running game should be better, the receiving corps has been upgraded and both quarterbacks are experienced. Not many teams make it through a season with one quarterback (most notably, see: CU in 1990). The Buffs have an experienced pair, and if the unit coalesces around them the offensive numbers should improve - the QB stats included.