BOULDER - Had it not been for a change of mind and his heart pushing him westward, Conrad Obi would be preparing to visit Boulder next week as a member of the Georgia Bulldogs.
Instead, he's preparing to welcome his older brother, Emmanuel, a UGA student who'll be making his first trip to Colorado to watch Conrad and the Colorado Buffaloes tangle with the Southeastern Conference team.
Obi, a junior defensive tackle whose hometown (Grayson) is about an hour away from the UGA campus in Athens, was verbally committed to Georgia for about a year before intuition told him to take another couple of visits before national letter-of-intent day in 2007.
Among the schools that had shown interest in him was CU. The newness of the Dan Hawkins era, the school's academic reputation, the lure of a faraway place . . . "It all made me want to give it a shot," Obi recalled. "I had some visits to take so I scheduled one out here and it really drew me in. I was excited, man."
Obi already had Bulldog friends and several - tailback Caleb King, offensive tackle Trinton Sturdivant, fullback Charles White, among others - remain on the squad that will play the Buffs on Saturday, Oct. 2 at Folsom Field (5 p.m., FSN).
Their presence, as well as his brother's first visit to the CU campus, give the game a special appeal for Obi. "We're trying to win every game, of course, but this one is real special," he said. "I've been waiting a real long time for this - at least three or four years, since I've known about it. It's so special even watching the film; I'm pumped up, ready to go."
Obi and his defensive teammates have watched tape of CU's 2006 visit to No. 9 Georgia - a gut-wrenching road trip for the Buffs that saw them surrender a final-minute touchdown and extra point to lose 14-13. Subbing for ineffective Matthew Stafford, the eventual No. 1 pick (Detroit) in the 2009 NFL Draft, redshirt freshman quarterback Joe Cox led Georgia's pair of scoring drives but ultimately lost the starting job to Stafford.
Watching the '06 CU-UGA game tape, Obi said, "It must have been heart-breaking for the guys here. I was a senior in high school at the time and still kind of neutral, although I'd been to a game (in Athens) a couple of weeks before."
The 6-foot-3 Obi reported to CU in 2007 weighing about 250 pounds and spent his first season at defensive end. Now just a shade under 300, he's moved inside and performed well enough in preseason to be included in D-line coach Romeo Bandison's regular inside rotation. In CU's three games, Obi has been in on 36 plays, recording a pair of tackles.
"I feel like I've stepped it up, but I'm still trying to step up more and be the player I need to be," he said. "It's a work in progress, but I know I can make it . . . I've got to keep working.
"Right now, it is what it is. I take my 'reps' and do what I can with them. I'm just trying to keep that positive energy on the D-line and get to the quarterback and stop the run, too. I know I need to improve in everything."
Obi plans to take his brother to the Buffalo Stampede the night before the Georgia game "and just show him around, show him where I've been living the last several years. He's never been out here, never visited me anywhere really. I'm looking forward to it and I know he is.
"But what I'm really looking forward to is the game. We had an awesome win (against Hawai'i) but we've got to keep it going."
PUGH PRACTICING PATIENCE: Makiri Pugh is even more familiar with Georgia's roster than Obi; he saw action in nine games for the Bulldogs in 2009 as a safety then transferred to CU in April. He's sitting out this season under NCAA transfer rules.
Pugh "knows a little bit" about Georgia's personnel, but not enough to be of great help to CU's coaches as they game plan for the Bulldogs.
"Our coaches are our game-planners; they've been doing this for a while," he said. "I don't think I'll be a difference maker; they'll see the film."
Pugh likes his new choice of colleges and the fact that he's back at corner - the position he played in high school (Independence, Charlotte, N.C.).
"I feel comfortable there, and it's nice to get the work at one position for an extended period," he said. "This whole thing has been a good fit for me."
The difficulty, though, has been watching this season.
"Definitely it is (difficult)," he said. "But my goal is to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I try to look at it like anything worth having, you've got to sacrifice for. It takes time. I'm hungry, but gaining patience.
"I've learned that there's no instant gratification. I could have gone to a DI-AA school and played right away but I really felt like it was better for me to come here, sit and work hard and earn a position."
O-LINE UPDATE: After two weeks of minor shuffling in the offensive line, Hawkins seemed fairly pleased with the work of Mike Iltis at center and the return of Ethan Adkins to left guard last weekend. Iltis had started at that spot against California in the previous game.
"Mike played pretty well in there, Ethan stepped up," Hawkins said. "Obviously, our O-line - particularly in the second half (against Hawai'i) - was pretty dominating."
Hawkins also said first-year starter David Bakhtiari has "stepped up and played well . . . he's pretty consistent, strong, athletic and has kind of fended off a fierce battle with Bryce (Givens). We'd still like to have some opportunities to get Bryce back in the mix as well, but David's done a really good job."
Asked if personnel movement in the O-line appeared settled, Hawkins said, "I don't like anything to be settled . . . you've got to continue to play well, keep playing and give guys opportunities to earn shots."
THIRD-AND-SO-WHAT? Compared to previous seasons, CU has been a third-down machine in 2010. The Buffs have converted 23-of-45 third downs (51.1 percent), including a remarkable 10-of-14 in the 31-13 comeback against Hawai'i.
"We just did our jobs - that's the biggest thing," quarterback Tyler Hansen said. "Last year, we were horrible on third down (68-of-190, 35.8 percent). In the off-season we wanted to work on that, and I think we did . . . we emphasized the importance of it."
In the huddle, Hansen said he reemphasizes the weight the down carries and "when I'm walking to the line of scrimmage, I reemphasize it (to myself). Coach (Eric) Kiesau has told me to do it, so I'm just following my coaches."
Consistently converting third downs provides a lift to the offense as well as a blow to the defense, he said: "If the defense does their job on the first two downs, they make you play a third down. You get the third down and you kind of kill the morale of the defense . . . and if you can convert on third down, it gives you more confidence for the rest of the drive."
BUFF BITS: For the record, there was no head-butting last weekend involving Hawkins and one of his players. Rather, his nose came in contact with an inadvertent elbow during the Buffs' pregame entry onto Folsom Field. After the Hawaii game, several players speculated about a head-butt and the story "got legs." After word of what actually happened trickled out over the next couple of days, Hawkins confirmed it Wednesday night on his weekly radio show. No harm, no foul, no head-butt . . . . Georgia (1-2) plays at Mississippi State Saturday. CU (2-1) takes the day off before resuming work Sunday afternoon with a two-hour practice in full pads . . . . The Bulldogs have used a pair of young quarterbacks in their first three games. Redshirt freshman Aaron Murray has started, but true freshman Hutson Mason also has played . . . . CU's snake-bit nickel back position (the Buffs are on their fourth starter at the spot) is being manned this week by safety-turned-linebacker Patrick Mahnke, corner/safety Jonathan Hawkins and true freshman safety Terrel Smith, an initial redshirt candidate . . . . Aside from losing nickel Paul Vigo for four to six weeks with a lower leg break, Hawkins has reported no major injuries this week. Several starters were given early week time off, but Hawkins said all would play if a game was scheduled on Saturday . . . . CU is one of four Big 12 teams to have byes this week. The others: Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas A&M . . . . News of the Buffs' early entry into the Pac-10 Conference (2011 rather than 2012) wasn't lost on Hawkins, but his focus is elsewhere. He noted that the CU administration should be applauded for its work in getting that accomplished, but added, "We're just trying to get ready for Georgia."