A good friend of mine once had this to say about Buffs broadcaster Larry Zimmer:
"Zim is a modern day yoda. How can you not love a man with so much knowledge and love for CU?"
And who am I to argue with my close friend? High praise or simply a man-crush? I am not one to judge.
What I do know is that Larry Zimmer knows Colorado football. And the word "knows" is probably a dramatic understatement. Although he no longer does the play-by-play, Zim has covered the Buffs for more than 30 years, and his excitable demeanor has entertained CU fans through the good and bad. The man with the voice Buffs fans have known for years gave me at least three heart attacks as a young man...and that was a good thing.
So as the football season inches closer to its beginning, I could think of few better sources for some insight into the upcoming football season.
The following transcript comes from correspondance I had earlier today with Colorado's very own Yoda. I would like to thank Larry for taking the time to share his thoughts.
Zim was even kind enough to include his opinion on the Buffs after watching the double-secret scrimmage that occurred on Friday morning. Although don't expect much--the secrecy oath that CU entrusted to members of the media is as strong as Bill Callahan's promise to Harrison Beck that he was the future of the Nebraska program....hmmmm....or maybe it was just a bit stronger than that.
Larry Zimmer: I saw the final scrimmage this morning and liked some of the things that I see. The Buffs will be better. How much better? We'll have to wait and see. One item of concern is in several positions (particularly offensive line) the backups are all true freshmen. They are good ones, but depth in the line is an area of concern.
Born: A lot has been made of the quarterback race between Cody Hawkins and Nick Nelson after last years' struggles. What is your take after the first few weeks of camp? How much different is the offense?
Larry Zimmer: Cody Hawkins is the right choice. He has outperformed Nick Nelson in most practices and in the scrimmages. He simply is more consistent and seems to have a better comprehension of the offense, which isn't a surprise. The competition has been good for both of them. Nelson is a lot better now than he was last spring. They are good friends and while I'm sure Nelson is disappointed at not starting, it is not evident in his work on the field and what he says. Nelson might have the stronger arm, but Cody is more accurate. Also, I think Cody is more mobile than Nick. The offense is much more improved. They use more formations and do more things. A lot more misdirection. Things had to be simplified so much for Bernard Jackson that they got very predictable and weren't good enough to line up and say,"okay you know what we're going to do...stop us." The bottom line is they did stop them. That will be different this year. Also, the entire team is more familiar with the coaches and the system. That allows them to do more things.
Born: What should be the strength of this year's team? The weakness?
Larry Zimmer: The strength of the team will still be the defense. The defensive tackles, George Hypolite and Brandon Nicolas would start anywhere in the Big 12. Alonzo Barrett and Maurice Lucas are a bit undersized at end, but are quick and good pass rushers. Again, depth here might be somewhat of a problem if they get injured. The linebacking position is deep. Jordan Dizon is an All-America candidate. The suspension of Michael Sipili (court action on an assault charge is pending) hurts at the other inside backer. Sipili is practicing with the team but is indefinitely suspended from games until his situation is resolved. R. J. Brown, an outstanding special teams player, will move up. I think he will be very good, but it would help to have both. Brad Jones will be impressive at outside linebacker. At corner, Terrence Wheatley is an All Big 12 caliber corner. Ben Burney, Cha'pelle Brown and Gardner McKay will share time on the other side and are average. Ryan Walters is a solid free safety if he stays healthy and it appears that Idaho transfer Daniel Dykes has beaten out Lionel Harris at strong safety. Both will play. THE DEFENSE IS SOLID.
Weakness is probably the offensive line depth and the absence of a workhorse running back. An offensive strength would be Bernard Jackson, if he plays. He has had some major personal and academic problems that he is working through and hasn't been able to practice. His versatility and the way they used him in the spring would be a major addition to the offense.
Born: How much production should we actually expect to see from the hyped freshmen receivers? They have produced so far in practices-- do you think they will do the same in the fall?
Larry Zimmer: Josh Smith is the real deal at receiver. He has all the moves. He probably will miss the first two games with the bruised kidney. Kendrick Celestine is the fastest man on the team and will always be a deep threat. I would guess that Markques Simas will redshirt. The best thing the young guys did was get the older receivers to work harder. Patrick Williams has turned into a solid receiver. Scotty McKnight, a redshirt freshman, was highly regarded last year until injured. He will be special. Dusty Sprague is making catches that he didn't a year ago. Alvin Barnett, Jarrell Yates and the Stephone Robinson will all be in the rotation. The strength here is the depth. There is enough talent to make the receivers the most improved area of the team along with quarterback. The tight ends have been impressive. Riar Geer should build on his outstanding freshman season, Joe Sanders is catching everything since moving back to tight end in the spring. Tyson DeVree is dependable and redshirt freshman Nate Solder is imposing....6-8, 270.
Born: What about the defense? Despite the "vanilla" defense in the scrimmage, is there reason to worry? And if so, what is a more pressing issue, pressure from the front four or coverage in the secondary?
Larry Zimmer: I think pressure from the front four, mixed with some blitzing, is the key. I suspect teams will go away from Wheatley, so the secondary is going to need some help from up front.
Born: How does the overall talent and depth look compared to the last few seasons?
Larry Zimmer: The overall talent and depth is much better than last season, but the team is very young. I don't think at this point it rates with the overall talent and depth of a veteran team in 2005, the one that fell apart at the end of the season. I would say the Buffs will be very competitive next year.
Born: Who do you think will become a household name by the end of the season?
Larry Zimmer: Hard to say about the household name. Dizon already is. So is Wheatley. One would hope it will be Cody.....and maybe Josh Smith and Scotty McKnight.
Born: Looking ahead to September 1, what do you expect to see when the Buffs face the Rams?
Larry Zimmer: On September 1, it will be a dog fight (forgive the expression) as always. CSU with a veteran QB (Caleb Hannie) and Kyle Bell healthy will be solid. I think the Rams have offensive line problems and I'm not sure their defense ranks with CU's, but as always they will be ready to play. Hawk has quietly put a great deal of emphasis on this game with his team. I'll be surprised if the Buffs don't win it.
Born: Looking at the schedule, what game is most likely for CU to achieve that "signature" win?
Larry Zimmer: I think five wins are realistic. CSU, Miami (O), Baylor, Kansas, and Iowa State.
Arizona State is certainly a winable game. New coach, new system, some problems at the end of last season, etc. If the Buffs have success in those first two games, they could make life interesting for a Florida State team that I still don't think is the power that it was four or five years ago (see Georgia last season). I think Oklahoma could also be an interesting game. Particularly if Stoops continues to struggle in finding the right QB.
Kansas State and Texas Tech will be tough on the road. By the final three games if they stay healthy CU should be a much better team and while I won't predict wins, I think they very well could beat Missouri and Nebraska. Obviously, all of this isn't going to happen the way I've outlined it, but that's how I see it.
Born: Who do you think is the favorite in the north—Nebraska or Missouri?
Larry Zimmer: I think Nebraska will win the North with Kansas State maybe second. Missouri's offense will be awesome, but I don't think they have the defense to win it, having to play Kansas State, Oklahoma and Colorado on the road.