Buffaloes ready to roam into the Pac-10

Colorado will be a perfect match for the Pac-10 when the Buffaloes begin play in 2011 or 2012, depending on the Big 12 and the exit fees the Buffs would have to pay for leaving the conference.

When the Buffaloes were a national power under head coach Bill McCartney, they had a great recruiting trail through both southern California and the Houston area. During their current Big 12 residence, that well has dried.

In the 16 seasons since the Big Eight and old Southwest Conference merged, the Buffaloes have competed against four Texas teams in the Big 12 — and the last decade hasn’t been pretty, whether it’s been on the field or in the recruiting game.

The hope is that being in a conference with two schools based in Los Angeles will help spur increased recruiting efforts in the state of California. However, for all the talk of the sanctions being handed down to USC and the possibility of the Trojans taking a step back the next couple of seasons, the Buffaloes can’t sleep on Rick Neuheisel’s Bruins. The former CU head coach is salivating at the thought of his Bruins taking the baton from the Trojans and running straight to the top of the conference.

So Colorado can’t expect to just waltz right into the league and expect to compete for the top spot right away. After all, have you seen the Buffaloes play recently — particularly under Dan Hawkins, who is sitting on one of the hottest seats in the country?

It’s a wonder that Hawkins is even still in charge in Boulder. His big-time recruits haven’t panned out, his team suffered one of the most embarrassing losses in school history last year against Toledo and the Buffaloes just simply haven’t won a lot of games in his tenure. Their 3-9 mark last year came after Hawkins insisted they would be better, and the Big 12 North was as down as it had ever been. In the past three seasons, one can argue that the Buffs have actually gotten worse, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Hawkins’ 16-33 mark in Boulder makes it obvious that it is a win-or-else campaign in 2010.

If Hawkins can orchestrate a turnaround of the program this season, he could be around for what should be brighter days for the Buffs in their new league. While there have been a few scenarios tossed around, the following proposed model of the new Pac-10 seems to be the most likely to occur and would greatly benefit Colorado:

Pac-10 South: USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah
Pac-10 North: Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State, Cal and Stanford

In terms of that southern California exposure so desperately craved by Pac-10 coaches of teams based in the Northwest, this set-up would greatly benefit the Buffaloes. It’s uncertain whether the league will continue to play nine conference games or make the switch to playing eight. If it cuts down on league games, however, teams from the North division would see less of USC and UCLA on a rotating basis. If Colorado is placed in a division with the Trojans and Bruins, though, they would play them every season — a big selling point in recruiting kids from Los Angeles whose family would want to see them play in person at least once per season. The Boulder Daily Camera did report that Colorado was promised a spot in a South division if the league went to a 12-team conference with Utah.

While commissioner Larry Scott may be disappointed that the Pac-16 — along with nine of the top 20 television markets — did not come into fruition, the league will get a Colorado program that will bring Denver’s No. 16 market, along with Utah, who will bring market No. 31, Salt Lake City. Despite settling for 12 members, a conference TV network is still likely to be set up at some point as well as a conference title game that will further increase revenue.

The Pac-10 had its eyes on Colorado for many months — and for many reasons. Simply put, the Buffaloes just fit in academically and geographically.

Some may call Denver a pro sports town, but so is Los Angeles. And you saw what happened at USC — speaking strictly of on the field activities, of course. And while the Buffaloes may not have a baseball or softball team, which seems to be a Pac-10 staple, they most certainly will in the future. Not a basketball powerhouse? No problem.

The Buffaloes are banking on big things on the gridiron.

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