Gary Barnett expects it to feel like old times when Nebraska returns to Colorado next month for the first time in a decade.
The former Buffs coach who now serves on their radio team was in Lincoln last year for CU’s 33-28 victory. He soaked in the atmosphere at Memorial Stadium and talked to fans who were also hit with a dose of nostalgia.
“Everybody told me, almost to a person, that they hadn’t had that kind of energy in the stadium since they left the Big 12,” Barnett said Tuesday during an appearance on “The Bottom Line.” “And I think that’s exactly what you’re going to have here.”
Barnett said there’s been a lull at Colorado since the Buffs left for the Pac-12 in 2011. They’ve reached only one bowl game in that span and are now on their third coach, Mel Tucker.
But last season did start off on a high note for the Buffs, who left Lincoln with a victory. Barnett wants to see another exciting contest.
“That was a great game that we ended up winning, fortunately,” Barnett said. “And hopefully this will be a great game as well.”
Barnett shared more thoughts on the 2019 Buffs and addressed the challenges Tucker faces at Colorado. Watch the full video at the top of the page or check out a transcript of select excerpts below:
On starting over with a new coach:
"It is starting over. Since 2005, we've only won (34%) of our football games (55-106). It's our fourth coach. It is starting over, but it's a really critical start for CU. They got to get it right this time. It's hard to get any kind of continuity going when you're on your fourth coach in 13 years."
"He's been around the very best of the best in both levels, (in the NFL) and the college level. He's built his résumé to put himself in this position. And unfortunately, the jobs you get when you're getting your first head job are usually jobs that are down and places that are down. He's walked into that situation. Energy is number one, what he brings to it, and we'll have to see. He put together a staff, he didn't bring a staff. We'll see how that works out. That's always a challenge as a head coach. He's got to come in and win over players. They don't want to go through what they went through last year. They're more than willing to buy into it as long as it pays off and as long as they see progress."
On CU in the Pac-12:
"Overall it's been a good move. It was very unfortunate timing for the move. They'd made a coaching change. Jon Embree came in, no experience as a coordinator at any level, didn't have a staff put together. So to start off in a hole the way they did for the first two years — they won (four games) in two years — it dug a deep hole for everybody's perception of Colorado and whether or not they fit. Overall, if you had to do it all over again, even with changing coaches, I still think it's probably a good move. Colorado, the university and the people in Boulder relate more to the people on the West Coast than they did in the Midwest and Texas."
On key offensive players Laviska Shenault and Steven Montez:
"That's the key is staying healthy. But Laviska Shenault will be the best player on the field in every game that we play. He's just that kind of a player, he's a once-in-a-lifetime player. Steven has been a guy that has ups and downs. I think everybody here is hoping, and I sort of agree, that an emphasis on running the ball, playing with a tight end, maybe a fullback, will help him. He's more of a pro, pocket-style passer than he is spread. And I think it plays to his strengths."
On whether CU will embrace the run game:
"They've got three exciting backs who haven't played and they are so eager to play and they're competing against each other in practice. And it's been a while since there's been three running backs here, probably back to when I was here. ... They're all young, and they're all fast and they're all good players. Coach Tucker has recruited tight ends now, and whether or not they're ready to play — he's got a transfer from Auburn that'll help him in the run game that's a tight end. So yeah I think that's what they're gonna do. And I think that'll help this season."
On Laviska Shenault's brother, Vontae Shenault:
"He's just a natural route runner and natural catcher. He's not built like Laviska. You walk on the field, scouts come out here they automatically go 'Who's that guy?' (in reference to Laviska). And so his brother doesn't quite look like that. But you could tell they're brothers. He's got instincts and a lot of natural ability as well."
On the defense:
"That's going to be (Tucker's) biggest struggle. There aren't a lot of players coming back, especially in the secondary. They got a transfer from SMU that we hope is going to help in the secondary. He's going to have to play. Maybe somebody that they move to safety to help there. Corners, we're really thin at that position. We have a great player at the linebacker spot — Nate Landman — but there's not much now. So far, they've been able to back him up, but we've got to find another player in there. Up front, two good guys, they're just shy players right now. And we'll just have to see how fall camp develops with a bunch of young guys that were brought in."
On junior college players and the transfer portal:
"First of all, you got to have admissions be flexible enough to let you get those guys in. That's number one. That's always been a struggle here in Colorado is that we could never get (junior college prospects). And most of these guys that are in the portal, unless they're graduates, would be tough to get in too, because you've got to them them into a graduate program. But they loosened it up a little bit here for them, and they've been able to get junior college kids and I think they have access to the portal. And they're making it available to Mel and I think to (former coach) Mike (McIntyre) a little bit there at the end. So I think that'll be a little bit better. It's an interesting way to go. I don't know if in the long run I really agree with it. But I think it's better to create the portal and make everything legal, rather than having all these coaches go behind their backs and call kids and do things that we knew was happening, but there wasn't anything we could do about it."
On whether he'd support players to freely transfer one time in their career:
"I'm a little bit old school, and probably more than a little bit, but being being out of it for a while, I'm not sure how I would do that. I think originally my statement would be I think they should sit. But I'm not sure that would be a good wisdom to have. So I think I gotta look at it a little bit longer myself. ... So what happens is, through experience, that if those guys will just sit it out, if they just hang in there, they'll all end up playing and it'll all be fine. But at a moment's notice, if something gets tough, they want to up and leave and they get people rooting for him to leave and in reality, it'd be interesting to see how many of them were really successful in making a move."
On whether CU can make a bowl game this season:
"That's going to be a tough goal. Unfortunately, he's going to lose a lot of guys after this year, and next year could be even harder. ... He's gonna lose Shenault, he's gonna lose Landman, he's gonna lose the quarterback. He's gonna lose some guys who have been around and played some football, both tackles. So I don't know next year what it looks like. But this year, bowl game, they're gonna have to get hot. They're gonna have to play defense. I think offensively, they're going to be good enough to win seven or eight games, but defensively, they gotta really shore it up."
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