(Note: The coronavirus pandemic has postponed the fall sports season in the Pac-12 Conference until November and that means no Colorado Buffaloes football at this time. Instead, BuffZone.com will feature memorable games and players from the past as we look back at each week in CU football history. In this installment, we look back at the week of Oct. 12-18.)
Tyler Hansen was still just 19 years old and less than halfway through his second season of college football with the Colorado Buffaloes, but had already been a starter, a backup, benched and had his redshirt season burned – twice.
He wasn’t worried about any of that, however, when he arrived at Folsom Field on Oct. 17, 2009.
Head coach Dan Hawkins spent three years, from 2008-10, being unwilling or unable to fully commit to his son, Cody, or Hansen as the Buffs’ starting quarterback. Yet, on that 2009 day in October, with 17th-ranked Kansas in town, CU handed the keys to the offense to Hansen.
“I was excited,” Hansen said this week as he looked back on that game from 11 years ago. “A lot of people at that time were comparing me, because I ran around a little bit, to (Kansas quarterback) Todd Reesing. It was going to be fun to play against him. I was excited to showcase my skills compared to his and what he was doing, because he was an electric player at that time. They had it going at the time. At the time, they were a good program. I was excited to get that first start that year.”
A week earlier, in a 38-14 loss at No. 2 Texas, coach Hawkins decided, in the fourth quarter of the fifth game, to bench Cody and put Hansen on the field, thus ending his chance to redshirt.
“The next week against Kansas, I was the guy from the get-go,” Hansen said. “It was, ‘Hey, it’s your show now.’”
And, what a show it was that night at Folsom Field.
CU came in 1-4, but Hansen led the Buffs to a stunning 34-30 upset of the previously unbeaten Jayhawks.
Hansen threw for 175 yards and a touchdown and ran for 34 and another score, running back Rodney Stewart added 108 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, Aric Goodman hit a pair of field goals and the defense registered five sacks and a Jalil Brown interception.
Hansen led the Buffs to a 24-3 lead in the second quarter, but CU fell behind, 30-27 early in the fourth quarter. Hansen then led them on a game-winning, 76-yard touchdown drive, capped by Stewart’s 13-yard touchdown run.
“It was a lot of fun,” Hansen said. “We had a good game plan going in. We got that early lead and it seemed like everything was going right. Obviously they came back and gave us a little bit of a scare, but it seemed like it was our night and we weren’t going to lose, no matter what.”
Often, a win like that can turn a season around, but it didn’t for CU. They went 1-5 the rest of the season to finish 3-9. Less than 13 months later, after a 3-6 start to the 2010 season, coach Hawkins was fired. Aside from a magical 2016 season (10-4, Pac-12 South champs), CU is still trying to establish a winning culture a decade later.
That night sent Kansas into a tailspin. The Jayhawks came into Boulder with a 17-1 record in its previous 18 games, but the loss to the Buffs was the start of a seven-game losing streak to end the season. In the last 23 years, only two Power 5 teams have started 5-0 and finished 5-7: Kansas in 2009 and CU in 2018.
In fact, Kansas hasn’t won more than three games in a season since, going 21-101 in the last 11 seasons.
For Hansen and the Buffs, that victory was one of several highlights of the coach Hawkins era, but it was an exhausting roller coaster ride.
During his five seasons, Hawkins led CU to three upsets of top-20 teams and a thrilling national TV win against Georgia. He also took the Buffs to a bowl game, in 2007, and coached some exceptional players at CU.
At CU, Hansen played with Stewart; receivers Scotty McKnight, Paul Richardson and Toney Clemson; tight end Riar Geer; three future NFL linemen (David Bakhtiari, Ryan Miller and Nate Solder); and several future NFL defenders (Brown, Will Pericak and Jimmy Smith).
“It’s funny when people ask me, ‘Who did you play with (at CU),’ and I mention those guys,” Hansen said. “People go, ‘Wow, you played with some good players.’ It was a lot of fun. We had some weapons.
“Looking back on it, you wish we could have figured it out and really molded that team together and put some more wins together.”
They never did under Hawkins, though, and a decade later, Hansen can’t fully explain why.
There were “some weird things with our kicking game” at times, he said. There were eight one-score losses from 2008-10, too, where a fumble or critical mistake would cost the Buffs.
“There was a lot of stuff like that that happened those years and for some reason we just couldn’t get out of our own way,” Hansen said.
There was another factor, too.
“I think maybe a little bit of the flip-flops at quarterback had something to do with it, looking back on it,” he said.
Cody Hawkins graduated after the 2010 season as CU’s all-time leading passer, with 7,409 yards (he now ranks third), while Hansen graduated after the 2011 season ranking fourth, with 5,705 yards (he’s now sixth).
For three years, though, coach Hawkins couldn’t make up his mind. Cody was benched in the seventh game of the 2008 season, and Hansen sparked a win against Kansas State. In the next four games, the two quarterbacks rotated starts.
Hansen started the final seven games of 2009 and the first seven of 2010 before a ruptured spleen ended his season. In several of those starts, Cody came off the bench at various times, causing Hansen to always worry about getting pulled.
“I always tell people that I had four years of eligibility but really only maybe two-and-a-half seasons,” said Hansen, who started the entire 2011 season, under head coach Jon Embree. “It’s kind of crazy.”
Despite the shuffling, Hansen said he and Cody always had a good relationship and still contact each other about once a year. Dan Hawkins, hired as head coach of the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes in 2013, brought Hansen in for a tryout that year but the two haven’t spoken since.
“For the most part, I think we had a good relationship,” Hansen said. “But there was some awkward moments with Dan, just to be honest.”
More than a decade later, though, there are no hard feelings. Hansen said he’s enjoying life in Arizona, where he works as a territory sales rep for a packing company. On the side, he trains quarterbacks and works as a high school football referee, with hopes of moving up (he worked some junior college games last year, as well).
Yeah, he wishes he would have been able to redshirt in 2008 or 2009, giving him a fifth year to play, but he also cherishes the memories, including the victory against the Jayhawks during his sophomore year.
“At the time, I think I made the right decision and wanted to play and was excited to play,” he said. “I wish I had more games and more opportunity to show what I could do … but, you can’t life like that. Everything happens for a reason.”