After a short and surreal 2020 season, CU Buffs coach Karl Dorrell looks forward to the season ahead.
By Larry Zimmer
Few coaches, if any, had to endure what Karl Dorrell did last season. Because of the sudden departure of Mel Tucker, he was named Colorado’s head coach on February 23, two months after most coaching vacancies are filled. Dorrell was no stranger to Colorado, having been an assistant coach at CU and for the Denver Broncos in the past.
The dark clouds of the pandemic were already gathering when Dorrell had to put together a staff, make plans for spring practice just four weeks away, and meet with his players. Then, three days before the start of practice, all sports across the country shuttered.
An Unprecedented Season
Dorrell reflects on the day athletic director Rick George had a meeting with all employees of the department.
“He brought in a doctor and laid out as much information on the virus as he could,” Dorell says. “It did go through my mind as to how we were going to deal with this. There was no panic, nor did we create a state of urgency. We had to teach; we just couldn’t do it in person. I felt we weren’t losing any ground because it was a level playing field. We just had to coach better than everybody else.”
It would be 228 days into his tenure before Dorrell would see his players on the field. Training camp for the shortened season began on October 9, 2020, less than a month before the first game of a six-game season played in empty stadiums.
With campus closed, last year’s training camp looked different than any past camps. Housed at the Millennium Harvest House, the players walked to the practice facility in shifts to be tested for COVID. Most of the meetings were via Zoom.
“It was not a camp setting,” Dorrell says. “They had online classes, tests and papers. Not all the players were in great shape, so we not only practiced our concepts, but worked to get the team in shape. They handled it really well.”
The Buffs finished 4-2 including the Alamo Bowl. Each week was riddled with uncertainty as to whether they would play, or whom they would play. COVID-19 breakouts on opposing teams derailed three games. “I’m proud of how our coaches and players have handled everything,” Dorrell says.
Dorrell feels the team’s adaptability and determination translated into productive spring and summer workouts and a great training camp. “I felt that we accomplished a lot in a short period,” he says. “It helped catapult us to having good momentum looking ahead to this season.”
This season, CU has two solid quarterbacks in Brendon Lewis and Tennessee transfer J.T. Shrout. At running back, the Pac-12’s Offensive Player of the Year Jarek Broussard is back, as is Alex Fontenot. They’re joined this year by talented freshman Ashaad Clayton.
Led by All-Pac-12 linebacker Nate Landman—who has recovered from his Achilles tendon injury—the defense will be different this year, according to Dorrell, with more variations and multiple fronts.
The Buffs look forward to a 12-game schedule and fans in the stands, and they’re tabbed for fifth place in the Pac-12 South. Dorrell laughs, “A lot of people think we’re not going to be worth a damn, but I think we’re better across the board.”
In the Pac-12, USC and Oregon are once again favored to play for the championship, but Landman sums it up: “On paper we’re put in fifth place in the South, but nothing’s final until the games are played.”
University of Colorado
2021 Football Schedule
Sept 3 Northern Colorado
Sept 11 Texas A&M
Sept 18 Minnesota
Sept 25 at Arizona State
Oct 2 USC
Oct 16 Arizona
Oct 23 at California
Oct 30 at Oregon
Nov 6 Oregon State
Nov 13 at UCLA
Nov 20 Washington
Nov 26 at Utah
Dec 3 at Las Vegas, Pac-12 Football Championship
Larry Zimmer retired in 2015 after 50 consecutive years of broadcasting college football. In addition to 42 years as “Voice of the Buffs,” Zimmer was play announcer for the Michigan Wolverines and Colorado State Rams. He also broadcast Denver Broncos football for 26 years. Winner of the 2009 Chris Schenkel Award, Zimmer has been inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, the CU Athletic Hall of Fame, the Broadcast Professionals of Colorado Hall of Fame, and the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame.