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Buffs feel like they've got upper hand in move to Pac-12

Published: Sunday, Aug. 7 2011 12:27 a.m. MDT

BOULDER, Colo. — The University of Colorado Buffaloes have switched leagues, own one of the toughest schedules in the country and have a slew of new schools and stadiums to learn.

Advantage Colorado?

New coach Jon Embree, who returned to his alma mater to replace Dan Hawkins, figures the Buffs might just be the ones with the upper hand as they join the Pac-12 and leave the Big 12 behind.

He's eager for schools such as USC and Arizona to visit Folsum Field in November and see what it's like to play in the Rocky Mountains.

And he said that while his coaching staff needs to learn a lot of new programs, Colorado's opponents will be facing a bigger mystery in a Buffaloes program that features new coaches and concepts.

"Well, let me ask you this question, don't they have to watch us?" Embree said. "They don't know anything about us. If anything, we probably have an advantage because they don't know what we're doing.

"We can watch tape on Stanford and know what they're doing. David Shaw's still there. We can watch tape on Washington and know what they're doing. So, I think it's an advantage for us. We're the unknown in a good way. Because we know what they're going to do."

Still, while each of those teams has to prepare for one new opponent, the Buffs will be doing so every week.

"Yes and no. It's still football, right?" Embree said. "A 4-3 is still a 4-3. A 3-4 is a 3-4 defense. If they're a pro-style offense, our defense goes against it all camp, all spring. The thing that you get in this league is a lot of diversity, so week in and week out, you're going to see some different things on both sides of the ball. But at the same time, a cover-2 is going to be cover-2.

"So, I'm not worried about going into this new league from a scheme standpoint. It would be different if everyone in the league ran the wishbone."

Embree has been busy re-establishing relationships, reconnecting with former Buffs and restoring traditions at his alma mater since being hired last December. Relations had been strained during the final years of Hawkins' regime.

Embree has an open invitation for former players to attend practice and talk to players.

Another change he thought was important was putting his players in a hotel during fall camp for some bonding. He mixed and matched them, putting young men who didn't know each other in the same room to build chemistry "because the only way we're going to win is if we're the better team on that day."

"We are not going to have the best players," Embree said. "I'm OK with that. But we can be the better team ... and part of that is trust and the only way you're going to trust someone is if you know them."

Embree brought another former Buff, Eric Bieniemy, with him from the NFL coaching ranks to serve as his offensive coordinator and running backs coach so the Buffs can re-establish a ground game.

"It's what we have to do," Embree said. "We have to run the ball for a couple of reasons. One, that needs to be our identity. If you're going to be a physical team, you have to run the ball and impose your will on the other team. The other thing is it helps our defense."

The Buffs have some question marks there, with a secondary just taking shape — sophomore DB Jered Bell is out for the season after injuring his knee Saturday — and a linebacking corps that's been juggled to fill holes at fullback.

"I laugh sometimes when people throw out these defensive statistics. Well, if you're on the field all the time, you're not going to be a good defense," Embree said. "... We have to be able to run the ball. We have to be able to control the clock. We've got to be able to wear people down.

"And then that helps our defense go out there and play fast and play with an attitude."

Quarterback Tyler Hansen likes that philosophy.

He missed the final month last year after rupturing his spleen on an option play against Texas Tech, and while he'll be careful not to take off and run too much with the Buffs playing 13 straight weeks without a weekend off, he's glad defenses won't be able to just rush the passer all the time.

Hansen is a senior but this is the first time he doesn't have to look over his shoulder to see if Cody Hawkins will be coming in to take his job.

"It's a load off my shoulders," he said.

Embree said that naming him the starter coming into camp not only puts Hansen's mind at ease, but "I think he helps the whole team."

By bolting the Big 12, the Buffs lost their chief rival in Nebraska, which left for the Big Ten.

Embree said there's no replacing the Cornhuskers but he's sure another rivalry will blossom over time.

"We were at ESPN and they had me and (Utah coach) Kyle Whittingham together like we were the new rivals. And I said, 'This is not the old world marriage when you give two goats and a cow and this is your wife and this is your husband,' " Embree said. "We don't do that. So I know something will happen on the field that will make a rivalry for us."

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