Like most Colorado football players, Deion Smith had high expectations coming into the season.
He never envisioned CU to be in its current position, 0-5 overall, 0-2 in the Pac-12 and head coach Karl Dorrell no longer with the team.
“Nobody would have ever expected it,” the junior running back said Tuesday.
Nevertheless, that’s the reality for CU, which hosts California (3-2, 1-1) on Saturday at Folsom Field (12:01 p.m., Pac-12 Network). Dorrell and defensive coordinator Chris Wilson were fired on Oct. 2 and the Buffs are now led by interim head coach Mike Sanford. CU is gearing up for its first game in nearly three years without Dorrell.
“The big thing for us is just adjusting and trying to find our new norm and do whatever it takes to just kind of get it out of the mud basically,” Smith said. “We’ve been saying that for weeks but that’s basically all we’re going to try to do is figure out a fresh start.”
No team in the country needs a fresh start like the Buffs, the only winless team in the Football Bowl Subdivision. That fresh start has included a jolt of daily energy on the practice field.
“The players have been working incredibly hard,” said Sanford.
“I feel like it’s dramatic; it’s day and night,” Smith said of the change since Dorrell was fired. “The biggest thing I notice is energy. We’ve got a lot of high-intensity people just coming out to practice. Practices are more intense; they take a lot out of you.”
Smith was quick to point out, however, that the Buffs were pleased with their energy and effort in practice before the coaching change, too.
“It’s kind of hard for me to make that analysis right now, just because I felt like we had good energy before this,” he said. “I feel like we had good energy in the weeks prior to this and even fall camp. But for some reason, we just couldn’t make it happen on Saturday. The biggest thing for me is just trying to figure out if this difference is going to make a difference on Saturday, which I truly believe down deep down in my heart it will.”
Winning on Saturday is the ultimate test, but Sanford said the Buffs can’t put all of their focus on game day.
“(We are) practicing with real intentionality, to make it as game-like as possible,” Sanford said. “That certainly is a change that we’ve instilled. The crowd noise, the music, the chaos, the competition.”